By Dana Lerner
Last Friday morning as I got out of bed, a familiar despair awoke with me. Instinctively, I scanned photographs of my deceased son, Cooper Stock, which I’d carefully placed in my bedroom. On my worst days, I need to see these images to be certain that he existed. I checked my emails and saw West Side Rag on my screen and read the headline: “Truck Hits Pedestrian,” and my heart sank.
How is it possible, almost 10 years after my son was killed on the Upper West Side by a reckless taxi driver, that journalists, especially the Rag, can publish an article with such a misleading headline? “A Truck Driver Hits Pedestrian” is what it should have read. Has anyone ever read that a gun killed 25 people in a mass shooting? No, because the person firing the gun (or driving the car) is at fault, not the gun or the vehicle.
With my blood boiling, I continued to read that the pedestrian was taken by ambulance to a hospital in stable condition. [It was announced on Friday that he died of his injuries. We are investigating.] A police officer said both the pedestrian and the truck driver had the light. The officer was quoted as saying, “Accidents do happen.” A police officer who is supposed to protect us does not even understand the laws. Drivers must yield to pedestrians. Pedestrians have the right of way! Fatally hitting a pedestrian with your car is not always an accident – it’s a crash, often a result of choice: choosing to drive too fast or choosing to turn while distracted.
We know that 90% of pedestrians survive crashes at 20 miles per hour, and drivers are much more likely to drive at safe speeds if streets are designed to maximize safety.
As drivers, we don’t often feel comfortable using this terminology. We know there is a possibility that we could inadvertently hit someone, and we automatically want to say it is an accident. Perhaps this is why change is so hard to implement, but we can all make a commitment to using the correct language to describe the epidemic of traffic fatalities on our streets.
Yes, it is true, pedestrians can be reckless as well – but the onus is on the driver of the large and deadly vehicle to protect more vulnerable road users. In New York City, we’re all pedestrians, and we all need safe streets.
The statistics are staggering. Every 33 hours someone is killed on a New York City street. Last year alone, 16 children’s lives were taken in this epidemic. Cooper was the first child killed upon the implementation of Vision Zero, the initiative that was supposed to eliminate traffic fatalities in the city – but he was certainly not the last.
This is a particularly difficult time for me and my family. Cooper should be preparing to graduate from high school on June 10.
We are fortunate that his friends refuse to forget him. For the last nine years The Calhoun School on West 81 81st Street has sponsored Cooper’s Troopers Day – a day of service when the children educate the public about the epidemic of traffic violence. Every year, the students in Cooper’s class walk to the corner where he was killed. Throughout the years, I have tried my best to attend, but sometimes the agony of seeing Cooper’s friends growing up, and his name on a street sign, is simply unbearable.
This is the last year, and I will be there to congratulate and say goodbye to the class. Many of the students never met Cooper, but his death has changed their lives and made them into compassionate advocates. They are my heroes.
After Cooper’s death, many of his friends told me how he was the problem solver and peacekeeper in the 3rd grade. Cooper is not here to maintain the peace, but my fellow Upper West Siders – you are! Consider pedestrians, children, and cyclists when you’re driving, and join me in supporting a proposal that would lower our city’s speed limits to 20 mph and save lives: Please take one moment to read about Sammys law. You can help save lives.
Dana Lerner is a psychotherapist in private practice on the Upper West Side. She is a founding member of Families For Safe Streets. In 2015 she created Cooper Stock’s Way, a nonprofit that raises money for children in need.
So incredibly sorry for your heartbreaking loss. This was one of the ‘best’ articles I’ve read on WSR. Thank you so much for sharing. My thoughts will be with you on June 10th. Is there any way for this community to help educate the public about the epidemic of traffic violence?
Thank you for your comments. You can help by contacting FamiliesForSafeStreets.org
I walk by 97th street daily and think of your family each time I do. Thank you for turning your energies and grief toward helping ensure others are less likely to have to deal with this immeasurable loss.
Dear Dana, I remember the tragedy of that day very well. I think of Cooper often even though I have never met him. I can’t even imagine what you are going through. You are an amazing woman, having been able to create these organisations and petitions. I signed the one about Sammy’s law.
I’m also appalled at the lack of enforcement. Pedestrian accidents are treated like not a big deal. Why aren’t the driver’s charged with vehicular homicide like everywhere else in the world? I’m also appalled by the officer’s attitude and statement about the accident with the truck, “accidents happen”, “they both had the light”(?!”. I’m glad you are investigating.
