Bypassing Courts, NYPD Says Video Cleared Lefevre Hit-and-Run Driver

NYPD concluded that Mathieu Lefevre should not have been in the path of the hit-and-run driver who killed him.

Court documents reveal that NYPD decided not to charge the hit-and-run driver who struck and killed Brooklyn cyclist Mathieu Lefevre based on video of the crash. While it’s not clear how video footage can prove that the driver didn’t know he had hit Lefevre, it was apparently sufficient evidence for the department’s Accident Investigation Squad.

Last October, Lefevre was hit by the driver of a crane truck making a right turn at the intersection of Morgan Avenue and Meserole Street in East Williamsburg. The driver kept going, and was identified as Leonardo Degianni after police found the truck.

Nearly five months after his death, Lefevre’s family is still trying to wrest information about the crash from NYPD. As part of a February court filing, the NYPD legal team submitted testimony from AIS detective Gerard Sheehan. Referring to a security video obtained from a storage facility near the crash site, Sheehan writes:

“[T]he driver of the truck left the scene of the accident but denied knowledge that he had struck Mr. Lefevre. I subsequently recovered the video and I reviewed it on December 18, 2011. Had the video depicted a version inconsistent with the driver’s statements with regard to the driver’s knowledge that he struck someone, criminal charges would have been brought against the driver. However, a review of the video did not disclose such inconsistencies.”

Rather than charging Degianni for leaving the scene of a fatal crash and letting the justice system run its course, from the video AIS surmised that Degianni neither “knew [nor] had cause to know that he struck Mr. Lefevre.” Sheehan closed the case on January 4.

The documents also show that NYPD photographed the crash scene, despite an equipment checklist indicating that the AIS camera was broken. The photos were eventually turned over to the Lefevres after Sheehan mistakenly copied the wrong file twice, delaying their release. According to Steve Vaccaro, the attorney representing the Lefevres, there are no known pictures of blood and paint on Degianni’s truck, even though that evidence helped police identify the truck shortly after the crash.

Vaccaro says there are other discrepancies related to the photos: “The camera may have died in the middle of the crime scene investigation, but it appears that some of the photos taken that night may have been deleted or not produced.”

In the closing report, Sheehan writes that though Degianni did not signal before turning into Lefevre at Morgan and Meserole, Lefevre “should not have been passing on the right side.” Therefore, Sheehan concludes, the crash was caused by “bicyclist error.”

At last month’s hearing on traffic safety, City Council member and former prosecutor Peter Vallone said NYPD should not act as defense counsel for motorists. Yet in case after case, police pre-empt the courts by exonerating drivers who kill — even hit-and-run drivers.

  • Anonymous

    I’m glad that they’re absolutely certain Lefevre was overtaking the truck on the right–running himself into a crane truck, as one would expect a cyclist to do–and not that the crane driver was racing past a “slow-moving” cyclist and then making a right-hook. This is part of the mystery video that proves the cops were right about everything but surprisingly hasn’t been released, right?

  • Killmoto

    From the video, it appears the driver must have passed Mr. Lefevre just before entering into the camera’s field of view.  There’s no way the driver could not have seen that Mr. Lefevre was heading for the same “T” shaped intersection he was.  A Professional Driver would take note and turn with extra care.  This is what we expect of people who derive oversize vehicles.  

    Where is due diligence?  This is not simple negligence on the part of a citizen driver – it’s malpractice by someone possessing a commercial drivers license.  If Mr. Degianni can’t avoid a slow-moving, human being sized object he passed 15 seconds ago, he should hold neither a commercial drivers license nor a standard drivers license – he should instead hold a bus pass.  

  • Anonymous

    As much as I’ve followed this incident, I’m still not 100% sure of the facts.

    Correct me if I’m wrong here:

    But, in this instance, if Lefevre had “taken the whole lane,” as he’s legally entitled, would it be less likely this incident would’ve happened?

    In my own experience, I like to take the lane whenever there’s a risk at hand, but at the same time, cars and trucks will honk at you like crazy, so, it’s not for the faint of heart (even if it’s legal and safer). 

    I just wonder if bikers were more comfortable to take the lane, would we have less incidents.

    Like, there’s some sort of (bs, in my opinion) implied notion that it’s gracious for us to give up the lane, because then we’re not slowing traffic (even though, of course, we hardly ever really slow traffic for more than a real short distance b/c of existing car traffic and lights). 

    I just hope, if I get run over by a truck,  you guys sue the f— out of the NYPD and the driver.  It’s bad enough to die a horrific death.  It’s even worse for the NYPost and the police say it was because you were a bad cyclists.

