By Joy Bergmann
Six seconds. That’s how long the light had been red when Jessenia Fajardo, 40, drove an SUV into the crosswalk at West End Avenue and 98th Street, causing the July 19, 2019, crash that killed doorman Alfred Pocari, 62, and severely injured Upper West Sider Kira C.
“How long is six seconds?” asked Assistant District Attorney Matthew Bogdanos at Fajardo’s sentencing hearing Friday afternoon. “A lifetime.”
Judge April Newbauer sentenced Fajardo to a minimum of two years in state prison — and a maximum of six — following Fajardo’s pleading guilty to Manslaughter in the Second Degree and Assault in the Second and Third Degrees. The sentence also reflects her culpability in a May 2019 hit-and-run in Tribeca; she reportedly ran a stop sign and injured a pedestrian in the crosswalk. Said Newbauer, “Ms. Fajardo seriously and tragically affected many people.”
Prior to the judge’s announcement, two of them spoke.
“I would like to ask you why that text was so important that even as you plowed into me and Mr. Pocari, you didn’t even lift your head to see the road, but continued with your foot on the gas,” said Kira C., addressing Fajardo who, according to court documents, generated 50 activities on her phone, including texts, shortly before the crash.
“Like it or not, you are now a part of my life, haunting my daily routine. You are in the pain that wakes me,” said Kira. “I am a prisoner of my body, and Mr. Pocari of his grave. There is no escape. I hope that you will use your time incarcerated reflecting on compassion, empathy and your responsibility as a citizen of the world to teach your child not to flee, but to face the consequences of actions.”
One of Alfred Pocari’s two children, 31-year-old daughter Milda, then took the podium, sharing a litany of milestones she will never enjoy with her father.
“I will never see the proud look on his face when I receive my master’s degree diploma. Or have a father-daughter dance on my wedding day. My future children will never meet or understand the incredible man that he was,” Milda said, her voice breaking.
Fajardo sobbed as she listened. Her heaving shoulders caused a tumble of long braids to shake across her green sweatshirt.
Milda continued through her own tears. “Instead of planning a future for our lives with dad being part of it, we planned his funeral. Instead of being able to call my father and ask him for advice, I’m only able to hear him on old voice mails. Instead of going to see him at my parents’ apartment, I’m only able to see him in old photo albums.”
With red-rimmed, swollen eyes, Fajardo then attempted to apologize to her victims. “I’m so sorry. To the families, I am very, very, very sorry. “ She choked and gulped while recalling the crash scene, her words too muffled by tears to decipher beyond, “I will never forget. I’m so sorry.”
She was led away in handcuffs.
During the hearing, ADA Bogdanos expressed disappointment that the judge had not handed down the maximum sentence of 5 to 15 years that the District Attorney’s office had sought. “This was not a negotiated plea,” he said, citing Fajardo’s prior history of nine moving violations including five for using a phone while driving, two for ignoring red lights or stop signs and two for failure to yield to pedestrians. “And that’s just how many times she got caught.”
“This is yet another preventable tragedy causing the death and serious injury of two innocent people. The pain and destruction from crashes like this is unimaginable, destroying lives and affecting entire communities,” said Dana Lerner from Families for Safe Streets via email to WSR. “I know because my son Cooper Stock was killed only one block away, 7 years ago, and I carry this nightmare with me each and every day.”
Lerner added, “We can and must prevent these crashes from happening to begin with. That is why FSS and other safety organizations are pushing for a New York Crash Victim Rights & Safety Act that will address the lethal speeding that is rampant on our streets, incentivize the purchase of safer vehicles, hold the most reckless drivers accountable, combat impaired driving, protect our most vulnerable street users, and support those personally impacted.”
Kira C. and Milda Pocari say they are finding solace through such advocacy.
If WSR readers would like to immediately support their efforts, they’re seeking petition signatures for memorial street signage to honor Alfred Pocari. “Here’s to making a change!” said Kira.