WEEKEND EDITION

9 NYC Cyclist Deaths That Still Raise Questions

| February 14, 2012 4:00 AM

The New York City Council will hold a hearing Wednesday on the NYPD’s treatment of accident investigations, with a focus on bicyclists and pedestrians killed by motorists.

In 2011, 21 cyclists were killed in traffic accidents in New York City — nine more than in 2009. Just Monday morning, a Staten Island cyclist was killed by a driver who fled the scene of the accident. And over the past year, bicycle advocates and the families of killed cyclists have repeatedly accused the police of failing to properly handle these investigations, obstructing the release of information about the accidents and failing to prosecute reckless drivers.

As the Council gears up for the hearing, which will feature testimony from the mother of slain cyclist Mathieu Lefevre, among others, MetroFocus looked back at some of the high-profile cases over the past year in which a motorist killed a cyclist and wasn’t immediately charged.

Mathieu Lefevre

A picture of cyclist Mathieu Lefevre, an artist living in Brooklyn who was hit and killed while riding his bicycle in Williamsburg in October of 2011. Photo by Chieu-Anh Le Van

Lefevre, a Candian-born artist living in Brooklyn, was hit, dragged and killed by a truck while riding his bicycle in Williamsburg last October. The police initially concluded that the driver, who fled the scene, was likely unaware that he’d hit Lefevre, and that according to surveillance videos the cyclist had run a red light and thus been at fault.

The driver wasn’t charged, despite the fact that it’s illegal to leave the scene of an accident in New York State, as this driver did. An NYPD spokesperson told Metro, “There’s no criminality.That’s why they call it an accident.”

However, Lefevre’s family had to sue the NYPD for access to the investigation files, and when they were finally released in January, things looked pretty bad for the NYPD and the driver. The video evidence reportedly did not prove Lefevre had run a red light, but did show the driver hadn’t signaled his turn. Even more disturbingly, while there were no photos of the truck — the investigator’s camera was broken — the NYPD had collected photos of Lefevre’s mother and her lawyer.

Lepoldo Hernandez

The 57 year old was riding his bike on Borinquen Street in Williamsburg on Jan. 11, 2012, when he crossed the intersection at Keap Street and was struck by a car. Hernandez was then run over by a second car and died at the scene. Police told the New York Post that no criminality was suspected, and neither driver was charged with Hernandez’s death. Later in the day, a bystander who’d witnessed the accident told Gothamist that the first car “was going like 50.”

Jeffrey Axelrod

The 52-year-old Cobble Hill resident was turning onto Delancey Street — one of the most accident-riddled streets in the city — from Chrystie Street on Aug. 18, when he was hit and killed by a tractor trailer. The police concluded that Axelrod had run a red light before making the turn, and was side-swiped by the truck. The driver wasn’t charged. However, Five Boro Bike Tour co-founder Stephen Bauman pointed out that an illegally parked car — the section of the street is a “no standing” zone — may have been responsible for the accident. Benepe’s Bike Blog reported that an NYPD spokesperson said the accident report listed that surrounding cars as “legally parked.”

Aileen Chen

The 16-year-old Stuyvesant High School student went out for a quick bike ride on June 4 when she was hit and killed by a driver at the intersection of 62nd Street and 21st Avenue in Brooklyn. An NYPD spokesperson told the New York Post that Chen ran a red light seconds before the accident occurred, and the driver was not charged. However, in an op-ed for Streetsblog, bicycle safety advocate Charles Komanoff introduced 12 questions that could have affected the outcome of the investigation.  But Komanoff said that these questions would remain unanswered unless the NYPD released its accident report, which he claimed was highly unlikely.

Erica Abbott

The 29-year-old dancer was riding her bike on Bushwick Avenue — a street without a bike lane where multiple bicycle accidents have occurred in recent years — on Aug. 30 when she was hit and killed by a car. Nobody was charged in her death, but neighbors said the accident was caused by a nearby construction company that left wooden debris scattered throughout the street.

