Dumptruck Topples Over, Driver Arrested City Investigates, Neighbors Say Site Is Unsafe
The driver of a dumptruck that toppled over in Rockaway Beach Wednesday morning - downing utility wires, leaking fuel onto the street, smashing another expensive piece of construction equipment and blocking the street for hours - will face criminal charges, The Wave has learned.
Ernest Cohens, a 38-year-old driver for AAA Construction Services in Nassau County, had a suspended license when his dumptruck - with its hydraulic fully extended - crashed down on Beach 96 Street between Shore Front Parkway and Rockaway Beach Boulevard. Cohens is charged with aggravated unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle and driving without a license, according to court records.
Witnesses said Cohens was trying to dump a truckload of dirt at 167 Beach 96 Street when the truck's tires started to sink into soft earth on construction the site. Cohens drove back onto the street and turned hard to the left - sending the up-tilted dump bed crashing down onto a bobcat, a smaller piece of earthmoving equipment. The bobcat operator leapt out of harms way just before it was smashed, witnesses said.
"The guy was on the [bobcat] and he ran out of there before he got himself crushed," said Albert Pietri, who lives adjacent to the job site and was keeping an eye on the work there. "If that truck was in deeper [on the site] it would have fell on top of my house," he said. The dumptruck, which is about 12 feet tall when the dump bed is horizontal, towers at about 30 feet when the hydraulic is extended, according to its manufacturer, Peterbilt.
No one was injured in the accident, police and witnesses said.
The toppled truck lay across the entire street for about eight hours as police kept watch and AAA Construction tried to figure out how to remove their badly damaged vehicles. A heavy equipment tow truck was used to remove the dumptruck and then the bobcat was put onto a flatbed.
Frustrated neighbors said they've had it to the eyeballs with the property owner, Five Fives Equities, which lists 214-65 Jamaica Avenue in Queens Village as its business address and AAA Construction, which lists 80 East Hawthorne Avenue, Valley Stream as its address.
AAA Construction was ordered by the Department of Buildings to stop work at the site the day before the dumptruck accident. Neighbors say workers arrive as early as 5 a.m. and stay as late as 9:30 p.m., pressure car owners to move their vehicles so that their equipment can get on/off the site and drive heavy equipment on driveways and sidewalks. In all, nine complaints have been registered with the DOB this year, records show.
Eva Corbin, who lives in the home just north of the site, was seething Wednesday because, she says, the owner of the property is trying to squeeze three housing units where there had been only one. She showed a reporter the concrete foundation work, part of which comes in contact with the entire south side of her home. She fumed that whatever is built next door will adjoin her home.
"If I have a crack, how am I going to fix it? And when you talk to [AAA Construction] they ignore you like you're a piece of dirt - and they're wrong," Corbin said.
Sandee Doremus, who lives a few houses away from the site, said she complained recently to 311 about after-hours work and a construction barrier that was only 4-feet tall and open on one side. "There's a lot of kids on my block and I was worried about them getting in there," she said. "They have no regard for the community around them," Doremus added.
Community Board 14 District Manager Jonathan Gaska and others said AAA Construction's top priority appears to be getting its foundation in and thereby becoming vested, which would ensure that their work could legally continue despite any changes to the zoning in that area.
Jennifer Givner, a spokesperson for the DOB, confirmed that the agency has visited the property several times and was sending an investigator again on Thursday. Records show AAA Construction was issued its permit for new construction on the same day that the dumptruck accident happened, which raised questions over whether they were actually in violation of the "Stop Work" order, she said.
Bail for Cohens, the driver of the dumptruck, was set at $1,000, and he is due back in court on July 31, according to a spokesperson for Queens District Attorney Richard A. Brown. His attorney, Emily Paul, did not return a call seeking comment.
Joshua Amar, listed in permit applications as AAA Construction's contractor did not return a call seeking comment. The property owner could not be reached.