Please let us know what else we can do other than signing the petition, particularly about the latest accident involving the truck.
Dana, I’m so sorry for your loss. I used to often pass the street sign commemorating him and sometimes I tried to imagine the pain behind the story.
I live blocks away and worry about my family crossing our streets. Since Bloomberg closed the entrance to the west side hwy @ Riverside, the traffic on wets end is crazy.
Yes. That really changed the immediate neighborhood.
Dana, I thought of your son Cooper just yesterday, and your terrible loss. He is not forgotten. I cannot believe it’s been almost a decade. Thank you for what you are doing.
The loss of a child, or frankly any person is heartbreaking. Reckless driving is a problem. With that being said, the end result of lowering the speed limit to 20 mph will be soon to have a push to lower the speed limit to 15 mph to purposely manufacture congestion and every few years keep trying to lower the speed limit to get political brownie points and manufacture even more congestion, not meaningfully curb reckless driving. Real concerns about traffic safety are being weaponized to make it harder for people to drive motor vehicles whether its cars, trucks or buses. All while e-bikes will go faster than the 20 mph speed limit and the same folks involved with groups like Open Plans will back them up.
I am so sick of the complaint that lowering speed limits create congestion. One has absolutely nothing to do with the other, but this argument is used as a rallying cry to avoid any inconvenience to drivers.
Congestion is caused by the number of vehicles on the road, a ratio of vehicles to area. Too many vehicles cause following distances to decrease causing speed to decrease until you get to very slow movement on a highway. In urban areas, traffic lights only allow so many vehicles to cross per cycle. When you have more vehicles waiting to cross than can cross in one cycle, this causes a backup of having to wait multiple cycles. Add to that vehicles turning into the open space that is on the other side of the intersection causes fewer vehicles to be able to get through the intersection due to no where to go, creating further backup. This is a continuous cycle until the number of vehicles waiting to get through the intersection is reduced to below the number of vehicles that can cross during a cycle.
Now that we understand what causes congestion, let’s look at why safety advocates are pushing for 20mph speed limits rather than 30mph we had before or 25mph we have now. The push is DATA DRIVEN. As the speed of a vehicle involved in a collision with a pedestrian decreases, the chance of death, or even serious injury, drops by a large percentage. In fact, a pedestrian hit at 20mph has HALF the probability of being killed or seriously injured than if they were hit at 25mph.
When someone makes claims like this in the comments, I always challenge them to back it up. So here is a SMALL sampling of the data out there that backs this up, including from AAA (The American Automobile Association, whose primary responsibility is to advocates for drivers but also famously provide roadside assistance).
Note also that in many other major cities in the world, the inner city speed limit is 30kph. 30 kilometers per hour is 18 miles per hour.
God forbid that drivers should be inconvenienced by speed limits, especially if it results in “even more congestion.” You should be ashamed of yourself for this comment.
You are so right. I have lived here since childhood and I never learned to drive because I was deathly afraid of hurting a pedestrian. I do not regret my choice. And these days, bikes and e bikes are terrifying, obeying no laws, roaring through red lights, going against the traffic, putting everyone who dares to cross a street in danger. And nothing is done.
I remember Cooper, too. It is BEYOND heartbreaking.
Dana, what a tragic event. I’m so sorry you’ve had to live through a tremendous and consuming pain beyond most individuals’ ability to comprehend.
But I also have to imagine that this pain is relived every day when you see drivers with complete forethought tear the social fabric, putting others in danger, all while the city enforcement services do nothing to stop it – Absolutely nothing.
One thing I’ve learned in my years is that people who experience pain are not only acutely aware of what led to it happening but then work to ensure that no one else experiences something similar. Thank you for your efforts. Thank you for introducing me to the memory of your son, Cooper. May his memory forever be a blessing.
A devastating reminder is this precious angel-faced boy.
Thank you, Dana, for reminding us that most pedestrian deaths are not accidents: they are the result of a driver’s choice to drive unsafely. It is our city’s shame that drivers are literally getting away with murder nearly every day.
I often see your son’s name on the street sign at West End Avenue, and I always remember him and your loss.
I am so very sorry for your devastating loss.
Dana, Thank you for this important reminder. I will be contacting FamiliesForSafeStreets. I remember Cooper very well as a sweet little boy who often greeted me with a smile on the elevator in our building. I often think of him as I cross that corner.
A neighbor, Candy
I was living in New York City, on the UWS, when Cooper was killed. I think of him often, and all the unresolved grief (how is grief EVER resolved?) each time yet ANOTHER pedestrian death is announced. Thank you, Dana, for your voice and your actions.
