The hit-and-run truck driver who killed cyclist Mathieu Lefevre last October struck the victim with his front driver’s side tire, according to a description in NYPD’s investigative file shared by Lefevre’s family. The description, based largely on video evidence police obtained in December, raises serious questions about the driver’s claim that he was not aware he had struck Lefevre when he left the scene of the fatal collision.
Police released the investigative file on Friday, three weeks after Lefevre’s family filed a suit under the Freedom of Information Law to obtain materials related to the investigation.
In a statement released today [PDF], Erika Lefevre, the victim’s mother, revealed that NYPD has now issued traffic summonses to the crane truck driver, Leonardo Degianni, for failure to exercise due care and failing to signal, but no criminal charges. The statement criticizes NYPD for not charging Degianni with fleeing the scene and criminal negligence, given evidence that Degianni’s front bumper and driver’s side front wheel struck Mathieu Lefevre. The Lefevres are appealing to Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes to review the case.
The Lefevre case has shed light on an aspect of policing that NYPD is loath to conduct transparently. Police and press accounts of traffic fatalities tend to be riddled with gaps, and witness accounts from crash scenes often depict police failing to pursue potential lines of inquiry. Thanks to the Lefevres’ determined pursuit of the truth, the public not only has a better sense of what caused Mathieu Lefevre’s death, but how NYPD conducts crash investigations.
Evidence in the Lefevre file summarized by their attorney, Steve Vaccaro, directly contradicts at least one NYPD account of the crash, in which a police source said the victim ran a red light. The NYPD file indicates that Lefevre and Degianni were passing through the intersection of Meserole Street and Morgan Avenue simultaneously, with a green light, when Degianni turned across Lefevre’s path, without signaling, as the cyclist continued straight.
The new evidence is only coming to light after the victim’s family relentlessly pressed the NYPD to disclose information related to the crash.
NYPD records, as summarized by Vaccaro, show that in October police thought they had all the video evidence available. They had one video that did not capture the moment of impact, but showed Lefevre’s body being “ejected” by the truck, Vaccaro said. In early December, NYPD told the Lefevres that the video evidence was inconclusive.
Only after a rally at NYPD headquarters and the Lefevres’ much-reported search for information did police obtain the video showing the initial impact, collected from a Morgan Avenue shopkeeper on December 18. Vaccaro did his own canvassing and found several other businesses that had video. The day after the shopkeeper on Morgan Avenue provided his tape to NYPD, he told Vaccaro’s firm that he’d watched the video and found it disturbing.
The substantial time lag before NYPD obtained crucial video evidence is one misstep in a general pattern of carelessness on the part of police investigators. According to the NYPD file, police did not have functioning cameras to record critical blood evidence at the scene of the crash. While Vaccaro says the officer assigned to the case, Detective Gerard Sheehan, told him that blood and paint were found on the front bumper of Degianni’s truck, the investigative file omits that specific evidence, making only a general reference to blood found on the truck.