Trucker Struck Mathieu Lefevre With Driver’s Side Tire Before Leaving Scene

Police retrieved a video recording of the moment Leonardo Degianni struck Mathieu Lefevre with his truck only after the Lefevre family held a demonstration in front of NYPD headquarters and sent a letter protesting the department's handling of the case.

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.

A document from the NYPD investigative file indicates that the camera used to record blood evidence at the scene of Mathieu Lefevre's death was not working properly. While a detective told the Lefevre family's lawyer that blood was found on the truck's front bumper, the investigative file does not include such specific information about blood evidence.
  • dporpentine

    The description is chilling–not least because it’s proof positive that people can simply say a biker ran a light and that’s it, case closed.

    How many more case-closed, we-wash-our-hands-of-it police investigations of traffic “accidents” would be blown to pieces if they were subject to this much pressure? And let’s not forget–this really isn’t much pressure at all.

  • It is obvious now that the NYPD does not have any sort of moral standard that compels them to clear cases like this. They are pretty much like the DMV. The presence of scattered detectives who behave better than this (and I’m sure they exist) really is no excuse for the organization as a whole. 

    That said, I don’t think the general public cares enough to act. The general public has an expectation for safety that is unending (ex: we childproof everything) but somehow this doesn’t apply to daily vehicle use, a consistently significant (and unnecessary) source of injury and death. This was certainly NOT the case at the dawn of the age of the automobile. There are archive articles from the early 20th century that detail outrage about vehicular pedestrian deaths (caused by car, truck, bus, trolley, or freight train). 

    Whatever is at the root of this change is what needs to be directly attacked before we can gather the support for meaningful reform. Otherwise we will continue to be “car haters” and “bike dweebs” and whatever other dismissive stereotypes they can come up with. Something evil is obviously causing rot in the public’s mind, because the “livable streets” position is objectively much more reasonable than the status quo. And incidents like this should be intolerable, not forgettable. What word other than “evil” would you use to describe an inexplicably lax attitude toward grisly road deaths from careless driving?

  • Peter Meitzler

    Although the family has indicated that what happens with the driver is not their primary concern, presumably this statement of his is impacted now by the content of the video?

    From the Times: ‘On the night of the accident, the police found the vehicle they believed had hit Mr. Lefevre, parked on Scholes Street, two quick turns from the accident scene. It was a crane truck marked with the name Imperium Construction, according to an accident report, which identified the driver as Leonardo Degianni. Contacted on Tuesday, Mr. Degianni would not say if he had been behind the wheel. “It hasn’t been proven yet,” he said. “I have no comment.” ‘

  • Joe R.

    @brianvan:disqus Ironically, I think it’s the very frequency of injury and death caused by motor vehicles which has resulted in the present state of indifference. It’s human nature. When something occasionally causes injury or death, such as a plane crash, there’s often outrage, plus steps taken to keep it from happening again. When something occurs on a daily or near daily basis, people start equating it with “acts of God” which are largely out of their control. This same line of though also explains why there’s outrage whenever a cyclist severely injures, or worse, kills someone. It happens so infrequently that when it does, the public takes notice.

    I honestly think the majority of people feel there’s little which can be done to reduce deaths/injuries caused by motor vehicles. Whenever I’ve discussed this with people, the pat answer is usually “you have to die somehow”, or “it’s the cost of doing business”. We used to think the same way about crime up until the early 1990s. It was just accepted as a fact of life that you might be robbed, raped, or even killed if you stepped out the door. The only way this was turned around was by actually significantly reducing crime rates. When this happened, people wanted them reduced even further, to the point where we went from about 2000 murders annually to around 500. I feel if some measures we take now reduce the carnage to the point where it happens infrequently enough to make the front pages, then we might have public support for reducing it even further.

  • X

    Call Anne Swerne at the Brooklyn DA’s office and demand a homicide prosecution. 718-250-3939

  • No Accident

    The carelessness of the police investigators in this case is absolutely staggering and disgraceful.

    The thing is: There is nothing unusual about this case.

    As Steve Vaccaro and others continue to press this issue we will learn that the careless and callous way the Lefevre case was handled is the way the NYPD handles most if not all pedestrian and cyclist fatalities. What we are seeing here is that the NYPD, essentially, permits you to kill someone on the streets of NYC if you use a motor vehicle as your weapon.  

    I wonder if Ray Kelly is aware that he has an enormous scandal about to come crashing down on his department? I’m quite certain he does not give even the slightest shit.