Cooper is always in our hearts and missed every day. Please everyone take the issues raised by Dana seriously, and do your best to protect lives. It is the least we can all do. ❤️#CooperStock
Thank you for this edifying story. I remember when Cooper was killed. It broke my heart. I still think of him.
Your son is not forgotten at all. I remember the accident and that they put the street sign up in his memory. One thing not mentioned in the article is people texting and driving or talking even if on speakerphone. There’s no question about it– when you have a distraction like texting or even speakerphone, one’s concentration is not 100% and it should be 100% behind a vehicle that can end up being a lethal weapon. Another problem is listening to music on a headset or Bluetooth which knocks out one of the senses — hearing. There have been so many accidents on that very same street & within blocks of it. When the light is changing drivers in all directions want to just turn before it changes with little regard to the possibility of a pedestrian at the crosswalk.
The cars zoom along Amsterdam Avenue and Columbus Avenue trying to catch the chain of staggered lights before they turn red.
G-d bless you for all you’re doing to avert another tragedy that befell your son and you.
Dear Dana, It’s Nancy Fedder. I see you at Jackie’s and we always cry together. I think about Cooper often. I also think about you and your family. ♥️
I could not agree with you more. No motorist should be driving more than 20 miles per hour on Manhattan streets. Our laws need to change. There is just no accountability for motorists who hit pedestrians and cyclists. I am so sorry that this happened to your family. Cooper is on my mind whenever I walk on 97th Street. Your advocacy here is appreciated. Thank you for doing this. I wish you the best.
Dear Dana, Thank you for this piece and the information about Sammy’s law. It needs wider distribution.
I did not know him, but I will never forget Cooper. I think of you and Cooper both so often.
Dana, I’ve thought of Cooper over the years. I remember so well when it happened and I am so sorry for your loss. Around the same time, I was on a cab and noticed that the driver was using his cellphone while driving. I asked him to stop but he didn’t. I reported him and someone contacted me asking what had happened. I mentioned Cooper, and said that reckless driving had taken a precious life in our neighborhood. It really stayed with me and prompted me to take action. Cooper is not forgotten.
I think about your family and Cooper often. I was happy to have known him just for a short time when he was at Kids of Summer camp in riverside park. He was a fantastic kid. Thank you for your advocacy for safer streets.
I too think of your son every time I walk by WEA, 97th street, and am always struck by the enormous tragedy of such a senseless & preventable! accident. Just recently, my 17 year old son was on his way to school and was struck by a hit & run driver making a left turn. Fortunately my child was only just bruised and shaken (although taken to the ER by ambulance).
I will absolutely contact FamilesForSafeStreets.org. The traffic violence is indeed an epidemic and now added in are e-bikes and scooters on the sidewalks! Pedestrians are very much not safe.
Thank you Dana for using the pain from your devastatingly unimaginable loss, to selflessly spearhead a group to address this citywide problem. I completely agree with your thoughts about this issue. Additionally we’re now facing the challenges of being able to safely share our streets AND sidewalks with cyclists, e-bikes and scooters.
Amidst the approximately 1.5 million people in Manhattan, its come to feel like we pedestrians are dispensable.
I live on 97th and Riverside Drive and walk past West End Ave many times a day. I look at your son’s name on the street sign and think of him and you and your family every time. Your article is not only heartbreaking but completely correct. I also agree the speed limit should be lowered but also must be enforced, including bicycles and e-bikes that run red lights. Speeding to the next red light in a city as dense as ours makes no sense. I have become a much more cautious pedestrian since all these tragedies. We all need to slow down and save lives.
Perhaps the best way to prevent these accidents and murders in the future is punishment? If a pedestrian has the right of way, the way Cooper did, and driver hits him and kills him, it is murder one and the driver goes away for the rest of his life? Something tells me it will make a difference
Dana, I’m crying as I read your words and imagine the pain you endure from losing your son. I remember the tragedy well and thinking that I needed to remind my son, who was just a year older, to be careful always when crossing the street. I was a broken record and drove my kids crazy reminding them every morning to watch for cars – and now bikes. I’ll be thinking about you on the 10th and will likely shed tears again. I wish I could help alleviate your pain but I hope knowing that a city mourns with you still over the senseless loss of your beautiful boy helps in some way. There is nothing worse than losing a child. I am with you in spirit. In motherhood. In solidarity. ♥️
Beautiful tribute to a lovely, lost soul. My heart breaks every time I pass the street sign bearing Cooper’s name.
