NYPD Reportedly Lost Evidence Related to Crash That Killed Mathieu Lefevre

The attorney representing the family of Mathieu Lefevre has sent a letter to NYPD that raises serious questions about the investigation of the hit-and-run crash that took the 30-year-old artist’s life.

The parents of Mathieu Lefevre asked NYPD for answers at a rally outside 1 Police Plaza in October. Photo copyright ##http://gudphoto.com/bikenyc/2011/10/26/rally-for-traffic-justice/##Dmitry Gudkov##

The five-page letter from attorney Steve Vaccaro indicates that the NYPD Accident Investigation Squad has all but concluded that crane truck driver Leonardo Degianni was unaware that he had run over Lefevre and his bike at the intersection of Morgan Avenue and Meserole Street in East Williamsburg just after midnight on October 19. (Disclosure: Vaccaro represented Streetsblog for our freedom of information request to obtain documents from CUNY related to effort to erase the Prospect Park West bike lane.)

Vaccaro, writing on behalf of the Lefevres to Sergeant Matthew Bono of NYPD’s Highway Patrol Unit #2 in Flatbush, points to numerous shortcomings and gaps in the department’s handling of the case, and requests vital information that NYPD has yet to clarify or make available to the Lefevre family:

  • Based on conversations with Bono and investigating officer Detective Sheehan, Vaccaro writes: “Because leaving the scene was the only criminal charge considered this case, my understanding is that AIS’s consideration of potential criminal charges has concluded. You did indicate that AIS is still considering whether a traffic violation should be issued.”
  • Vaccaro was told that the AIS lost crucial evidence: “Detective Sheehan told me on December 7 that the blood he found on the front bumper of the truck that killed Mathieu was not collected or sampled by AIS. He explained to me that crime scene technicians responsible for collecting such samples were not available because they were investigating more serious crimes. According to Detective Sheehan, Mathieu’s blood found on the truck’s front bumper as rain was beginning to fall, and was therefore washed away without any collection or sampling. We have not been told whether AIS personnel photographed or otherwise preserved or recorded the fact of the blood and its location on the truck.” Other evidence, including Mathieu’s helmet and backpack, remains unaccounted for.
  • Police told Vaccaro that a video recording of the crash has been reviewed by AIS, and that a toxicology report conducted on Lefevre would be forthcoming. Asks Vaccaro: “Has Degianni himself been asked to submit to toxicology tests of the type being performed on the remains of Mathieu Lefevre?”
  • NYPD apparently has not settled on an official version of the crash, despite its crash report that shows that Lefevre was hit from behind. During one phone call, Sgt. Bono told Vaccaro, “we don’t think that he hit him with the front end of the truck.” When Vaccaro asked how Mathieu’s blood could have been on the front end of the truck, Bono replied, “I’m not saying he did and I’m not saying he didn’t hit him with the front end.” Bono’s comments seem to reflect early reports, attributed to unnamed NYPD sources, which indicated that Lefevre was sideswiped or was the victim of a “right hook.”

  • Based on details released by NYPD, Vaccaro and the Lefevre family question the conclusion that Degianni did not know he was involved in a collision. “[T]he accident report prepared by AIS includes a diagram depicting the truck rear-ending Mathieu on his bicycle. We were also told that Mathieu’s body was dragged some distance by the truck following the initial impact, and his bicycle was dragged much further. This is powerful, direct evidence that Degianni rear-ended Mathieu with the front end of his truck, immediately below and in front of the driver’s seat. It is difficult to believe that Degianni could have failed to notice he was involved in such a crash. We are astonished that that AIS would reject this plain evidence of a rear-end collision and a knowing flight from the scene, in favor the self-exculpatory statements and demeanor of Degianni.”
  • The letter says that remarks by investigators indicate a “preoccupation” with and “perhaps hostility” toward cyclists, leading Vaccaro and the Lefevre family to question NYPD impartiality. Writes Vaccaro: “[You] expressed the concern during your call to me on December 8 that the Lefevre family was being ‘used as a platform’ by cycling organizations. In a similar vein, Detective Sheehan also remarked to a witness he interviewed concerning Mathieu’s whereabouts immediately prior to his death that Mathieu ‘must have been a big cyclist given all the attention these advocacy organizations are paying to this case.’ Detective Sheehan has also suggested that Mathieu was a bicycle messenger (which is untrue), and has expressed his view to me views that cyclists generally behave in reckless and unpredictable ways in traffic. These negative comments … further undermine our confidence that the AIS is conducting an impartial investigation.”

It’s important to note that the office of Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes will have an opportunity to review the AIS investigation and the evidence in the Lefevre case to determine whether the charge of knowingly leaving the scene of a crash should be applied. Streetsblog has a message in with NYPD regarding the Vaccaro letter and the status of the Lefevre investigation.

  • John

    I just took a minute to remind the DA of his responsibility, and suggest others do the same.

  • Fed Up

    “Crime scene technicians responsible for collecting such [blood] samples were not available because they were investigating more serious crimes.”
    Really? How many other people were killed in Brooklyn that night? Can we please get a Federal Monitor for the NYPD?

  • blood washed off the bumper by rain, huh? musta been a thousand year storm…

  • Anxiously Awaiting Bike Share

    Longtime reader. There are enough problems with the police handling of this case that this story doesn’t need a misleading headline.  Who, other than StreetsBlog (who when reporting something, I trust them but you can’t quote yourself as the one reporting something), has reported on the lost evidence? The story should report on the fact that the attorney has wrote the letter and then summarize the letter with a quote from the lawyer and a request for comment from NYPD.

    This headline is straight out of the Fox News handbook; StreetsBlog should, and normally does, have higher standards.