  • Where is the media?

    Imagine if the NYPD handled rape cases the way it handles pedestrian and cyclist fatalities.  No politician would stand for it.  Bloomberg himself would visit women for face-saving photo ops.  But dead kids, crushed under the wheels of a truck?  Carry on, New York.

    This deserves to be a big scandal for the NYPD.  Shame on Ray Kelly.

  • Eric McClure

    I just want to say thank you to the Lefevre family for their refusal to be shoved aside, despite their pain.  Their pursuit of the truth about their son’s death might just make all of us who walk or cycle in New York City a little bit safer.  Thank you for that.

    And thanks to Steve Vaccaro, too, for demonstrating that advocacy is inherent in the practice of law.

  • Brooklynite

    I would like to second Eric McClure’s sentiment.

    Thank you, Lefevre’s and Vaccaro for pursuing justice in this case.

    The work you are doing here will save lives, deliver justice and make NYC’s streets safer.

  • Anonymous

    Everyone who ever steps off a curb in New York should care deeply about this case.  It boggles the mind that the NYPD behaves in so derelict a manner.  I imagine they would do the same if there was someone found tampering with tofu containers to poison vegetarians, or rounding up and detaining people for not watching the Superbowl, etc.  They need to grow up and realize that their “lifestyle” objections to cycling do not warrant turning a blind eye to murder.

  • Andrew

    So this is what it takes to get the NYPD to issue a summons for failure to signal a turn?

  • Guest

    I’m a cyclist myself and all in favor of more detailed and transparent investigations, but I don’t see where the report says the cyclist was run over by the FRONT driver side tire of the truck. The word “front” seems to have been introduced by Mr. Fried. Am I missing something?

  • Ben seems to be working off the NYPD accident report, which shows the front bumper of the truck striking the cyclist, as well as the unwritten statements of NYPD investigators earlier in the case, that blood was found on the front bumper of the truck, reported here: http://www.streetsblog.org/2011/12/19/nypd-reportedly-lost-evidence-related-to-crash-that-killed-mathieu-lefevre/

  • dporpentine

    @4ace26746b035589216ebb9477a65bc4:disqus I’d say that the combination of Sheehan’s statement to Vaccaro and the report make it clear that it was the front tire.

    I think it would be a much different situation if the front of a crane truck is making a right into your path in such a way that the threat was from the back tire. I don’t really see how you could be “ejected” that way. Crushed, yes, but not ejected and then run over. And even if you were ejected, you would likely be outside the turn radius of the back of the truck–otherwise, you’d stay in the range of the camera.

  • dporpentine

    And just to ask the obvious question: when did they realize that the camera wasn’t working? I mean really: how did they not know it the moment after taking the first picture? And if they knew that, why not just take pictures using another camera? At this point, the camera to person ratio in most situations in New York is probably something like 2:1.

  • Justice Please

    Seriously. You’re telling me not a single one of these police officers even had a camera phone or the ability to call a precinct to get a working camera on the scene? Would this be an acceptable excuse in the case of a murder or rape? This is beyond incompetent.

    My guess is that the camera was, in fact, working fine but the cops don’t want Vaccaro, the family and the public to see what’s in those photos. So they destroyed them and they are pretending their camera was broken.

    The NYPD has zero credibility on this issue.

  • Justice Please

    Seriously. You’re telling me not a single one of these police officers even had a camera phone or the ability to call a precinct to get a working camera on the scene? Would this be an acceptable excuse in the case of a murder or rape? This is beyond incompetent.

    My guess is that the camera was, in fact, working fine but the cops don’t want Vaccaro, the family and the public to see what’s in those photos. So they destroyed them and they are pretending their camera was broken.

    The NYPD has zero credibility on this issue.

  • Flavioos

    I live in Northern California  and didn’t have chance to know Mathieu personally, However, over 2 years ago I became acquainted with some of his fascinating works.
    In my studio I have posted his photograph and the article:
    “Funeral Tuesday for Montreal Artist Mathieu Lefévre”. At the bottom of the poster   I added in large/bold font:  “IN MEMORY OF A BRILLIANT ARTIST”.  To Mathieu’s family friends and admires like me, deeply in my heart I extend sincere condolences, and my appreciation to Mr. Vaccaro who is  joining the famíly in the pursuit of
    a fiercely investigation of the tragedy. Justice should start at the main door of NYPD.

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