Outrage Grows Over Scarcity of Charges Against Drivers Who Kill Cyclists

10/28/2011 9:48 AM |

A ghost bike for Jake McDonaugh, killed at Beverly Road and Flatbush Avenue on April 14, 2010.

  • A ghost bike for Jake McDonaugh, killed at Beverly Road and Flatbush Avenue on April 14, 2010.

Last week Canadian, Brooklyn-based artist and cyclist Mathieu Lefèvre was struck and killed by the driver of a flatbed truck at the intersection of Meserole Street and Morgan Avenue. The driver—who will not face charges for the fatal collision—did not stop, and was only found days later because the truck was parked a few blocks from the scene of the accident. On Wednesday Mathieu’s mother spoke at a press conference outside One Police Plaza, bemoaning the NYPD’s handling of the accident and its aftermath; and on the same day, a driver who fatally struck a cyclist in April 2010 while driving over the speed limit with a suspended license was acquitted of criminally negligent homicide and sentenced to ten days in prison. The two events have heightened a long-brewing debate over the NYPD’s handling of cyclist fatalities.

A NYPD spokesperson quoted in a Metro article about the lack of charges against the driver who caused Lefevre’s death offered this assessment: “There’s no criminality. That’s why they call it an accident.” But, as Lefevre’s offered on Wednesday, in Canada drivers who accidentally kill cyclists are often prosecuted:

Lefevre said that, unlike in New York, drivers in Canada are often prosecuted when they hit cyclists. Last week, a driver who said he fell asleep and did not realize he hit five cyclists was convicted in Ontario of dangerous driving.

How would such a case, with much clearer criminal implications, be handled in New York?

The just-concluded trial of Michael Oxley offers some insights. On April 14, 2010, Oxley struck and killed 18-year-old cyclist Jake McDonaugh with his van at the intersection of Flatbush Avenue and Beverly Road. A witness of the 9:30am accident told the Daily News: “He got stuck under the van, and the van [dragged] him about half a block against the asphalt.” At the time of the accident Oxley was speeding, and driving with a suspended license. Yesterday, the Post reports, a Brooklyn Supreme Court jury cleared Oxley, 28, of criminally negligent homicide, but convicted him of speeding and driving with a suspended license. He will spend ten days in jail.

Meanwhile, responding to the Lefevre case, in which the driver claimed not to have noticed the collision with the cyclist, Transportation Alternatives’ general council Juan Martinez offered Streetsblog this assessment:

So in hit-and-run cases, any driver who claims they didn’t know they killed someone gets a ‘get out of jail free’ card—unless there is a thorough investigation that examines physical evidence, witness statements, etc. Because police have not released the results of their investigation to the family or anyone else, no one knows whether there was a thorough investigation of potentially criminal conduct, or whether they concluded early on that this was an ‘accident’ and simply accepted the driver’s word.

This scenario also describes the aftermath of the death of Marilyn Dershowitz in Chelsea in July. The driver didn’t notice the accident, didn’t stop, and was never charged.

(Observer, Post, Streetsblog, Gothamist; Photo: Ghost Bikes)

3 Comment

  • I decided to stop cycling in New York. Aside of the risk and the unnecessary annoyance and stress caused by the absence of much adherence to traffic regulations, I am appalled by the total absence of accountability for car drivers. The NYPD is obviously unwilling or incapable of conducting thorough investigations into traffic accidents resulting in cyclist fatalities and injuries. And they seem also unwilling to enforce traffic rules for motorists, cyclists and pedestrians – an appropriate name for the NY cops may be “street corner decoration”. Needless to say that the US justice system seems either absent or complicit. The government is clearly failing its citizens.

  • What I don’t understand is why people that kill or maim others (pedestrians, cyclists, or other vehicle occupants) while driving with a suspended license or no license at all are not prosecuted for being in possession of a deadly weapon. The motor vehicle is the most deadly thing we have in our daily experience, as much as 200 times more deadly than a handgun, yet people who are using one without a license are treated like it’s no big deal, when is IS a big deal.

  • The van Oxley was driving was a company vehicle, maybe the company should be held liable for allowing him to drive a company vehicle on a suspended license. Oops, there is a thought. Maybe the family should go after the company that allowed him to drive their vehicle while on a suspended license.