The awful death of Robert Riggs, a 75-year-old grandfather from Holbrook, has inspired expressions of sorrow, rage and disgust from all corners of Long Island.
The emotions are rightly aimed at the heedless culprits who got him killed. From what we can tell, this is the latest fatal instance of a practice best called depraved driving. No need to soft-pedal this as an "auto accident" due to "erratic" handling of a vehicle.
Riggs was moving east in his Mitsubishi Outlander along the Southern State Parkway near Exit 38 on Monday afternoon when, according to police, the drivers of two SUVs appear to have played an all-too-familiar criminal game. They sped in tandem between Riggs' car and another.
Click on YouTube and watch a deranged posting from August 2018 labeled "6 VERY INTENSE RACES IN TRAFFIC!!!" The car from which the video is shot changes lanes at top speed, passing one vehicle after another to play cat-and-mouse. Look closely, and at various points, you'll see signs for Exit 18 and other stops on the Southern State. One admiring reply: "Like damn i didnt know there was a nfs community [in real life] lol." (NFS, or "Need for Speed," is a video game.)
Most motorists who endure the close calls curse, scream, honk, wish the offenders a painful time in hell, then breathe deep and drive on. This time, the maniacs caused Riggs to lose control of his vehicle, which flipped and landed on the parkway's right shoulder, authorities said. His wife and daughter, traveling a little way behind, had to pass the scene of the accident. One offender drove a stolen Range Rover, the other a Jeep Cherokee. Riggs was pronounced dead at the scene.
The crime is more treacherous than drag racing on a straightaway because the presence of other cars can actually protect the offender. Highway police would be lucky to witness the weaving and, even then, giving chase would be dangerous.
The bad guys know this.
State troopers who patrol the parkways and county police who do the same on other major roads must make cracking down on these miscreants a top priority. Nassau and Suffolk prosecutors should seek the highest possible criminal penalties in Riggs' case; homicide charges might be possible. And in cases with collisions or repeat offenders, the State Legislature should authorize vehicle seizures. This outrageous behavior has to stop.
Well-timed drone flights or other airborne approaches might help in patrolling. Could other motorists call in reports to a command center that bad actors are on the road?
Conflating video games with the real world isn't new. What would be, is if those who weaponize cars against the innocent were shunned almost like sex offenders.
For the moment, new enforcement and prosecution strategies offer the only road forward.
MEMBERS OF THE EDITORIAL BOARD are experienced journalists who offer reasoned opinions, based on facts, to encourage informed debate about the issues facing our community.