What We Don’t Know About the Crash That Killed Aileen Chen

Here are a dozen questions pertaining to the crash that took the life of 16-year-old Stuyvesant H.S. student Aileen Chen as she rode her bicycle last Saturday a block from her home in Borough Park at around 6 p.m.

Twenty-First Ave. and 62nd St., Borough Park, Brooklyn: What happened here? Image: Google Maps
  1. How fast was the BMW traveling when Aileen and her bicycle first came into view?
  2. How fast was the driver going when he struck her?
  3. How far from the point of first impact did Aileen’s body come to rest?
  4. Was the 26-year-old driver alone, or were there others in the car?
  5. Was she hurrying for some reason, or distracted?
  6. Has the driver’s smartphone been impounded and checked to see if she was phoning or texting at the time of the crash?
  7. Is the area of Borough Park in which the crash took place residential, as it appears from an Internet view?
  8. How long and far from the collision might a driver who had been visually scanning the road have seen Aileen?
  9. Which party was traveling on 21st Avenue, which appears wider and perhaps more prone to fast driving than the cross street, 62nd Street?
  10. Does the driver have a record of moving violations?
  11. Whose testimony was the basis of the NYPD statement that Aileen ran a red light?
  12. Did anyone other than the driver witness the crash? Has the NYPD taken their evidence?

Every one of these questions is answerable, although none were answered in the press accounts, which nevertheless drip with the customary “victim guilty, case closed” quality of articles about bicyclist fatalities. All of these questions, I submit, are relevant to finding fault — a process that, though painful, is essential, as it is in every serious-injury or fatal traffic crash, to the arduous task of reforming traffic engineering, enforcement, jurisprudence and behavior.

The foundation of any meaningful investigation of the crash that killed Aileen is found in the first three questions. Driving faster than 30 mph on ordinary streets such as the two that intersected here is both prohibited by law and a statistical separator between surviving being struck by a car, and not. Higher driving speeds also increase crash likelihood by making visual scanning less effective, shortening drivers’ reaction-time window, lengthening stopping distance, and impeding detection of the vehicle by other road users.

Presumably the NYPD Accident Investigation Squad, the unit charged with analyzing fatal crashes in NYC, has by now measured skid marks, other road markings, damage to the BMW and bicycle, and the locations where Aileen and her clothing, iPod, etc. came to rest. From these metrics, the AIS may have already calculated, at least approximately, the driver’s speeds prior to and during the collision. Yet there is almost zero chance that these data from Aileen’s crash will enter the public record. The NYPD guards AIS reports virtually as state secrets. In 2000, when my organization Right Of Way was researching our “Only Good Cyclist” report on fatal NYC auto-cyclist crashes [PDF], prying loose AIS reports for a mere 14 crashes required multiple iterations of our Freedom of Information request, plus a dozen subsequent calls and letters. Several similar requests proffered later were rejected.

Questions 4 and 5 go to the driver’s state of mind and, while purely circumstantial, may suggest a possible motive to speed or otherwise drive carelessly. Though neither hands-free phoning nor texting while driving is illegal in New York State (the latter is a secondary not primary driving offense), the driver’s quality of attention is still a critical parameter, which justifies Question 6.

Question 7 draws on the legal obligation of drivers to observe a standard of due care. (Section 1146 of the State Vehicle & Traffic Law directs “Drivers [to] exercise due care to avoid colliding with any bicyclist, pedestrian or domestic animal upon any roadway.”) By law, then, operating a motor vehicle in a residential neighborhood requires being on alert for people walking, running, playing, cycling, etc. Question 8, another for the Accident Investigation Squad, seeks to determine if a lawful driver (speed limit, due care, etc.) could have averted striking a cyclist who had ridden through a red light.

Questions 9 and 10 return to the subject of the driver’s cognition and conduct, while questions 11 and 12 seek to address the vexing and perhaps unresolvable issue: Who had a green light and who ran a red — Aileen or the driver? I suspect that this question will never be settled. Self-interest requires the driver to claim that he had right of way. And while any eyewitnesses should be tracked down and interviewed, bystander accounts aren’t always reliable, and it’s not unreasonable to worry that cultural biases about drivers and bicyclists could inadvertently color their accounts. At the least, though, if the only reported account is the driver’s, its bias should be acknowledged and its testimony disregarded.

No answers will bring back Aileen, whose tragically abbreviated life was so vibrant and promising. But determining the circumstances of her fatal crash as definitively as possible is important to the public discourse and, ultimately, public policy, that determines whether our streets will be dangerous or livable. Between the Post’s “Tragic teen struck and killed was biking against light: cops” and an alternative headline, “Joyrider in BMW was speeding when he rammed teen on bike,” lies a world of difference. For now, we don’t know which applies. Without data that the NYPD may have but won’t give out, we probably never will.

