Jury Applies No Penalty to Speeding Driver For Killing Cyclist Jake McDonaugh

A Brooklyn jury has found defendant Michael Oxley not guilty of criminally negligent homicide in the 2010 death of Jake McDonaugh, the Post reports.

Image: NY1

Oxley was speeding behind the wheel of a Dodge Caravan when he ran down cyclist McDonaugh at the intersection of Flatbush Avenue and Duryea Place last April. The investigation and prosecution were unusual for a vehicular violence case — police followed up with witnesses, and the Brooklyn District Attorney applied a felony charge. But the jury cleared Oxley of homicide as well as reckless driving, a misdemeanor. A closer look at the case is in order.

At 9:20 a.m. on the morning of April 14, Oxley was driving on Flatbush when he struck and killed McDonaugh, who was bicycling eastbound on Duryea. Oxley, 28 at the time, was observed traveling at an excessive speed, and a witness saw him run a red before killing McDonaugh, according to court documents [PDF]. He was driving with a suspended license and according to the Daily News had racked up three license suspensions for failing to pay fines for speeding and improper turns.

McDonaugh was 18. He was dragged for half a block after impact and pronounced dead at the scene.

In their verdict, the jury convicted Oxley of speeding and driving with a suspended license, while clearing him of the two charges stemming from McDonaugh’s death — the felony homicide charge and the misdemeanor reckless driving charge. The sentence from Judge Raymond Guzman: an $800 fine and 10 days in jail.

According to the Post, a key factor in the jury’s decision was a surveillance tape from a nearby restaurant that indicated Oxley didn’t run the red. (They also cleared him of a red light running infraction.)

Accepting that explanation, the following facts are still not in dispute: Oxley was speeding, and he was violating the law just by driving. If he had obeyed the law, Jake McDonaugh would still be alive. Yet the jury did not even find that his conduct met the standard for reckless driving, defined in state law as operating a vehicle “in a manner which unreasonably interferes with the free and proper use of the public highway, or unreasonably endangers users of the public highway.”

What led the 12 men and women on the jury to this verdict? The analysis of Bob Mionske, an attorney who writes the “Road Rights” column for Bicycling Magazine, comes to mind.

Based on his experiences with cases in the Portland area, Mionske says that public perception of cyclist fatalities is inseparable from the way such cases are treated by police and the media. Police tend to leak information about crashes that faults cyclists, and those are the details that get into the news cycle. When information later surfaces that indicates motorist culpability, the press has lost interest and the public never hears about it.

The Oxley case, on its own, doesn’t fit the pattern — police shared information from witness interviews and coverage reflected Oxley’s misconduct. But overall, the coverage of bike and pedestrian fatalities in New York is saturated with police statements that blame the victim.

“This just poisons the mind of the public, and the public is who is empaneled in juries,” Mionske told an audience at the National Bike Summit a few years back. “What you see is, anti-cycling bias starts with cops, is reinforced by the media, and is perpetuated in the courts.”

  • Dismayed

    “The investigation and prosecution were unusual for a vehicular violence
    case — police followed up with witnesses, and the Brooklyn District
    Attorney applied a felony charge.”

    That these steps are unusual tells you a lot about the value of a person’s worth when he’s killed by a car.

  • This is appalling.  Please every one,  sign the TA petition to bring the NYPD to enforce the law… 
    https://secure3.convio.net/ta/site/Advocacy?cmd=display&page=UserAction&id=175

  • Glenn

    Apparently not only do you not have to stay at the scene of a deadly accident, you don’t even need a valid license to drive deadly automobiles. Imagine all the same facts except that the vehicle was a plane, train, boat, crane or any other piece of heavy machinery that requires a license and imagine what the outcome would be.

  • Glenn

    Apparently not only do you not have to stay at the scene of a deadly accident, you don’t even need a valid license to drive deadly automobiles. Imagine all the same facts except that the vehicle was a plane, train, boat, crane or any other piece of heavy machinery that requires a license and imagine what the outcome would be.

  • Morris Zapp

    Sadly, this junk verdict will be probably be used as an excuse not to charge the next law breaking sociopath who kills someone with their car.

  • Joe R.

