By Victoria Merlino
Queens Daily Eagle
An 88-year-old woman from Whitestone pleaded guilty for reckless endangerment in Queens Criminal Court Thursday after she struck and killed a high school senior walking in crosswalk.
Sheila Kahn-Prager drove her car in Madeline Sershen, 17, in June. She was given a conditional discharge by the court after promising to surrender her license and help Sershen’s family push for mandatory retesting of seniors by the Department of Motor Vehicles.
“This was an extremely sad and tragic case,” said Queens District Attorney Richard Brown. “The victim was a promising young lady who would be in her final year of high school, if she were alive today.”
Brown said Sershen was walking within the crosswalk near a school when she was hit. Kahn-Prager said she did not see the red light that she ran.
The fatal collision sparked a movement to retest drivers 80 and older every two years to ensure they can still drive safely.
Julian Ho, the husband of one of a bystander who first found Sershen at the crash scene, launched a Change.org petition that has received 20,000 signatures as of Friday morning.
Elderly drivers are not currently required to retake the driving test in New York State. They are, however, mandated to take a vision test to renew their license every eight years.
“Simply passing a vision exam is an extremely low standard for a person to maintain their privilege to drive,” Ho wrote on the petition website. “A person’s memory (i.e. individuals suffering from dementia) and reaction time must also be assessed during the license renewal process. Individuals over 80 must be able to demonstrate that they can continue to remain safe on the road.”
Sershen’s family also launched a campaign to change law. In July, Sershen’s aunt Rita Barravecchio led a rally at the crash site and started a Facebook group called “Maddie’s Move,” which has become the online headquarters of the movement for retesting.
“We need to continue to demand change,” Barravecchio wrote earlier this month. “There are way too many reckless drivers. These incidents are not accidents and IT NEEDS TO STOP. DMV RENEWAL REFORM.”
Sershen’s sister Olivia Sershen clarified that the push for driver retesting is about public safety.
“We are not looking to take licenses and independence away from those who are fit to drive,” Olivia Sershen said. “Instead we are trying to weed out those unsafe drivers by mandating periodic retesting. We are looking to make our community safer and attempting to prevent future tragedies.”