  • carma

    @c661ddb94bcffdc2c6124e349eafdc77:disqus 

    hows this.  Lets forget about statistics for a second and talk about reality.  I dont care that statistically speaking, group A has a prison rate of 34.3% or group B has a group prison rate of 5.4%.
    If we solely base everything on statistics, than we should have all invested in Mortgage backed securities b/c they were so highly rated having a 99% chance of a positive return.  We all know how that turned out.

    Quote from Homer Simpson 
    Oh, people can come up with statistics to prove anything. 14% of people know that.

    Sorry, but I rather live my life based on reality than always using statistics.  If prejudging that a car has dings and dents makes me prejudiced.  I guess i am.  but id rather be on the safe side of things.

    if you believe brownsville or east n.y. is safer than most cities.  How about you walk in those streets and prove us wrong that you will be safe.  btw: make sure you were nice sneakers, plenty of jewelry as well.

  • carma

    @c661ddb94bcffdc2c6124e349eafdc77:disqus 

    hows this.  Lets forget about statistics for a second and talk about reality.  I dont care that statistically speaking, group A has a prison rate of 34.3% or group B has a group prison rate of 5.4%.
    If we solely base everything on statistics, than we should have all invested in Mortgage backed securities b/c they were so highly rated having a 99% chance of a positive return.  We all know how that turned out.

    Quote from Homer Simpson 
    Oh, people can come up with statistics to prove anything. 14% of people know that.

    Sorry, but I rather live my life based on reality than always using statistics.  If prejudging that a car has dings and dents makes me prejudiced.  I guess i am.  but id rather be on the safe side of things.

    if you believe brownsville or east n.y. is safer than most cities.  How about you walk in those streets and prove us wrong that you will be safe.  btw: make sure you were nice sneakers, plenty of jewelry as well.

  • Postman3000

    1. How are you suggesting to help the deceased or the family?
    2. Hypothetical? I am sure the outcome of the investigation and so-called “public” attention and media would take a different side. Do you think it is hypothetical? Do you live in NYC by chance? Are you familiar with words like “bias”?
    3. All we can do is help living not to get killed. But if we do not thoroughly investigate why this girl was killed, there is very little all of us can do besides blah-blah-blah and yad-yada-yada. How does that help, eh?
    I knew this girl, and let me tell you, she was not stupid to wear headphones and dash across the street at full speed and run the red light. So all that bullshit printed by media is just that – bullshit. I am afraid that nothing will be done. Just like nothing is done in case of hundreds and thousands of innocent people getting killed, just because some f…ing jerk decided to test his/her brand news car’s racing capabilities, and then gets away with it.

  • mari

    Only a moran would make such a coment …why is it that the truth is,,, that it was a horrible tragedy and an accident and no blame to all..no differrent if u are black or white or chines a life has been lost and a nother destroyed cause of remorse,,,its  sad that people just talk out of their  ASS,,,YES SHE WAS 16 AND FULL OF LIFE AND MADE A CRUCIAL MISTAKE,  AND CAUSED HER LIFE BUT LETS STOP ALREDY AND THINK  ,,,EVERYONE INVOLVED IS A VICTIM…IT COULD HAVE BEEN A TOYOTA OR A FERRARI NO DIFFERENT..THERE WAS TRAFFIC AHEAD AND BEYOND NO SPEED   FACTOR JUST CURCUMSTANCES,,,TRAFFIC HAD BEEN RERAUTED CAUSE OF A PROSSESION ON THE PRIOR BLOCK SO ALL TRAFFIC WAS COMING DOWN  62ND STREET  HOW FAST DO YOU THINK ANYONE COULD HAVE BEEING GOING,,,THERE WHERE SO MANY PEOPLE AND WITTNESSES ALL SAID THE SAME..SO WHY ? IS IT THAT THEY MUST FAUND FAULT WITH THE DRIVER…SAD

