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Latest Threat in New York: Illegal Drivers With PM-Illegal Drivers-Victims

June 3, 1993

NEW YORK (AP) _ The newest menace on the city’s streets doesn’t carry a gun, a knife, a razor - or a valid driver’s license.

Unlicensed drivers, including one with 63 suspensions, have killed three children this year, and a man is battling for his life after the latest horror.

Safety experts say it’s a problem nationwide.

″The attitude is, ’Take my license and I’ll drive anyway and I don’t think you can catch me,‴ said Tom Culpepper, traffic safety director of the American Automobile Association in Heathrow, Fla.

A driver ran down school custodian Christopher Donohue as he rode his bicycle Sunday in Manhattan, then dragged him eight blocks. Donohue remained in critical but stable condition Wednesday.

Steven Ortiz, 49, was jailed on $100,000 bail on charges of attempted murder, drunken driving and driving with a suspended license - a charge made moot when authorities discovered he never had a New York state license.

He had eight suspensions listed on his driving record anyway because he never came forward to contest the first suspension and no one checked to see if he had a license until the accident, said Mark Amodeo, spokesman for the state Department of Motor Vehicles.

Ortiz is one of thousands of unlicensed drivers targeted in a month-long police crackdown that has ″made the threat of being arrested more real,″ Amodeo said. In the last month, 917 drivers have been arrested for driving with at least two suspensions.

Children ages 8, 4 and 2 have been knocked down and killed this year by unlicensed drivers with between two dozen to 63 outstanding license suspensions. And the tragedies haven’t stopped.

″They keep on killing people. What are you going to do?″ Donohue’s sister, MaryJane, said bitterly at the hospital.

Yet another bicyclist was hit on a city street today, allegedly by an unlicensed driver. Hugo Aznaran, 24, was charged with leaving the scene of an accident and driving a car with a revoked license in the death of Emilio A. Rodriguez, 22.

A suspension or revocation has no built-in enforcement. Ordinarily, police do not arrest illegal drivers unless there is an accident involving injury or death. The drivers simply pile up summonses, and continue on their way.

It is common for a revoked or suspended driver to return to the wheel with a license from another state, Culpepper said. New York state bars a driver with a suspended license from registering his car, but a driver can use an assumed name and the rule doesn’t apply to new cars.

Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly announced May 4 that drivers with two or more suspensions will be arrested rather than ticketed if stopped by police. Drivers who fail to appear for court dates face arrest and possible jail time, said police spokesman Lt. Richard Kuberski.

Legislation to make driving with a suspended license a misdemeanor rather than a traffic infraction has cleared committee in the state Assembly and is ready for a vote in the Senate.

But these measures are stacked up against daunting numbers: 383,000 New York City drivers with suspended licenses and about 500,000 more in the rest of the state. There were 118,000 revoked licenses in 1991, the last year for which figures were available, Amodeo said.

The department is providing New York police with a quarterly list of drivers with 100 or more suspensions. The April list had 125 names.

In May, some 18,000 New York City scofflaws cleared up past summonses - double April’s total.

In most cases, suspensions can be cleared by paying off accumulated fines. Licenses are revoked for such offenses as driving without insurance, refusing breath tests or piling up moving violations.

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