Thank you so much for sharing how you are dealing with this tragedy and for highlighting what so many of us know — our streets need to be safer. I cannot begin to imagine your pain. And thank you for crusading for this cause — we should all be grateful to you and support you. A reckless driver hitting my kids is truly my worst nightmare. And there are still many of them on the road. The only thing that can help is a change in laws and strong enforcement.
Thank you for your sad, beautiful article. And (along with others from Families for Safe Streets) for drawing on your pain to help save lives. Our car culture is a pathology in which such limited punishment–if any is given to drivers who speed, who drive under the influence of alcohol or whatever, who text or otherwise don’t pay attention, etc. etc.
I took a safe driving class in 1964 at age 16 at Mount Vernon High School in lower Westchester County. The very first words my instructor said to me were: “This car is a deadly weapon.” Those who misuse cars and other types of vehicles must be seriously punished.
I too remember that horrible accident that took your son. Unfortunately it is just not speeding drivers that are killing people. How about the people speeding on there bikes and electric wheel vehicles and not stopping at the lights? Our streets are getting more and more dangerous every day. It’s the bikers, the sheds, the triple parked cars, the electric wheel vehicles, and people on their cell phones not paying attention when they are walking or when they are driving. It’s frightening. It is no wonderthat a pedestrian is killed every 33 hours in New York City. Our urban planning sucks. Self-interest groups have found ways to manipulate our government and our politicians to get what they want. What happened to our ability to safely walk and cross the streets? Pedestrians seem to be the last ones our city cares about.
I remember this rainy night so well. We lived adjacent to you at the Paris on 97th & West End. I, too, had a son in the 3rd grade and we had just come home from a night at Boys Scouts when we heard the sirens. I remember waiting out the parking ban on WEA and watched as your family walked out of your apartment on your way to Coopers funeral; my heart absolutely broke for you. We moved down to 74th a few years later but I always think of you and Cooper when I’m back on 97th street. Although we have never met, I want you to know that we will never forget you or your darling boy ❤️
I lived there and remember when this happened and remember how so angry I was about that cabby who got away with murder barreling down 97th street rounding the corner like most did. I still remember Cooper snd his father every time I walk there. And, my friend who was also hit along with a doorman a half block from there by a woman speeding. Doorman killed. My friend so many bones crushed as she flew through the air to the pavement. Her livelihood is doing body work on others who are in pain. She was laid up for 7 months. I used to walk with her once she went back to work barely able to walk because she has PTSD when crossing the streets now.
I wish NYC had no cars and more aware human beings.
Thank you for sharing your story. I’m curious what was the most meaningful kind(s) of support you received after this horrible tragedy.
Thank you for asking. People are often hesitant to mention Cooper because they
think it will upset me. Many bereaved parents want their grief acknowledged, so it helps when we hear stories about our children. Knowing Cooper is remembered or being able to talk about him is very important for me.
So sorry for your loss, Dana. Though we have never met. I will never forget that terrible evening coming home across the street on 97th and west end and seeing you run out of your building. I wasn’t a mom then and I can’t even imagine what you and your family must have gone through. But we think of your family often and I have told my son about Cooper. From one mom to another, thank you for your efforts in making our streets safer. Your strength is inspiring. Am happy to do my part and sign the petition for Sammy’s law. Your fellow neighbor.
When was the last time you saw a NYPD Officer do a traffic stop? It’s probably been a while. Ask yourself why this is. When you make villains out of heroes and heroes out of villains, The results are predictable.
The writer asks that we stop using the word ‘accident’, and yet several commentators manage to use it a total of eight times. Lets honor the victims by getting rid of that word and replacing it with ‘crash’ or ‘collision’. If your child is hit by a meteor while crossing the street, it’s an accident. If your child is crossing the street in the pedestrian crosswalk with the light, it’s not.
Thank you Denton for pointing that out. This is why I was compelled to write the article. Accident has been ingrained in us, but it is actually victim blaming.
Hi Dana, I remember when your son Cooper was killed. I just want you to know that the community still remembers him and our thoughts and prayers are with you.
Thank you for everything you do to keep other children safe.
You can lower the speed limit in the city to even 10 mph but it will mean nothing if there isn’t a way to enforce it. Drivers become impatient and careless and therefore reckless in the city when they should be the exact opposite. It’s almost a conscious disregard for the city that shows up in litter and dog waste on sidewalks and so on. But when it comes to driving it is lethal and tragic. The answer isn’t speed limits. It’s ticketing moving violations at every opportunity. In other words, change the car culture, you change the driver.
