Car accident? When people make cars a legal way to kill

I confess I had a huge surprise when I read the article “How to Kill a Three-Year-Old in NYC Without Getting Arrested“, from Gawker. In a very negative sense, since I had the impression this sort of episode was restricted to countries with bad legal systems, from the sort that feeds impunity. Not in the USA or in Europe, for example. But people who turn cars deliberately into weapons are a more common phenomenon than I could expect, unfortunately. Not that this was the case with the little Mariam Dansoko, a 3-year old girl who was run over by a Nissan Altima in May 16, 2016. She died. The author of the article, Andy Cush, was thunderstruck with the fact that the driver, who was to blame, got away with no charges at all. The 21-old male driver had no intention to kill the little girl, but he killed her when he forgot to care for the pedestrians passing in front of his car. Check the (crime) scene below.


It is a crossing between East 164th Street and Gerard Avenue, in New York. The driver turned left at an unsafe speed, according to StreetBlog, and had to throw his car another way to avoid hitting Rougui Kebe, Mariam’s mother. The little girl was some steps behind her and was not seen by the driver. Just not to make the same mistake most articles do when they speak of a tragedy and give it no face, this is Mariam and this is Rougui.


Can this lack of care from the driver be accounted as an accident? Or are accidents an unfortunate piling up of events that culminate in an unexpected and unwanted result? If it could be avoided, could it be called an accident? In this case, there is clear evidence that Mariam did not die due to bad luck. She died due to negligence, even if the driver did not want to kill anyone. But it could be worse.


This guy you see on trial was Yao Jiaxin. His case became famous in China. After strucking the waitress Zhang Miao with his car, in October 20, 2010, he finished the job stabbing her 8 times. He was convicted and executed in June 7, 2011. This is the worst known case of “hit and kill”, a China epidemic that can be credited to the local laws. Putting it in very simple terms, it is 10 times cheaper to pay a compensation to the family of a dead person than to pay it to someone permanently crippled. And it is also “safer”, since you are more likely to escape murder charges than to be able to deny the testimony of an injured pedestrian saying how he/she was hit by your car. These legal flaws are an invitation to disaster. Jiaxin was probably convicted only because he used a knife instead of his own car to kill Miao. You can see her husband, their son and herself below.


I got to know this story last year and I have even written about it (in Portuguese). Slate brought an article with lots of similar cases, some also involving children. We don’t recommend reading it if you are a sensitive person. It is revolting. Just to mention one of these cases, a driver in a BMW X6 reversed his car in a parking spot and hit a 3-year old boy, running over him. The video is below and we only publish it in order to show it is miserably true.

After knocking the boy and passing over him, the driver goes forward. When he gets out of the car, he seems to be unaware it did not have the parking brakes applied and passes over the boy’s body once again. He claimed to have confounded the boy with a trash bag and was not subject to any charges.

Killing behind the steering wheel seems not to bring legal consequences in most cases. Unless the clear intention to do so is caught on video, like the one above. In October 11, 2013, the physicist Kátia Vargas Leal Pereira got into a traffic discussion in Salvador, Brazil, with Emanuel Gomes Dias, who was riding a motorcycle with his sister, Emanuele, on the back seat.


The physicist pursued the motorcycle and ran it over in one of the main avenues of that city. She is being charged with 1st degree murder and will face the jury God knows when. She recently had an appeal denied by the Brazilian Supreme Court and will probably be condemned to jail, but she is free until the final judgement. Seriously.

In May 7, 2009, the State legislator Fernando Ribas Carli Filho, from Paraná, Brazil, literally flew off the ground with his armoured VW Passat Variant in Curitiba, that State capital. He was at a minimum of 190 km/h in a city avenue after having drunk more than he should in a local restaurant. But there where two unlucky young lads in front of him, 20-year-old Carlos Murilo de Almeida and 26-year-old Gilmar Rafael Souza Yared.

