A Roosevelt carpenter pulled over for a broken taillight has amassed 201 driver's license suspensions and was back in jail Tuesday.
Police and prosecutors say it's galling that Marion Williams, 59, who has been imprisoned twice for driving violations and was out on bail when he was stopped Monday, could rack up so many suspensions.
But short of assigning an officer to keep tabs on him around the clock, there's not much anyone can do, they said.
"Ultimately, it comes down to an enforcement issue," said Maureen McCormick, chief of the Nassau County district attorney's vehicular crime unit. "We can't post a cop at the end of every suspended driver's driveway."
Robert Sinclair, a spokesman for AAA, said putting anyone whose license is suspended in jail would be one way to ensure they stayed off the road. But that would be an overreaction.
"What can you do to keep a person off the road when they shouldn't be?" Sinclair said. "The answer is not much, short of locking him up."
In First District Court in Hempstead Tuesday, Williams pleaded not guilty to the charge of aggravated unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle, a class E felony.
If convicted, he would face a sentence of 11/3 to 4 years in jail. Judge Colin O'Donnell ordered him held on $10,000 bond or $5,000 cash bail, and he is due back in court Wednesday.
Williams was represented by the Nassau County Legal Aid Society, which does not comment on individual cases. However, his lawyer said in court that Williams is divorced with a 22-year-old daughter and is a self-employed carpenter.
Williams did not speak during the brief court appearance. His family members could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
Almost 50 traffic stops
Prosecutors said Williams' license was first suspended in 1985. Of his 201 suspensions, 191 were rooted in 48 traffic stops, after which he failed to answer the ticket or pay the fine, DMV officials and prosecutors said. An additional 10 suspensions were not based on tickets: They came from operating without insurance and other violations, prosecutors said.
The Department of Motor Vehicles said Williams does not have a valid license in New York State, and McCormick said even if has a license from South Carolina, it wouldn't be valid here because of his suspensions. Each time he is cited for a traffic violation and he fails to answer it or pay the fine, that information is reported to the DMV and entered on his record.
McCormick said Williams does not appear to have ever been charged with causing a crash or injury.
He has served time in prison twice, both times after being convicted in Nassau County of aggravated unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle. The first time, in 2000, he served more than two years. The second, in 2003, he served about four months.
In February, Williams was stopped on a seat belt violation, and charged with aggravated unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle after the officer learned of his record of suspensions.
Pulled over for brake light
In the most recent case, Nassau County police said First Precinct officers on routine patrol stopped Williams at 9 p.m. Monday on southbound Park Avenue in Roosevelt because his car, a 1993 Ford, had a defective brake light. When Williams failed to produce a valid license, officers checked his record and found his license suspensions.
His car, which is registered in his name in South Carolina, was impounded.
McCormick said she will seek consecutive time in Williams' two open felony cases. That could mean a maximum of 22/3 to 8 years in prison, she said.
She said a driver who is pulled over with at least 10 open suspensions from 10 different dates can be charged with aggravated unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle, as Williams has been. However, she said repeat offenders charged with that crime are subject to longer sentences.
McCormick said several bills that would have toughened penalties for repeat offenders of state vehicle and traffic laws -- whether it is a conviction for felony drunken driving, leaving the scene of an accident or driving without a license -- have failed in Albany in recent years.
David Bradford, executive director of the Northwestern University Center for Public Safety, said people who persist in driving with suspended licenses can be problematic for the courts, as tough sentences are usually reserved for people who are a danger to society. "Just because a person has suspensions doesn't automatically make them a threat on the roadway," he said. But he added, "For a person to have 201 suspensions, that's a driving record that needs to be seriously looked at." With John Valenti