Driver Kills Boy, 4, and Injures 2nd Child Outside Yeshiva, Police Say

Mihir Zaveri and Matthew Sedacca

Originally published in The New York Times

A man driving a van fatally struck a 4-year-old boy and critically injured a 6-year-old boy moments after he had dropped them off at a yeshiva in Brooklyn on Monday morning, the authorities said.

The driver, who is 76, initially drove away after hitting the boys in front of the Yeshiva Ketana of Bensonhurst, the police said, but he later returned. The crash appeared to be an accident, and it was not clear whether the man, who has not been publicly named, knew he had hit the boys, the police said.

He was not charged on Monday, but the police said an investigation was continuing.

The boy who was killed was identified by the police late Monday as Yoshi Balaban of Staten Island. The police said the boy who was critically injured was also from Staten Island, but they did not release his name.

The boys were found lying in the street on 67th Street between 20th and 21st Avenues after they were struck at around 9:15 a.m., the police said. They were taken to Maimonides Medical Center, where the younger boy was pronounced dead. The boy who survived was in critical but stable condition, the police said.

Pedestrian deaths reached a record low in 2020 with fewer people outside during the pandemic. But the relatively empty streets have also given rise to a surge in reckless driving and traffic deaths, thwarting efforts by Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration to make streets safer. At least 243 people died in crashes in 2020, the highest number since 2014.

The accident underscored the heightened dangers that vehicles posed to New Yorkers, said public officials and advocates for traffic safety.

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“Our fight for street safety is far from over,” said State Senator Andrew Gounardes, whose district includes the street in Bensonhurst where the boys were struck.

“Given the reckless driving during the pandemic, it is more urgent than ever,” he said. “When parents cannot even have confidence that their children will be safe from being hit by a car, we are failing to keep New Yorkers safe.”

It was not clear whether the two boys were students at the yeshiva and whether the driver was working on behalf of the school. A woman who answered the phone at the yeshiva said no one was available to talk.

Mark Treyger, a city councilman who represents parts of the neighborhood where the episode took place, said on Monday that more information needed to be released about the driver “to demand accountability and justice and to ensure that this never happens again.”

“This is very alarming, and unfortunately this is not the first tragedy,” he said. “There is a very serious pattern of traffic fatalities in New York City, many of which I believe are preventable.”

Worried residents, along with television news crews, crowded outside the yeshiva on Monday afternoon.

Neighbors living on the street said they had long seen vans dropping off children at the yeshiva. Some neighbors said they had worried about the safety of the children being dropped off on a street with heavy traffic.

When “the kids come out of the car, nobody’s watching,” said Frankie Cracchiolo, 71, who has lived on the street for 10 years. “Nobody is watching in summertime when they go play ball over there, they cross the street,” he said.

Antonio Petito, 82, who has lived on the street since 1966, said a nearby post office and public school contribute to the heavy traffic to the area, and that accidents have occurred in the past.

“Years ago my mother-in-law was killed,” he said. “Somebody backed up so fast across the street.”

Ed Shanahan contributed reporting.