Vaccaro: Video Shows NYPD Wrongly Faulted Slain Cyclist Mathieu Lefevre

Video footage indicates that NYPD was wrong to conclude that cyclist Mathieu Lefevre caused the October 2011 crash that took his life, according to Steve Vaccaro, the attorney representing Lefevre’s family.

Last week, the Lefevres and Vaccaro saw video of the crash in its entirety for the first time. In a letter delivered Tuesday to Supreme Court judge Peter Moulton, Vaccaro says NYPD purposefully did not disclose that the video, which at first did not appear to match the police description of how the crash unfolded, required specific decoding software to function properly.

Photo by Chieu-Anh Le Van via ##http://tracysooming.com/mathieu/##Support Justice for Mathieu Lefevre##

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. Based on video of the crash, NYPD Accident Investigation Squad detective Gerard Sheehan wrote in his closing report that, though Degianni did not signal before turning, Lefevre “should not have been passing on the right side.” Degianni was cited for failing to signal a right turn and failure to exercise due care. Nevertheless, Sheehan attributed the crash to “bicyclist error.”

“The suggestion that Mathieu Lefevre was in any way at fault for the fatal crash demonstrates once again the lack of understanding of the rules of the road among NYPD officers, including, remarkably, members of the Accident Investigation Squad,” says Vaccaro. “NYPD seems to be relying on VTL Section 1123 in claiming that Lefevre should not have attempted to pass the truck on the right. But Section 1123 expressly allows passing on the right when there is enough unobstructed room in the roadway for two lanes of traffic.

“Having viewed the video recording of the crash, it is clear that there was room not only for a lane of motor vehicle traffic (the one the truck was in) and a lane of bicycle traffic to pass safely on the right, but there was in fact enough room for two lanes of motor vehicles, which is more than Section 1123 requires in order for a cyclist to pass a motor vehicle legally and safely on the right.”

Vaccaro’s letter says that despite repeated entreaties, NYPD withheld information on how to make the videos work for nearly a month, while refusing to allow Vaccaro to view the original files. Vaccaro was informed of the technical requirements in the wake of widespread media coverage surrounding the testimony of Erika Lefevre, Mathieu’s mother, at the February City Council hearing on NYPD traffic enforcement.

Not only was the video cited by Sheehan as proof that Degianni was unaware of the collision and should not be charged for leaving the scene, it served as NYPD’s basis for blaming Lefevre.

“The truck driver violated the law not only in failing to signal his turn, but in failing to make the turn as close as practicable to the right-hand curb, as he was required to do under VTL Section 1160(a),” says Vaccaro. “The truck driver appears to have been on top of the double yellow median on Morgan Avenue prior to making the right turn onto Meserole. For this reason, there was ample room for Lefevre to attempt to pass the truck on the right pursuant to Section 1123. Lefevre would have been prohibited from crossing the double-yellow median to pass the truck on the left, and since the driver didn’t signal or in any other way indicate he was about to turn, Lefevre is completely blameless for this crash.”

  • Chris Chaney

    Just because a person is driving a massive vehicle that would crush even a volkwagen beetle without nary a bump does not excuse that person from wreaking havoc as they go and then being absolved or responsibility. Degianni caused an accident. If he was not taking extreme care to know the effects of his passing as he drove the behemoth then he was being reckless.

    I am continually angered by the complete lack of responsibility exhibited and expected of those people driving semi-trucks, heavy equipment and other large machinery. Just because the posted speed limit is 35 or 45 or even 55 in a given area does not mean that speed is appropriate for ALL vehicles, and yet large trucks go barreling through residential areas at often higher rates of speed than local, and smaller, automobile traffic.

    Just my two cents.

  • Anonymous

    Vaccaro’s skillful crash deconstruction, the Lefevre family’s selflessness, and the dogged determination of both of them are blowing wide open the NYPD’s mendacity and malfeasance in this case. While continuing to support Steve and the family, we need to also be planning the next stage: establishing that police misconduct revealed in this investigation is far more often the rule rather than the exception.