    The thing that bothers me the most here isn’t that this person didn’t receive a long jail sentence.  So long as Mr. Oxley doesn’t drive, he doesn’t represent a danger to society such that we should spend money keeping him locked up for a long time.  No, what bothers me the most in this case, and others like it, is the fact that eventually Mr. Oxley will be able to get behind the wheel of a motor vehicle again.  I think if you kill or seriously injure a cyclist or pedestrian while driving (with the exception of cases where they jump right in front of your vehicle), you should be barred from driving for life.  Really for life, not some nonsense where they might look at your case in 10 years and allow you to drive again.  And if you’re caught driving with no license, the car gets confiscated and auctioned off.  Judges all too often are reluctant to revoke driver’s licenses because the defendant claims they “need” to drive.  Driving is a privilege.  If you really do need to drive, then you shouldn’t abuse that privilege by killing people.

  • Anonymous

    I agree that prohibiting people who are involved in injury accidents with peds and cyclists from driving would probably be a more effective way to modify behavior than using the criminal justice system, which is fraught with too many complications–starting with the police–to be a useful tool in preventing vehicular homicide.  Obviously it isn’t working now.

  • I’m sorry but you don’t need the police or the media “poisoning” public perception about cyclists.  All they have to do is walk down the street and there will be a good percentage of cyclists breaking the law; running stop sign / red lights, riding without lights at night and very often just being reckless and rude.  Yes, many car drivers do exactly the same but just because they are jerks doesn’t mean that we cyclists don’t need to clean up our own acts.

    That said, the law should find Mr. Oxley guilty of recklessness and felony murder simply because he was behind the wheel of a car!  He had clearly proven that he was an incompetent driver by loosing his license on numerous occasions and by driving on a suspended license at the time of the crash.  What the hell else must the prosecution prove in a case like this!!!

    I really hope that the surviving family sues the shit out of this scumbag at the very least.

  • eLK

    Here is exactly why we need protected bike lanes.  Safety can be engineered.  The car and trucks are engineered for passenger safety, so can the streets for everyone else.

  • While police leaking blame-the-victim details is a problem in fostering juror bias against cyclists–and an outrage against the victims and their families–I have to agree with Andy B. that cyclist misbehavior is probably the bigger cause of anti-cyclist bias among prospective jurors.

  • I’m really getting tired of people who talk about ‘law-breaking cyclists’ — THAT’S NOT AN EXCUSE FOR RUNNING ANYONE OVER WITH A DAMNED CAR!  And let’s not sugar-coat the real issues — DRIVERS ARE JUST AS GUILTY OF ROUTINE LAWBREAKING AS CYCLISTS, it’s just accepted because ‘everybody else does it’, or ‘nobody gets hurt doing this’.  It’s WAAAY past time for everyone to realize that they are NOT out there all alone, there ARE other PEOPLE out there, not just icons on the video game screen, and EVERYONE has the same responsibility for safe and proper travel on the PUBLIC roads.

  • Paul Peterson

    Wow! For only $800 you can kill someone AND get 10 days of vacation with free meals? How will hitmen ever work again with these kind of government incentives?

  • dporpentine

    @twitter-22824076:disqus

    I have to agree with Andy B. that cyclist misbehavior is probably the bigger cause of anti-cyclist bias among prospective jurors.

    I’m sympathetic to this point of view, but I think the reality is that people *notice* cyclists’ misbehavior to a degree that’s out of proportion to (a) their overall lawlessness and (b) the danger they pose to other people using those same spaces. The bias is in what they notice.
    Of course, if something close to all cyclists stopped breaking the big three laws that people gripe about (running lights, riding the wrong way down one-way streets, and riding on the sidewalk), then there would be a lot less to notice. But even committed advocates can’t agree cyclists should do that, let alone the vast, vast majority of cyclists who don’t even know of the existence of cycling advocacy.

  • pablo_skils

    A uniformed police officer once told me: “If you want to kill somebody and get away with it, just use a car.” That’s what he said. It was back in 1989, but apparently it still holds true today.

  • eveostay

    Drivers break the law routinely. Speeding, red-light running and so on. Nonetheless, there doesn’t seem to be any jury bias against drivers in general. The cultural bias against cyclists is purely because we are a convenient “other”.

  • Joe R.

    Regarding cyclist misbehavoir and its effect on the public, I think it’s not so much letter of the law violations which raise public ire per se, but rather when those violations are accompanied by near misses, often at high speed.  I’ve been passing red lights routinely for over 30 years, but I’ve only had negative comments about it a few times (and all of those were in the past year, fueled undoubtably by the daily dose of anti-cycling drivel in the media).  The thing I NEVER do is pass a red light if it interferes with the legal right-of-way of either a pedestrian crossing or a motorist.  Same thing with stop signs (and I’ll sometimes wave cars through if they slow down thinking I’m not going to wait for them).  I think if cycling advocates could get cyclists to do these simple things, it would go a long way towards greatly improving the negative public bias towards cyclists.  Logistically, it’s much less of a stretch to ask a cyclist to slow down or stop at a red light or stop sign if something is crossing, than it is to ask them to do it all the time, even if nothing is there.  Of course, some still won’t heed even such a reasonable request, but that would be a very small minority I would think.