A ghost bike honors a cyclist killed on Sixth Avenue in Manhattan. Since the ghost bike project began in 2003, friends and family members have installed 91 memorials on the sites where cyclists were killed. Flickr/tvol

Marilyn Dershowitz

The 68-year-old sister-in-law of powerful attorney Alan Dershowitz was struck and killed by a postal truck while cycling on West. 29th Street last July. The truck continued driving after the accident, and the driver was not initially charged. However, after Alan Dershowitz reportedly put pressure on Manhattan District Attorney to move forward with the case, the driver was eventually charged with leaving the scene of an accident.

Ray Deter

The 53-year-old owner of the popular East Village bar D.B.A. was riding his bike in SoHo on June 28. Police sources told the New York Daily News that Deter attempted to switch lanes and pedalled into a passing car in the next lane. Deter died on July 5. Police officers found marijuana in the driver’s car and charged him with possession, but did not press charges related to the accident.

Chris Doyle

The 29-year-old cyclist was hit and killed by a truck at the intersection of Metropolitan Avenue and Gardner Avenue on Aug. 2. According to witnesses, Doyle had attempted to pass the driver on the right, when he was clipped by the truck’s front bumper. A police source told the New York Daily News, ”The bicyclist was at fault. He should have seen the driver was about to turn. The bicyclist tried to rush by and you can’t do that. The driver had to be going about 5 m.p.h.” On the same day, Streetsblog wrote that the Daily News story did not state whether the driver had signaled his turn, or looked in his rear-view mirror, or whether the truck was equipped with proper mirrors.

Rasha Shamoon

The 31-year-old cyclist was killed by driver Abraham Soldner at the intersection of Bowery and Delancey Street on Aug. 5, 2008. Police sources told Downtown Express that Shamoon was riding against the light and the driver wasn’t charged. We included Shamoon in this list because on Feb. 9, 2012, the Kings County Supreme Court found Soldner criminally negligent in in Shamoon’s death, after her family brought a civil suit against him.

  • DAK

    One of the ways that NYPD keeps the homicide statistics down is to report deaths as accidental rather than homicide. It is sad that there is a substantial disincentive for NYPD to make criminal charges for traffic injuries.

  • S

    This is a major scandal. The NYPD needs to be investigated and monitored.

  • David

    Riding a bicycle in NYC traffic is asking for trouble. That’s not to say that bicyclists are to blame, it’s just an obviously dangerous thing to do.

  • Chloe Outlier

    No dishonor is intended. But let’s get the other side of this story out. Pedestrians hit by bicycles? Are stats even kept? That’s a “major scandal” too. Watching the chaos around me where I live in the Village, I also watch a helpless NYPD which physically cannot pursue flagrant bicyclists who do not follow traffic rules, who ride on the sidewalk or do whatever else they want (often in motorized “bikes”. The Bloomburg administration has created a pedestrian nightmare in NYC and if you are crossing the street and not looking both ways, you are seriously out of touch and could be killed. The only path (out of the self-serving path of many bicyclists) is to make ALL bicycles vechicles which require cyclist training, licensing, rules — AND — license plates + tickets for not following the rules. Let’s create accountability but let’s do it to make it even all around, even if the bicycle lobby howls (Portlandia style). If you so often the victim and obeying the rules, why would you be afraid to wear a “tag”? The courageous answer to thus group is that accountability will save lives.

    • physicaltherapistnyc

      then pedestrians should have licence plates pinned on their asses…AND should be charged with attempt of murder for crossing the street before the sign signals to walk while texting, status updating, tweeting and GPSing…also should be charged for doing the same while jaywalking…also if you are intoxicated and jump in front of a bike, you should be charged for attempt of murder as well…do you have a problem with “tagging” your ass with a licence plate?  constantly having to figure out how to make it an accessory to go with your outfit? 

    • Mathew Smithburger

      You really are an idiot.

  • Steven Wildstein, P.C.

    Reading through a list like this can be emotionally exhausting, but it is vital that these people and their stories do not slip away. Police officers owe these victims and their families a diligent, honest investigation of the accidents. This would honor lost lives and hopefully help prevent similar accidents from happening in the future. http://www.wildsteinlaw.com/practice-areas/types-of-injuries/

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