In about a year-and-a-half as the borough’s top prosecutor, Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez has accrued a record of lenient plea deals for motorists who kill people and flee the scene.
He may soon add another case to the list: Yesterday, Gonzalez offered a sentence of 16 months to four years in prison to the man accused of killing Jean Paul Guerrero in Cypress Hills.
The driver of a Nissan sedan fatally struck Guerrero, 39, on Jamaica Avenue near Sheffield Avenue in the early morning hours of December 19, 2016. Guerrero was a radio personality known as DJ Jinx Paul. His death got considerable media attention, and was the impetus for NYC’s new hit-and-run alert system, spearheaded by City Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez.
Kevin Ozoria turned himself in a few days after the crash, but was not arrested until November 2017. Gonzalez charged Ozoria, 29, with leaving the scene of an accident resulting in death, a class D felony.
Ozoria was also charged with evidence tampering, a class E felony. The impact with Guerrero’s body punched a hole in the car’s windshield, and Ozoria allegedly had it repaired shortly after the collision.
Gonzalez did not charge Ozoria for the act of taking Guerrero’s life.
The leaving the scene charge carries a maximum penalty of seven years in prison. The Daily News reported that the Gonzalez plea offer “angered several of Guerrero’s relatives and supporters” who, along with Rodriguez, assembled for Ozoria’s Wednesday court appearance.
Gonzalez’s decision to present what has been described as a “generous plea deal,” rather than take the case to trial, is consistent with how the DA has handled other hit-and-run fatalities:
- April 2017: Gonzalez signs off on probation and a $500 fine for Joseph Zayats, who hit 64-year-old Krystyna Iwanowicz with a Jeep SUV as she crossed Avenue J with a walker, and fled the scene on foot as she lay dying in the street.
- May 2017: Gonzalez agrees to a six-month jail term for Brian Young, who ran over 28-year-old Francis Perez as the victim was out buying snacks for his young son. As part of the deal, Young, who did not have a valid drivers license when he killed Perez, was eligible to regain his driving privileges after two years just by filling out DMV paperwork.
- November 2017: Pursuant to a deal with Gonzalez, unlicensed driver Efrin Lanfranco-Perez gets as little as a year in jail for fatally striking Delmer Maldonado and Israel Turcios as he sped down Fulton Street. Lanfranco-Perez ran away from the scene. “I don’t understand how he got so little time,” Milli Muniz, Maldonado’s partner of 16 years, told Streetsblog. Muniz said the victims’ loved ones were pressured by prosecutors to accept the deal. “I don’t feel like there’s justice,” she said.
In at least one instance, Gonzalez declined to pursue a case against a motorist who killed someone and kept driving. In July 2017 an Action Carting worker ran over Neftaly Ramirez, 27, as he biked on Franklin Street at Noble Street in Greenpoint, then left the scene. The driver, identified as Jose Nunez, was summonsed for driving a garbage truck without the proper license. But Gonzalez decided against seeking justice for Ramirez and his family, and filed no criminal charges.
Kevin Ozoria initially rejected Gonzalez’s plea yesterday, according to News 12, but the Brooklyn Eagle reported that his attorney told the judge he “wants to finish investigating the evidence given to him before making a final decision.”
In the meantime, Ozoria is free on $7,500 bail. His next court appearance is scheduled for June 13.
In 2017, Gonzalez’s first full calendar year leading the DA’s office, drivers injured and killed 3,865 people walking and biking in Brooklyn. Brooklyn was the only borough where traffic deaths did not decline last year, according to City Hall.