    Sidewalk riding is the other big problem.  Here I think also some cyclist (and pedestrian) education would help.  First off, pedestrians should know that the majority of cyclists don’t like riding on sidewalks.  I know I don’t.  It’s much slower than street riding, you’re going up and down curbs every block, you need to be super vigilent for pedestrians.  The only reason we do it is when riding in the street is so dangerous that the negatives of riding there outweigh the negatives of riding on the sidewalk.  In the outer boroughs sidewalks are often nearly empty.  Faced with a choice of a dangerous arterial versus an wide empty sidewalk, many cyclists will choose the latter.  So long as they give pedestrians a wide berth, I see no reason why this is a problem, and certainly no reason it should be illegal (sidewalk riding is actually legal is most places other than NYC).  On crowded Manhattan sidewalks maybe, but not in the outer boroughs.  Regardless, the message to cyclists on the sidewalk should be if you intend to ride there, recognize that sidewalks are primarily the domain of pedestrians.  That means it’s incumbent upon you, and only you, to avoid collisions and near misses with people walking.  I personally don’t care if a person is cycling on a sidewalk while I’m walking, except when they expect me to get out of their way.  A little courtesy here easily allows peds and cyclists to coexist.  Ideally, bicycles should be provided safe infrastructure so sidewalks aren’t the only safe alternative.  Realistically, that’s not going to happen on the majority of streets.

  • carma

    i can understand if a car accidently hits someone and no charges are filed if it was indeed an accident.

    but this was NOT an accident for the sheer fact that the driver had a suspended license.  What part of NOT ALLOWED to drive do these people not get.  this makes this a criminal case.

  • Xcx

    Your post does not mention that the bicylcist was riding an illegal “Fixie” bike with no breaks and was also not wearing a helmet.  There was also testimony that the the bicyclist was seen by several witnesses before the accident weaving in and out of traffic and traveling in the wrong lane of traffic.

  • B4daylight

    I think this shows what 40 decades of bad leadership does to people’s perception on transportation. 

    He was told not to drive because he speeds. And then revoked. 
    He speeds and kills someone. 

    How is that not criminal.  

  • carma

    Xcx, as much as i hate these type of cyclists (fixie no brake, salmon riders), a driver with a suspended license should NOT be driving.

    and it was reckless driving that killed the cyclist, irrespective of bad cycling behavior.

  • Anonymous

    Driving without a license doesn’t have anything to with homicide. Having a state issued piece of paper doesn’t make a driver any less dangerous.

    The jury did the right thing, which was to evaluate the driver’s specific actions behind the wheel. If there is not proof that the driver acted recklessly, he shouldn’t be found guilty.

    This is a sad situation. Most likely the driver bears at least some of the blame, morally speaking. But we can’t throw out the rule of law because we are upset. 

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

Brooklyn DA Brings Homicide Charge for Flatbush Cyclist Killer

|
The driver who killed a cyclist on Flatbush Avenue yesterday has been charged with criminally negligent homicide by the office of Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes. Image: NY1 The cyclist, 18-year-old Jake McDonaugh from Windsor Terrace, was riding east on Duryea Place, according to witnesses. When he entered the intersection at Flatbush Avenue, Michael Oxley, […]

The Weekly Carnage

|
The Weekly Carnage is a Friday round-up of motor vehicle mayhem across the five boroughs and beyond. For more on the origins and purpose of this column, please read About the Weekly Carnage.   Fatal Crashes (5 Killed This Week, 42 This Year, 8 Drivers Charged*) Jake McDonaugh, 18, Killed by Unlicensed, Speeding Driver in […]

Wrist Slap for DWI Killer After Brooklyn DAs Decline to Charge Homicide

|
A convicted drunk driver was sentenced this week to probation, a nominal fine, and a six-month license suspension for killing a Brooklyn pedestrian. Shortly after midnight on July 5, 2013, 27-year-old Roxana Gomez was walking at Flatbush Avenue and St. Marks Avenue when Eric Nesmith hit her with a BMW sedan, according to witness accounts and the Post. […]