BY ARIEL HERNANDEZ
Last Friday, eight-month-old Navraj Raju was killed by Armando Morales Rodriguez, an unlicensed driver who backed his white 2008 Ford van into 34-year-old Daljit Kaur’s baby’s stroller along 93rd Street near Astoria Boulevard, crushing the baby beneath a rear tire.
Kaur had just left the deli, where she had purchased milk and eggs, when Rodriguez was backing out of a driveway between a deli and a commercial building. According to reports, bystanders rushed to the van and yanked the baby from the vehicle, but it was too late as the baby wasn’t moving, crying or breathing. Still, the baby was rushed to Elmhurst Hospital but unfortunately he died due to internal injuries.
Rodriguez, who was charged Friday morning with driving without a license, was released without bail by Judge Ernest Hart that evening after a brief arraignment in Queens Criminal Court.
Rodriguez is set to go back to court on Dec. 5. If he is found guilty of driving without a license, he’ll either face a fine or have to do a few days in jail.
Raju’s death not only affected his family directly, but has also touched the hearts of residents within the community and elected officials.
A small memorial with 14 candles and two stuffed animals was placed at the scene of the event in honor of baby Navraj.
“My deepest condolences go out to the family of the 8-month-old child who tragically lost his life in a stroller after being struck by a van this morning,” state Sen. Jose Peralta (D-East Elmhurst) said in a statement released shortly after Raju’s death. “It was very upsetting to learn of this fatal accident. We must work together to ensure proper safety measures are put in place to prevent this kind of accident from occurring again, as the area where it happened was described by neighbors and pedestrians as very dangerous. Although the facts of the case remain unclear, the motorist apparently didn’t have a proper license and should have never been behind the wheel of that van.”
State Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria) is working to get his bill S2484A passed by the Assembly. It aims to enact stricter consequences for those drivers who either kill or seriously injure people while being unlicensed or having a revoked or suspended license. He also issued a statement on the incident.
“It is very simple. No one should be behind the wheel if s/he does not have a valid license,” said Gianaris. “My thoughts are with Ms. Kaur and Mr. Raju [the baby’s father] during this difficult time. We must toughen the law in order to mourn fewer of these tragedies, not more.”
According to Gianaris, he has been trying for over a year to change the law to make it a more serious offense when somebody kills someone while driving without a license.
“Right now if someone kills someone while being unlicensed, they’re just charged with a violation, which is just like getting a traffic ticket,” Gianaris told the Queens Tribune. “This is not the first time in our neighborhood that someone who shouldn’t have been behind the wheel killed someone.”
Although Gianaris’ bill passed the Senate, it is awaiting the Assembly’s approval, with the session not set to begin until January 2017.
“There is very little we can do at this point for the family, but whatever comfort we can provide we will,” said Gianaris.
Reach Ariel Hernandez at (718) 357-7400 x144 or firstname.lastname@example.org