  • Anonymous

    For all we know, the two of them had been passing each other back and forth for a long time–this certainly happens to me: a car passes me on the left, I pass it later on the right, and on and on like that for blocks and, occasionally, miles. That’s part of what a thorough investigation would look into–and why the wink-wink about “the driver may not have signaled but the biker’s at fault” is so outrageous.

  • Joe R.

    @JarekAF:disqus It would indeed probably have been safer if Mr. Lefevre had taken the lane. And if the traffic was moving at typical Manhattan pace he wouldn’t have slowed traffic by much, if at all. My own personal criteria is if I can match traffic speed AND there’s not enough room to safely keep to the right, then I’ll take the lane.  If there’s no traffic I’ll also take the lane, sometimes just to ride on better pavement. I’ll sometimes even take the lane to avoid particularly hazardous situations if I can’t match traffic speed, but can come fairly close (say within 5 mph). This actually covers nearly all the situations one might encounter. Yesterday coming going out of the city on NY25A (Hillside Avenue) and coming back on NY25 (Jericho Tpke/Jamaica Avenue) I was regularly taking the lane when the roads passed through commercial areas with parking because the rightmost lane was too narrow to accommodate a bike and car at the same time.  There usually wasn’t a problem because the cars were slowing to 20 or 25 mph when passing through these areas because of traffic signals or congestion, even though were going 40+ mph in between them. I didn’t need to take the lane when the traffic was moving faster-the shoulder was plenty wide and smooth enough to ride on. Anyway, if I could safely take the lane whenever I needed to on near suburban roads without delaying traffic at all, then it should certainly be possible in Manhattan.  It’s just a matter of overcoming the initial fear of doing so.

    Hint-when you take the lane, life is far easier if you can find a fairly large vehicle to draft, and then just keep pace.  No need to go right on his bumper.  You can keep 20 or 30 feet behind and still be in the wake.  Doing this I’ve kept up with 40 mph traffic. 

  • J

    Driver fails to signal. Driver leaves scene of accident (a felony). 
    Driver punishment: No charges

    Cyclist passes on the right.
    Cyclist punishment: Death

  • § 1123. When overtaking on the right is permitted. (a) The driver of a
    vehicle may overtake and pass upon the right of another vehicle only
    under the following conditions:
    1. When the vehicle overtaken is making or about to make a left turn;
    2. Upon a street or highway with unobstructed pavement not occupied by
    parked vehicles of sufficient width for two or more lines of moving
    vehicles in each direction;
    3. Upon a one-way street, or upon any roadway on which traffic is
    restricted to one direction of movement, where the roadway is free from
    obstructions and of sufficient width for two or more lines of moving
    vehicles.
    (b) The driver of a vehicle may overtake and pass another vehicle upon
    the right only under conditions permitting such movement in safety.
    Such movement shall not be made by driving off the pavement or
    main-traveled portion of the roadway, except as permitted by section
    eleven hundred thirty-one of this article.
     

  • Anonymous

    I would never take the lane when riding at night, alone on a road with a crane truck that has room to pass without either of us getting in each other’s way. But I’m glad that when a crane truck driver kills me, there will be some second-guessers on the internet to let my family know that I should’ve.

  • ranter

    “Bypassing The Courts”
    I think that due process must have been inserted into the Constitution by the anti-boke, pro-highway lobby.

  • Joe R.

    @dporpentine:disqus Nobody is second guessing anything. For all we know, if Mr. Lefevre took the lane, he might have been rear-ended by a taxicab instead. All I’m saying is sometimes it is safer to take the lane. Other times, no. If a cyclist doesn’t feel comfortable with it, then it’s probably never a good idea.

    I really only have two thoughts on this entire tragedy:

    1) The NYPD is criminally culpable for their incompetence/reluctance investigating pedestrian/cyclist fatalities.

    2) NYC really needs to take MAJOR steps to protect vulnerable users via infrastructure instead of blaming the victim every time something like this occurs.

  • Anonymous

    *sigh*

  • Anonymous

    For those unfamiliar with the location where this happened, it is characterized by horrendous road surface (major route for trucks and commercial vehicles), fairly empty at night, and, perhaps since it is an industrial area, drivers act with a disregard for traffic laws that is even worse than typical in NYC.  Also, it’s not well lit at all.

    This incident is terrible and the way the police have handled it is outrageous.  The bigger problem is that there is no safe route for bikes in this area — you would have to detour a few miles out of the way to actually ride on safe roads between bushwick/east williamsburg and points north.