  • mari

    Only a moran would make such a coment …why is it that the truth is,,, that it was a horrible tragedy and an accident and no blame to all..no differrent if u are black or white or chines a life has been lost and a nother destroyed cause of remorse,,,its  sad that people just talk out of their  ASS,,,YES SHE WAS 16 AND FULL OF LIFE AND MADE A CRUCIAL MISTAKE,  AND CAUSED HER LIFE BUT LETS STOP ALREDY AND THINK  ,,,EVERYONE INVOLVED IS A VICTIM…IT COULD HAVE BEEN A TOYOTA OR A FERRARI NO DIFFERENT..THERE WAS TRAFFIC AHEAD AND BEYOND NO SPEED   FACTOR JUST CURCUMSTANCES,,,TRAFFIC HAD BEEN RERAUTED CAUSE OF A PROSSESION ON THE PRIOR BLOCK SO ALL TRAFFIC WAS COMING DOWN  62ND STREET  HOW FAST DO YOU THINK ANYONE COULD HAVE BEEING GOING,,,THERE WHERE SO MANY PEOPLE AND WITTNESSES ALL SAID THE SAME..SO WHY ? IS IT THAT THEY MUST FAUND FAULT WITH THE DRIVER…SAD

  • mari

    Only a moran would make such a coment …why is it that the truth is,,, that it was a horrible tragedy and an accident and no blame to all..no differrent if u are black or white or chines a life has been lost and a nother destroyed cause of remorse,,,its  sad that people just talk out of their  ASS,,,YES SHE WAS 16 AND FULL OF LIFE AND MADE A CRUCIAL MISTAKE,  AND CAUSED HER LIFE BUT LETS STOP ALREDY AND THINK  ,,,EVERYONE INVOLVED IS A VICTIM…IT COULD HAVE BEEN A TOYOTA OR A FERRARI NO DIFFERENT..THERE WAS TRAFFIC AHEAD AND BEYOND NO SPEED   FACTOR JUST CURCUMSTANCES,,,TRAFFIC HAD BEEN RERAUTED CAUSE OF A PROSSESION ON THE PRIOR BLOCK SO ALL TRAFFIC WAS COMING DOWN  62ND STREET  HOW FAST DO YOU THINK ANYONE COULD HAVE BEEING GOING,,,THERE WHERE SO MANY PEOPLE AND WITTNESSES ALL SAID THE SAME..SO WHY ? IS IT THAT THEY MUST FAUND FAULT WITH THE DRIVER…SAD

  • mari

    Sad  that all you do is judge,, there is no black or white when its a tragic accident..why is there always  to be bias on everything in this dam country…the truth is that she passed a  red light  and she hit the car missed the car before the bmw and she slammed into the bmw,,,so what the hell is the different if it was a toyota or a bmw,,,there where plenty of wittnesses,,,so lets get real and eccept the thruth for what it is,,,why do we need to blame someone it was a TRAGGIC ACCIDENT,,,,,,,,ENOUGH ALREADY WITH THE BULL SHIT OF IF WHAT  OR NOT..chinese or black or white there was a life that was lost and a nother was so saddly affected////

  • mari

    bet that you are a big ASS HOLE that sees things through your ASS…there where so many witnesses that  they all give the same description of the events leading to the accident…traffic was heavy and traffic was all going at a normal speed..so what charges where they going to file when the driver was following traffic rules and the bike come at the bmw and truck the car,,,if there where charges to file there should have being filed for the biker not following traffic safty rules and endenger herselph and others////

  • Jessicalee

    This is a really sad story. I live in the neighborhood and I have seen many of the Jewish drivers; especially the men, always drive aggressively. I love Jewish people but they just don’t follow instructions very well. Many of them don’t stop at stop signs, they keep going fast even the light turn red, tailgate other cars and make illegal u-turns at double yellow sollid lines. I believed that the 26-year-old female Jewish driver was driving way too fast, otherwise she would be able to stop her car. Or, at least just hit Aileen lightly instead of taking her life. I agreed with the saying that the driver was maybe talking on the phone or texting. I don’t quite believe the witnesses. I think they were just siding the driver because they are all white. I think the story will be different if the cyclist is a Jewish girl and the driver is Asian. Please, driver, becareful, you took away the beautiful life of Aileen and her family.

  • mari

    its sad to just assume what   happened think ….. but the truth is that the driver was following traffic rules and had traffic ahead and behind her.. and had a full GREEN LIGHT .and lets be real here why is it that you cannot accept the fact that the cyclelist did not obey traffic  RULES and was careless…and going like the wind…ITS SAD SO MANY WITTNESS SAY ALL THE SAME STORY,,,THE COPS TOOK A FULL INVESTIGATION BEFORE THEY LET THE DRIVER GO …BUT YET YOU STILL CRUSSIFIED  THE DRIVER why???????

  • mia

    no the driver did not take away aileen ‘s life the circumstances did and destiny  did
    stop blaming the driver she is as much a victim as is aileen  os a cruel destiny

  • Johnliu

    Since this case has so many unanswered questions, the family can always ask for a reinvestigation.  I feel sorry for the family, I don’t know what else to say but to pray for them.

