A car-pedestrian crash took the lives of two Hudson Valley teenagers on the afternoon of Sunday, June 2, when a vehicle driven by a retired town justice struck them as they walked along Glen Wild Road in the Sullivan County town of Rock Hill.
The boys, 16-year-old Devin Zeininger and 14-year-old Justin Finkel, were first reported to be residents of the area, although it was later learned that Finkel lived in Albany and attended Hackett Middle School, and was visiting relatives downstate that day.
According to reports, a Hyundai Elantra driven by 86-year-old Isaac Kantrowitz, a retired Fallsburg town justice and Woodridge village trustee, was proceeding south on Glen Wild Road around 3:15 PM when it struck the two boys, who were also walking in a southbound direction. They were pronounced dead at the scene. An unidentified third boy, reported to have been walking with them, escaped injury.
Both districts where the victims attended school immediately took steps to help students cope with their grief. “I am deeply saddened to let you know that one of our eighth-grade students, Justin Finkel, died in a traffic accident Sunday afternoon,” Hackett Principal Michael Paolino wrote in a letter to the families of the boy’s classmates. “We will maintain additional counseling staff for as long as needed,” Paolino said.
And Monticello schools superintendent Tammy Mangus posted a message on the district’s site, expressing “immense sadness” about the tragedy, and arranged for a team of social workers and school psychologists to help students deal with the loss.
No charges have been filed against Kantrowitz, though police say the investigation is still open.
Questions about the driver, road safety, and police handling of the crash
Kantrowitz was involved in a similar accident on the same road in December 2018, when he struck a woman who sustained back injuries, according to a Fallsburg police crash report.
Already, there is controversy over the police handling of the immediate aftermath of the investigation. For one thing, family and friends of Devin Zeininger, angry and grieving, question why no sobriety tests were administered to Kantrowitz. “He’s a judge,” said Michael Ruff, Zeininger’s uncle. “There’s different laws for different people.”
State police countered that Kantrowitz showed no signs of being impaired at the time of the accident; New York state law leaves the decision to administer tests up to officers’ judgment on whether there is “reasonable cause” to do so.
The family also said police allowed Kantrowitz to leave the scene in a private vehicle, and that he came back later and was allowed to remove property from the car. Police declined to comment.
Ruff said he has repeatedly warned police about safety concerns with Glen Wild Road, a winding, two-lane road with no shoulder and steep embankments, and a speed limit of 45 mph.
Insurance and legal claims for automobile crashes
As the families of the victims go through the long process of grieving, they will inevitably look to legal compensation for the wrongful death of their loved ones, including funeral and burial costs. Even if the police report cites no violations, the crash happened in broad daylight, and the families may argue that the driver was clearly negligent in not seeing the boys and passing at a safe distance.
The insurance company will likely try to argue that any responsibility of the driver should be reduced because of contributory negligence. They will likely argue that under Vehicle and Traffic Law § 1156, walking along the right-hand side of a roadway is a pedestrian violation. In the absence of passable sidewalks, pedestrians are allowed to use the roadway or shoulder, but must walk on the left side, facing traffic.
Minimum auto liability coverage in New York state is a mere $50,000 for the death of a person. Claimants may also look to their own SUM (supplemental uninsured/underinsured motorist) insurance, which is added protection when the insurance limits of the at-fault party are insufficient to compensate for the victims’ financial losses, pain, and suffering. SUM insurance of at least $25,000 is required on auto insurance policies in New York state; families can file claims for SUM insurance on any policy carried by a relative of a decedent who shared a residence. For more information about SUM coverage see our blog.
Dreyer Boyajian LaMarche Safranko, headquartered in Albany, New York, represents clients in personal injury cases in throughout New York state. Call us at (518) 463-7784 or contact us for a no-obligation consultation.