Sammy Cohen-Eckstein, 12, killed by van near Prospect Park
The death of a 12-year-old boy struck by a van while playing near Prospect Park Tuesday night has shocked the Park Slope community and prompted renewed calls for increasing street safety.
Sammy Cohen-Eckstein, 12, was playing near his home on Prospect Park West when his ball rolled into the street around 5:15 p.m., police said.
Running into the street to retrieve the ball, Cohen-Eckstein was struck by a white van. He was taken to Methodist Hospital but could not be saved.
The van’s driver remained at the scene, but no arrests were made and no summons were issued.
The young boy was planning to celebrate his Bar Mitzvah in just a few weeks on Nov. 16.
Cynthia Greenberg, the president of Kolot Chayeinu, Cohen-Eckstein’s synagogue, expressed sorrow for the family’s loss.
“All of us at Kolot Chayeinu/Voices of Our Lives share their heartbreak at Sammy’s untimely and tragic death,” she wrote in an e-mail. “Our hearts and prayers go out to them and all who knew and loved Sammy and are mourning his loss.”
“We pray also — as always — for the safety of all children, here on our city streets and all around the world,” she added.
Local City Council member Stephen Levin said he had been in touch with the local precinct commander and had been told that there was no alcohol involved, and police believed the driver had not been speeding.
“But they’re doing a full investigation, as they should,” Levin added.
Cohen-Eckstein was just one of three children who has died in traffic accidents in the last three weeks.
On Sunday night, three-year-old Allison Liao was struck and killed while crossing a Queens intersection with her grandmother. Five-year-old Kiko Shao was hit by an Escalade in Sunset Park, Brooklyn.
Citing these deaths, Transportation Alternatives called on the NYPD Thursday to use data-driven traffic enforcements to increase pedestrian safety.
Concilman Peter Vallone, the chair of the City Council’s public safety committee, held a hearing examining expected reforms to the NYPD’s collision investigations last week.
The NYPD recently changed the name of their Accident Investigation Squad to the Collision Investigation Squad, signaling a shift in approach.
“I’ve been saying for a long time, it’s impossible that the city has treated every one of these as accidents, virtually never bringing criminal charges,” Vallone said. “If these accidents keep happening, we need to look at whether or not the area is problematic.”
That stretch of Prospect Park West used to be hugely problematic with regard to speeding, officials noted.
Levin recounted how those speed safety issues were part of the argument used to bring in the Prospect Park West bike line, and narrow the road down to two lanes instead of three.
Doug Gordon, a local father of two young children, also remembered when the statistics for the number of drivers who were speeding on Prospect Park West were “pretty astounding.”
It’s better now, he said, but it’s still “not uncommon at non-rush hours to see drivers who are clearly going well over the speed limit.”
And while local parents appreciate city officials’ efforts to beef up penalties for reckless drivers, Gordon said that’s not the point.
“I don’t want someone to investigate my kid’s death, I want my kid’s death to be prevented,” Gordon insisted.
He noted the unavoidable proximity to young children: the street is flanked by a park on one side and residential buildings on the other.
“It shouldn’t be a surprise that there are going to be kids playing on the street, near the street,” Gordon said. “I do think the speed limit near parks should be treated like schools and be much lower than everywhere else.”
Levin said he is also in favor of expanding speed safety measures, particularly in the form of slow zones “in every residential neighborhood.”
A slow zone pilot program kicked off recently in Boerum Hill. Levin believes Park Slope, a neighborhood known for being home to a large volume of families, should be part of the program.
Gordon wants to go a step further.
“We have 15 mile-an-hour school zones in places when schools are in session, but you think about this city and it’s just a collection of neighborhoods,” Gordon said.
There’s no need for cars to be driving at 30 miles per hour, Gordon argued. And slower speeds would benefit everyone involved, giving drivers more reaction time and lessening the severity of injuries if they occur.
“A lot of cities around the world, especially in Europe, are moving toward a blanket 20 mile-per-hour speed limit in their cities and I think New York should move in that direction too,” he explained.
Gordon has a 4-year-old daughter and an 8-month-old son and said that as a parent of young children, reckless drivers are a huge source of anxiety.
“We’ve had a lot of near misses. We’re a lot like plenty of other families,” he said. “You just hold your kid’s hand very tight, but you also know there are some things you can’t control for.”
“The scariest thing I do everyday is walk my kids to school,” he added.