  • Tonyanthony

    Why is this ‘Mia’ girl bad mouth almost everyone and got so angry at each opinion? Who is she? May be she is the ……?

  • Bellafantasia2

    maybe she was one of the wittness,,maybe she was therein the moment unlike some people that all they do is assume and coment

  • Bellafantasia2

    maybe she was one of the wittness,,maybe she was therein the moment unlike some people that all they do is assume and coment

  • moe

    maybe she was one of the wittness,,maybe she was therein the moment unlike some people that all they do is assume and coment

  • moe

    maybe she was one of the wittness,,maybe she was therein the moment unlike some people that all they do is assume and coment

  • Bellafantasia2

    yes the questions should also be why was the cyclist not wearing her eye glasses what was she rushing too desgarding every traffic light on 21st ave other motorist had seen her a block up before the accident one block up still had a red light that she failed to stop as well why was she rushing and why did she have no I.D on her no one knew who she was when she only lived 1/2 block her home…and also the bike was recovered with minimal damage,,so that is also why the police determine that the car was not going fast at all…the injuries she had was from her own speed and the inpact she encountered on the sidewalk yes she did have head injuries but if anyone goes at pretty fast speen on a bike the results most likely would be as critical,,,

  • Achromaticon

    “Moe,” you have been patrolling this page for the past month; why can’t you let others have their own opinions? Where are you getting your evidence, and if you do have this “evidence,” why aren’t you reporting it to the proper authorities, rather than using it to disparage sympathetic readers from giving their condolences? I personally knew Aileen for the last four years of her life. I found out about her death hours before most people knew there was an accident. I personally went from house to house after the accident, asking if anyone had witnessed it firsthand. You, on the other hand, are most definitely not someone she knew personally; why are you doing this? Do you feel that you are doing the “right” thing? I can tell you, you are not helping those who loved and cared for her by spamming the only article on the Internet that provides a non-sensationalist, objective analysis of what may or may not have happened. Maybe you do have legitimate concerns. Maybe she was speeding. But there is no reason for you to personally respond to every post other people make. Why are you coming back? Why do you bother making sure everyone is educated about the “true” circumstances around the incident? Do you have a personal stake in this? Are you trying to reconcile something within yourself? Your incessant postings are unreasonable for an outside observer… unless, you have something to hide.

  • Kadiance

    To be honest, I have only wondered only one or two questions from this article. But what surprised me honestly is the person using Achromaticon. To the person using Achromaticon, please stop. Not to mean anything but it was her one of her aliases online and it shocked me that I thought…
    Anyhow, there’s no point in arguing over this. We all dearly miss her but without any information from the NYPD as stated in the article, there’s nothing we can really do.

  • Achromaticon

    I would like o explain. May I have your email address please?

  • Bellafantasia2

    well think achromaticon   …i was the car behind the   bmw it could have been me a few seconds latter yes it became personal cause i was there and I GIVE MY STATEMENT TO THE AUTHORIES AND SO DID OTHER DRIVERS WE ALL STOPPED TO TRY TO HELP WE CALL 911 SO DONT TELL ME HOW I SHOULD FEEL WHEN I SEE PEOPLE ATTACKING THE DRIVER ITS SAD YOU WHERE NOT THERE SO PLESE DONT TELL ME THAT I SHOULD LET PEOPLE HAVE THERE OPPINION,,,OPPINIONS ARE NOT FACTS AND THE THRUTH GETS LOST WE OPPINIONS….SO LETS STICK TO THE FACTS AND THE TRUTH AND LETS LET AILEEN CHEN REST IN PEACE AND STOP WITH WHAT IF….IT IS WHAT IT IS….DID YOU THINK OF ALL OF US THAT WHERE THERE AND THE IMMAGES THAT REMAIN IN OUR MINDS ITS HARD TO FORGET… 
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     

  • moe miali

    ,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

  • Zhengqixi

    the bike flew half a block down
    i was there
    and it was a residential area
    the driver was on a one way lane
    she was definitively speeding

  • Tony Anthony

    I could imagine because her mom said Aileen’s face was so swollen that mom couldn’t even recognize her. I hope the driver did feel sorry and stop all the excuses and be more watchful in the future.

  • Aileen

    Bullshit. The police report said that the driver was the only one who witnessed the crash.

  • moe miali

    stop the bullshit for real and,,, dont act like you know as i said there where witnesses and i was the car behind the bmw i calld 911    I WAS BEHIND THE BMW.IT drives me nuts cause it could have been me a few seconds after we where all going with traffic there was no way of speeding there was traffic.on the other hand the bycle was going  pretty fast and desregard all traffic and hit the bmw…so stop trying to brain wash people of the contrary…