  • NM

    A big thank you to the Lefevre family for ensuring NYPD takes negligent driving seriously.  Your actions are one giant step toward taming the menance currently allowed to kill and maim on our streets without consequence.  I’m deeply grateful for your actions.

  • @73a27bc20bf5ce1dee9a6e325a0eecec:disqus Hyperbole much? Journalists employ the word “reportedly” when we have information from a credible source but lack complete corroboration. The usage does not imply that another outlet has reported the information.

  • Anonymous

    @BenFried:disqus I think AABS is right, Ben. I’m not half the journalist you are, but I’ve long since come to regard “reportedly” as referring to another news org or media outlet — not an interested or concerned party. I think “NYPD May Have Lost …” or “Cyclist’s Attorney: ‘NYPD Lost …’ ” would have been more appropriate headlines. None of this is to detract from a terrific and vital story. Thanks for your amazing coverage.

  • J

    Isn’t the data about homicides and violent crime publicly available? Apparently investigating and preventing death is not a priority for the NYPD.

  • Observer

    Let’s be clear:

    The local press — the New York Times Metro desk, the Daily News and the Post — is complicit in this scandal.

  • Street Safety Now

    What folks also need to understand is that the way the NYPD handled the Lefevre case is standard operating procedure. All bike and pedestrian fatalities are assumed to be the fault of the cyclist or pedestrian unless the driver acted in completely egregious fashion with witnesses or video tape as proof. Thank goodness we finally have an attorney, Steve Vaccaro, going after this issue. And thank goodness that the Lefevre family is willing to pursue this case. It must be extraordinarily painful for them to have to deal with this. I really hope Vaccaro and the Lefevres will stay the course. This is an enormously important issue. NYPD culture and practice *must* change to make NYC streets safer and end this culture that allows virtually every case of motor vehicle manslaughter to be treated as an “accident.” The only way the change is going to happen is through law suits and legal pressure. If the Lefevre’s need funding to keep Vaccaro on the case, I’d be more than willing to pitch in and I bet others would be as well.

  • dporpentine

    The comments about “reportedly” are kinda surreal. It’s “reportedly” because the point at issue was “reported” by the lawyer. “Reported” does not mean “written by journalists”–witness all the news reports about, say, complicated foreign events where “reportedly” means “things I, the reporter, heard from people on the street.”  Maybe “allegedly” would make some people happier, but those words are not meaningfully distinct in headlinese.

    But I mostly wanted to say that it’s excruciating to read those things about the cops having “more serious crimes” to investigate and “that cyclists generally behave in reckless and unpredictable ways in traffic.” First,  it proves what I’ve long thought: all you people who run lights and just generally act too good for the law are helping to deprive other cyclists of the possibility of justice. And second, too many cops can’t tell the difference between their role and the role of judges, juries, and prosecutors. Instead, they think they know everything–absolutely everything. Where “knowing” equals “stuffed full of biases.”

    If the second problem could be fixed, then the first one would be less important. But I don’t think the second one will ever be fixed–certainly not on Streetsblog. But the first one could be.

  • dporpentine, you point to direct evidence of prejudice, but then demand perfection from the affected class as a remedy. This is a fools errand. Many groups have been subject to prejudice and none of them have fixed it by being perfect. They have fought, and fought, and fought. It is ongoing.

    In America these days it is practically mainstream to distrust Muslims, for example. Do you demand that all other practitioners, under the guidance of the the advocacy and support blogs that a small portion of them enjoy reading,  somehow “fix” all violent religious fanatics worldwide as the only way for the group to deserve religious freedoms literally spelled out in the constitution? I hope not, but there are plenty of outright bigots who do, sounding off on the TV sets of America. And then there are the fires we thought were extinguished but the internet reveals to be simmering away: Ever come across those people who are just obsessed with comparing violent crime rates by race?

    Prejudice is often based in fact—the “all you people who run lights” part of your complicit accounting—but it is always wrong. It is a weapon of the simple-minded and immoral, used exclusively against groups they perceive as socially inferior. No one in government is talking about the abysmal behavior of many NYC motorists when investigating a crash, nor should they be, but they do so openly for cyclists. Prejudice is not logical, it is evil. There is nothing to do but reject it.

  • Joe R.

    @c661ddb94bcffdc2c6124e349eafdc77:disqus The entire “cyclists don’t follow the law” thing is a red herring used as a tool by bike haters to justify doing whatever is on their agenda.  There’s no point playing the game of “I’ll be a good little boy when I ride so I’ll get a) more cycling infrastructure b) justice for cycling victims c) fewer people who hate bikes d) whatever other imaginary benefits might accrue from doing this.  As Nathan said, it’s a fools errand.  If we somehow waved a magic wand and got all cyclists to obey every law to the letter, no matter how dangerous or inconvenient obeying some of those laws are, then the bike haters would just raise the bar.  Next it’ll be mandatory helmet laws for adults, mandatory bike licensing, registration, insurance, perhaps even a VMT based on the premise that cyclists don’t pay a gas tax, but need to be as expensive as cars to run.  Bottom line, the bar will be continually raised until the number of cyclists is ZERO, with the blessing of the car and oil lobbies.

    We don’t demand perfection from any other group in return for infrastructure or justice.  We shouldn’t demand it of cyclists.  One thing we’re obsessed with in this country regarding bikes is whether or not they adhere to a set of laws largely designed for motor vehicles.  This nonsense just doesn’t exist in most other countries, where people understand the spirit of the law is more important than the letter.  We should do likewise here.  Remember there’s a huge divide between behavior which is merely illegal, versus behavior which is reckless.  The latter shouldn’t be tolerated from any group.  And the laws should be changed so the former is no longer illegal.  Strangely enough, while we’re obsessing over cyclists behaving totally within the law, we’re largely excusing quite a bit of overtly reckless behavior by motorists.

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