I agree with the comment making it punishable/murder 1. Prison time. As it stands now, unless DUI they literally get away with murder. All crashes should have mandatory correlation performed with cell phone activity/texting activity that should be treated the same as DUI. I lost my best friend in 2000 to a texting guy. No punishment at all. Not even a ticket. Broad daylight and she was in a crosswalk. It shatters families FOREVER.
How is it even possible? What was the explanation for not bringing up criminal charges?
Dana, thanks again for a call to action. We met because of Cooper which is the gold to
Be found underneath your unimaginable
loss. I was hit by a speeding, texting uninsured driver who had 9 priors for the same
offense who killed Mr.Pocari on west 98th st. July 19, 2019. He was walking next to me. We are still trying to get a speed sign on west 96th at and to name Wesr End Ave and west 98th st Alfred Pocari Way to honor him and remind drivers of their responsibility to drive slowly, safely and wisely. I suffer every day but I am so grateful to be alive and for our friendship.
I’m so sorry to hear that. I remember the crash that killed Mr. Pocari. How are you doing? What happened to the driver?
I’m amazed that on the small sliver of the city like UWS there are so many tragedies. When the traffic laws will be enforced
Thanks for asking… I am walking, working but in pain but I am alive. She is prison and I intend to appear at her parole petition. Best, kira
The changes they made on WEA where Cooper was killed are not helpful at all! They simply make things more dangerous for pedestrians & create traffic jams.
Dear Dana – we are so sorry for your family’s loss and remember the moment we heard about this tragedy – my daughter was at Calhoun at the time and it hit home. Cannot believe it has been 10 years. I’m so glad that Calhoun continues to honor Cooper and we think of him often. You have done such an amazing job as an advocate for safe streets. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and your emotions, as difficult as it may be. May Cooper’s memory always be a blessing.
Dana- I think about you often- I remember running into you and discovering we’d both had sons a week apart. I appreciate how this spring is even harder for you with Cooper’s class graduating. A terrible tragedy that never should have happened. 💔
He is remembered.
Thank you for the courage you summoned to share your unfathomably painful story about Cooper’s death by vehicular homicide (because that is what it was — not an “accident”) and advocate for greater safety for everyone living in NYC. I completely support the idea of posted and reduced speed limits in the City. But that would simply not be enough. There has to be enforcement of law and that doesn’t happen in NY. We would need speed cameras all over the City and the citizenry would howl in protest. I have lived on the UWS for just more than a decade (and I own a car because, until recently, commuted out of the City to NJ to get to work) and it still infuriates me how many well-intentioned laws designed to promote safety and well-being of citizens in this City are either weakly enforced or not at all. Other examples include delivery e-bikes and unlicensed mini-motorcycles (both of these vehicles frequently drive the wrong way on streets and on sidewalks, blast through red lights, and operate with homemade, unsafe batteries), and “head shops” that are not licensed yet freely sell cannabis and have proliferated all over the UWS and elsewhere, ensuring that no one needs to walk more than a block or two to get high or find an easy armed robbery target. There are laws and regulations that apply but are rarely enforced. It is possible to improve the situation — there just is no political will to do it .
My heart goes out to you so much, Dana. Thank you for taking the time and making an effort to keep this issue front and center in people’s minds. So many avoidable tragedies …
My husband and I were at the vigil with a candle for Cooper and then when the sign with his name was installed. As parents, who raised two boys in this neighborhood, a few blocks from you, having crossed that street a million times – I always remember and send out a silent prayer!
I can’t begin to conceive of a loss like yours, but I can tell you that Cooper will never be forgotten in my family. I live on 97th St. and happened upon the scene of the tragedy less than an hour after the unthinkable occurred. Today, I have 5-year-old twin girls whose hands I grip tightly every time we cross West End, despite their protestations. I explain ad infinitum what happened to Cooper and reiterate over and over that it should never be assumed that just because you have the “walk” light you are safe. I say that cars can make mistakes, but to your point, these are better described as transgressions.
I am perpetually stunned and outraged at how many drivers literally do not know that pedestrians have the right of way in a cross walk when I ask! They assume it’s mutual. How is this not better taught and highlighted with road signs!?
Thank you for your ongoing efforts to spare others from your horrific experience. I hope knowing that Cooper’s story is still helping others to stay safer brings you some small modicum of comfort.