Brooklyn Boro

Drunk driver on Promenade: ‘Unthinkable’ is pondered in Criminal Court a year later

April 6, 2022 Mary Frost
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An incident that terrified pedestrians in Brooklyn Heights more than a year ago and was called unthinkable by observers is slowly winding its way through Brooklyn Criminal Court.

Just before 5 p.m. on the evening of Dec. 3, 2020, a drunk driver hurtled along the Brooklyn Heights Promenade at a high rate of speed, sending pedestrians scrambling.

One witness told Gothamist that people were screaming as the blue Toyota Corolla shot along the pedestrian walkway. They thought it was a “terrorist thing,” like the 2017 vehicle attack on a walking path in Manhattan which killed eight and injured 11.

The driver of the vehicle reportedly smacked the phone from the hand of a 911 caller, and the phone skittered onto the roadway of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway below.

“It was a miracle that no one was killed,” one eyewitness who watched from his apartment window told the Brooklyn Eagle.

A video of the wild ride was posted on Reddit, and more than a hundred commenters expressed outrage.

One commenter, under the name “Triumph-The-Taper” wrote, “Seriously, is there anything we can do? This is seriously dangerous. As a runner who doesn’t wear headphones and wears reflective gear at night, this guy is endangering lives — it’s a homicide (?) waiting to happen. Imagine anyone there in their way — a pedestrian, a child, a cyclist, etc. ARG. This makes my blood boil.”

Another, who calls himself “Mister Sterling,” wrote, “We need to change our laws. Make reckless driving a low level felony. Force the driver to surrender his license at his first court appearance …”

The driver of the car, Brooklyn resident Eric James, 33 at the time of the incident, was apprehended by NYPD at 5 p.m., just minutes after his wild ride. He was charged with reckless endangerment, a felony, along with reckless endangerment in the second degree; harassment; driving while alcohol impaired, special vehicle; operating a motor vehicle with a blood alcohol level of .08 percent; operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated; driving with an open container of alcohol; and damaging property.

The Brooklyn Heights Promenade, with its peaceful atmosphere and its scenic views, has attracted local residents and tourists alike since the 1950s. Eagle file photo by Lore Croghan

Following the incident, heavy boulders were placed at the entrances to the Promenade by the city to prevent a future tragedy.

On Wednesday morning, James made his eighth appearance in Brooklyn Criminal Court.

DWI judges in Brooklyn’s Criminal Court operate on a rotating basis. Throughout his legal journey James has appeared before Hon. Derefim Bernadette Neckles, Hon. Kim Petersen, Hon. Abena Darkeh and Hon. Adam Perlmutter.

On Wednesday morning, he appeared before Hon. Archana Rao.

Though Judge Rao and other court personnel were physically present in the courtroom, the court’s wooden benches for spectators were almost empty. Due to COVID precautions, a large monitor was set up in the front of the courtroom, and defendants and lawyers joined in virtually. James was just one of several defendants appearing on the monitor. He looked neat, alert and polite; his lawyer Charles A. Miller did most of the talking.

James’ hearing was brisk. Judge Rao asked if he had completed a DIP (Driver Intervention Program) and fulfilled other alcohol-related requirements. Oscar Medina, a representative of TASC (Treatment Assessment Screening Center) said he had. TASC is the alcohol treatment and monitoring arm of the District Attorney and the Court.

The judge asked TASC to email the court the DIP certification, and set a future court appearance for June 15.

During a previous appearance, Miller had succeeded in having James’ reckless endangerment felony charge dropped. According to the court system’s online database, James has at this point pleaded guilty to Operating a Motor Vehicle While Intoxicated 1; and Driving While Ability Impaired, Special Vehicle. (A “Special Vehicle” could refer to a taxi or other livery vehicle, or a commercial motor vehicle.)

“We’re in the middle of the matter,” Miller told the Brooklyn Eagle. James is participating in the alcohol program run by Mothers Against Drunk Driving under TASC supervision, Miller said.

Miller characterized Wednesday’s appearance as “a very positive update.”

“The judge was pleased with his compliance. TASC as well,” he said.

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