Last month, the driver of a vehicle that killed Devin Zeininger and Justin Finkel as they walked along a Sullivan County Road was formally charged following a month-long Grand Jury investigation with …
Last month, the driver of a vehicle that killed Devin Zeininger and Justin Finkel as they walked along a Sullivan County Road was formally charged following a month-long Grand Jury investigation with one count of Reckless Driving, a misdemeanor and two violations—Failure to Exercise Due Care and Speeding—in relation to the deaths of the two teenagers.
I understand the anguish and frustration the families of these boys are experiencing about this case. Thanks in large part to irresponsible and inaccurate reports across social media, some think that it’s Sullivan County’s infamous “Good Ole’ Boys Club” that saved the driver from a felony charge.
They couldn’t be more wrong.
The truth is that I have remained faithful to the oath to uphold the law, without fear or favor toward anyone, that I took when I became your acting district attorney. I honored the commitment I made to the families of these victims to present this case to a grand jury for its consideration despite what they and I all understood was a difficult legal landscape even in light of the facts uncovered during this investigation.
It isn’t politics or personal relationships that stand in the way of a homicide charge; it’s New York’s own laws. Right now, the law doesn’t properly support pedestrian victims of vehicular crashes.
As a mother and a lifelong member of this community, I have personal feelings about some aspects of this case that, as a prosecutor, I must set aside to honor my legal and moral obligations as acting district attorney to seek justice within the bounds of the law. My job isn’t to simply secure charges for assailants; it’s to also secure convictions that will hold up under legal scrutiny.
Our appellate courts have made it nearly impossible to hold those who kill others as a result of distracted or dangerous driving criminally responsible. There is, quite simply, not one criminal law on the books that was specifically written in contemplation of facts like those that led to these tragic deaths.
The reality is that scores of families throughout our state have been further traumatized following a loved one’s death by the fact that New York doesn’t have laws in place to properly address pedestrian fatalities where a driver isn’t impaired in some way.
As a zealous advocate for victims, I am committed to helping correct the omissions in the law by supporting the Vehicular Violence Accountability Act. The act, announced late last year by Sen. Timothy M. Kennedy, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. and Sen. Brad Hoylman, was drafted to strengthen the voice of vehicular violence victims.
The act introduces a new article in the State’s Penal Law entitled “Vehicular Violence” that establishes new crimes: “Death by Vehicle,” a class A misdemeanor, and “Serious Physical Injury by Vehicle,” a class B misdemeanor. These offenses would escalate to a class E felony and class A misdemeanor, respectively, when there are aggravating factors, such as recent vehicular convictions, speeding more than 20 miles above the speed limit, or committing more than one moving violation at a time.
In short, the act, if passed into law, would fundamentally change the landscape of criminal law by holding accountable those who irresponsibly cause needless injuries and loss of life.
I grieve along with the rest of Sullivan County at the loss of these two boys, and it’s that grief that fuels my commitment to foster positive change. I am asking all of you to join me in advocating for changes to the law that will more strongly support the rights of victims like Devin and Justin.
Meagan K. Galligan is the acting Sullivan County District Attorney.