Reporting Pam Zekman
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CHICAGO (CBS) – When an elderly woman was struck by a cab and laid in the middle of a North Side street, she unwittingly became an example of a system that allows cab drivers with bad driving records to remain on the streets of Chicago.
It was a case highlighted by CBS2 investigator Pam Zekman in a series of reports on dangerous cab drivers.
Now, the family of 86-year-old Coral Kier has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the cab driver, Mohammed Ahmed, over the fatal accident last August. Kier’s family hopes that lawsuit will accomplish what five different city and county agencies failed to get: justice for their loved one.
As CBS 2 previously disclosed, Ahmed has spent a lot of time in Traffic Court.
Court records show that, since 1999, he’s received 63 tickets — with just 14 convictions.
CBS 2 first caught up with Ahmed outside Traffic Court last September, and asked him if all those tickets made him an unsafe driver.
“No,” was all Ahmed replied.
He was appearing in court for the first time on tickets he received in the case involving Coral Kier. Police charged Ahmed with failing to yield the right of way to a pedestrian in the crosswalk, and failing to exercise due care for a pedestrian.
“He just plowed into her and ran her down like she wasn’t even there,” said Mary Roberts, who witnessed the accident on Aug 22, 2011. Kier died two days later from her injuries.
Another witness, Brian Homiak, was walking toward Kier in the same crosswalk. Homiak said he testified in the Traffic Court case that Ahmed “physically struck Kier with the front end of his cab. He just hit her.”
Ahmed previously told CBS 2 he was not at fault. In court, he reportedly testified that Kier fell down in the street — that he did not strike her. The judge didn’t buy it, and Ahmed was found guilty.
But Ahmed was only fined $345 and sentenced to court supervision. He’s still licensed to drive a cab.
“It’s kind of an outrage that he’s still on the street,” said Morton Kier, Coral Kier’s brother.
Now Coral Kier’s nephew Brian is suing Ahmed for negligence.
“Because this was a horrible loss for our family and I think justice should be done,” Brian Kier said.
At the time he was sentenced, a spokesman for the city’s Law Department said the Judge was only aware of Ahmed’s most recent conviction on a moving violation — a 2006 speeding ticket.
In part, that’s because over the years, most of Ahmed’s moving violations were dismissed, usually because the officers who wrote the tickets were not in court. That includes a 2009 ticket Ahmed got after he struck the rear of a police car stopped at a red light waiting to make a turn, according to the Chicago police.
“That’s awful in this instance,” said Robert Clifford, the attorney who filed the wrongful death lawsuit for Kier. “If the judge had known what you uncovered, the judge would not have allowed such a slap on the wrist.”
The Kier case raises a number of other questions. Why weren’t more serious charges filed against Ahmed? The city’s Law Department said that decision was up to the police.
In a written response to our questions, the Police Department said, “Our investigations consider the totality of circumstances in order to ensure the obtainment of charges that hold offenders responsible for to the fullest extent of the law for their actions.”
Their decision in this case was influenced by the fact that blood and urine tests required of cab drivers involved in pedestrian traffic crashes were negative in Ahmed’s case.
Under current laws, the city and state can revoke a cab drivers license if they have three or more convictions for moving violations in a year, but because the judge gave Ahmed a sentence of supervision, the guilty findings on the two tickets in Kier’s case are not considered as convictions on Ahmeds’s official driving record.
A spokesman for the city law department said their attorneys unsuccessfully asked the judge to rule the guilty findings were a conviction, so they would be reflected on Ahmed’s record and reported to the Illinois Secretary of State.
Judge Michael R. Clancy declined to comment on his sentencing decision in the case.
Representatives of the city’s Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection and the Illinois Secretary of State’s Office said, as a result of what happened in court, the agencies could not take action to discipline Ahmed.
“What a sad commentary,” said the Kier’s attorney, Robert Clifford.
He said the case underscores the need for some coordinated action by the police, the Circuit Court Clerk, Traffic Court judges and city and state licensing agencies.
“We can put all these people together and we can stop these needless deaths. It’s got to happen,” Clifford said.
A recently passed state law might help. It will require that court clerks let licensing agencies know about all cab driver traffic violations, so repeat offenders are identified and can be tracked.
And as a result of our inquiry, a spokeswoman for Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White said he will ask his traffic safety committee to consider
whether there is a need for a new law that would prevent judges from granting supervision for moving violations that involve a fatality.
For now, the family of Coral Kier says they will aggressively pursue their lawsuit.
“This lady was run down in a cross walk and that shouldn’t have happened. And there’s no other remedy besides a lawsuit,” Clifford said. “But there’s more at issue here and the family recognizes that,, and they want to use this lawsuit as a vehicle for improving public safety within our limits.”
Ahmed could not be reached for comment.