Carlos e Gilmar

The Passat Variant struck the Honda Fit in the upper part of the C column and ripped off the roof and the heads of the driver and the front seat passenger. Carli Filho has not been arrested after all these years. There are plenty of evidences of fraud perpetrated in order to try to free the politician from judgement. The traffic radar did not take a single picture of the speeding Passat, even after having photographed other drivers in the same day and at the same time. The safety cameras in the region have had their recordings altered, according to the audit video you can see above, created by Kauffman Associados. Carli Filho’s lawyers have even tried to blame the victims for the accident.


This is one of the most famous cases of traffic deaths in Brazil, one of the many that have inspired the creation of the movement “Não foi Acidente” (It was not an accident) in 2011. The idea behind it is that it is no accident to kill other people with a heavy machine that can reach high speeds, whether you want the result, as in the Chinese cases, or just takes the chance of seeing them happen. It began when Rafael Baltresca lost his mother, Miriam, and his sister, Bruna. They were hit by Marcos Alexandre Martins, who was driving his black VW Golf in high speed and under the influence of alcohol.

Rafael Baltresca entre a mãe e a irmã: que a lei não seja tão branda

The movement Rafael started has currently more than 970,000 followers on Facebook. It also has a law project in the Brazilian Congress that plans to punish drivers under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or that drive recklessly, as murderers. Today, the Brazilian law treats them as manslaughter, but that is equivalent to no charges, since the punishment does not include any jail time. Just the payment of a compensation and eventually some time of compulsory work in philanthropic entities. “With the Brazilian political turmoil, we are waiting for things to settle down. Our project is now on the Senate”, says Ava Gambel, coordinator of Não Foi Acidente.


This is not a new problem. In a lecture back in 1998, the history professor Nicolau Sevcenko showed how traffic deaths were common and with no consequence since the beginning of car history in Brazil. One of the examples he used to prove this was the story “O monstro de rodas” (The Wheeled Monter), published in the book “Brás, Bexiga e Barra Funda”, from Antônio de Alcântara Machado, in 1927. In this short story, a rich guy, rich enough to buy a car in the 1920’s in Brazil, hit a little girl and killed her, with no consequences whatsoever precisely because he was rich. Sevcenko defended at the time that the ones that had cars in that time even tried to aim at pedestrians in a sort of macabre game to see who killed the most people. His point was that traffic violence was in the very root of the Brazilian driving ethos. In case it makes sense to you, could this be the case in other countries? The lecture is unfortunately lost and Sevcenko has passed away in 2014.

We are currently in the middle of the UN Decade of Action for Road Safety. Today is a Brazilian holiday that will extend up to next Monday, normally a period in which many people die on the roads. Many more accidents should occur, even when they do not deserve to be called accidents.

This is the meditation MotorChase would like to propose with this text. Driving is inherently dangerous (taking a 1 ton or more machine to more than 100 km/h, remember?), hence the driving licenses. When you do so, you should do it with full attention and care. If you are the sort of person that does not even like to drive, like this guy in the Tesla Model S above, don’t bother. Get a cab, a taxi, a Uber, a bus, a train. Let competent hands guide you where you want to go.

In case you like to consider yourself a hell of a good driver, live up to that. If you love cars, don’t help detractors turn it into a villain. Don’t give them ammunition to say it is dirty, it pollutes, it poisons and, worst of all, it kills, in direct and indirect ways. The fact is that it shouldn’t. And that, in case it does, the people who have caused these deaths are the ones that should face the consequences. For the sake of Mariam, Zhang, the little Chinese boy, Emanuel, Emanuelle, Carlos, Gilmar, Bruna, Miriam… And all the ones that loved them.

Gustavo Henrique Ruffo

I have been an automotive journalist since 1998 and have worked for many important Brazilian newspapers and magazines, such as the local edition of Car and Driver and Quatro Rodas, Brazilian's biggest car magazine. I have also worked for foreign websites, such as World Car Fans and won a few journalism prizes, among them three SAE Journalism Awards and the 2017 IAM RoadSmart Safety Award. I am the author of "The Traffic Cholesterol", a book about bad drivers that you can buy at Hotmart, Google Play, Amazon and Kobo.