  • Long-Time Observer

    It will be important for Vaccaro and Streetsblog to bring other cases of NYPD AIS malfeasance to light so that people understand the Lefevre case was not a one-time fluke. Sweeping evidence under the rug and blaming the victim is standard operating procedure when it comes to NYPD investigations of bicyclist and pedestrian fatalities on NYC streets.

  • Eric McClure

    Thank you, Steve Vaccaro and the Lefevre family, for your refusal to be stonewalled and your relentlessness in seeing that the truth about how Mathieu was killed sees the light of day.

  • Wow!  I’m speechless at the total willfulness of the NYPD to find fault with dead bicyclists in crashes that they were completely blamless.  I really hope the local TV media picks this up and runs with it.

    On my side of the Hudson I have nothing but good things to say about the New Brunswick, NJ PD.  I was once hit by a bus (no injuries at all, bike fine too) and they cited the bus driver for left hooking me as I was going straight through the intersection.  I was also cut off by a taxi driver and a patrol care was right behind me when it happened.  The cops pulled him over and ticket him.  I actually bumped into the cop that pulled over the taxi driver several days later and thanked him.  He said to me that “that guy totally cut you off!  And it turned out he didn’t have a valid drivers license.”

  • Anonymous

    @2995d81157fecd50fe4b728419a38787:disqus Your comment reads (sadly) like it’s from some kind of Copenhagen fantasyland.

  • KillMoto

    Time for some NYPD reforms:
    1) Rename the Accident Investigation Squad (AIS) to the Homicide Investigation Squad (HIS), since they only do their job when someone has been killed.
    2) Double the size of this elite unit.  Get them better training and equipment.  Training topics should include: How to identify and overcome obstacles like a broken camera; how to not-delete pictures…
    3) Manpower and equipment costs money.  Mothball enough patrol cars to fund the gap.  Let the HIS walk or bike to the scene of a vehicular homicide, apparently getting there by car takes them several hours to several days already, maybe biking will get them there faster. 

  • Cberthet

    What terrific work by Steve and the family! if the truck was on the top of the double lines he was breaking the law, the us increasing the penalties the driver should receive… 

    We need more cases like that one , including pedestrians cases,  to expose a new class of discrimination: Blacks know it, japanese knew it, women know it, muslims know it. NYPD is seriously biased.

    Kill Moto,  the squad needs to be renamed “VVU” Vehicular Victims Unit” where the cops work for the victim . Maybe aTV series would hep .

  • Cberthet

    on second thoughts, Kelly should be fired. 

  • Cesar Perez

    Totally predictable from the NYCPD, kudos to Mr. Vaccaro and the Lefevre family for their hard work to make things right even after their terrible loss. I´ve been cutoff by trucks more times than I care to remember, and I know that their attitude is almost universally “I´m big and bad and you should protect yourself from me”. Hopefully efforts like Vaccaro´s and the family help bring some of these scumbags (reckless drivers and NYCPD) back to reason and save a few families from receiving such blows in the future.

  • Driver

    Was there any part of the investigation that focused on the “run” part of this hit and run tragedy?  While it is is not inconceivable that the driver could run over a cyclist and not know it, the fact that the driver parked just a short distance away and was not located for a week is VERY suspicious.  Was there any investigation into WHY the driver parked where he did?  If he parked the truck in front of a company building or property, that might support some kind of plausible deniability, but more importantly, if there was no legitimate link between the driver or truck and the location where he parked, it makes it more likely that he knew he hit someone and was trying to avoid the immediate consequences.   My initial suspicion based on the details of the story was that the driver was trying to avoid a DWI or DUI which would drastically influence the consequences of his action.  Unfortunately, such evidence would be circumstantial, but still worth knowing. 
    The other question is did the report address WHY it took roughly a week to locate the driver after this accident.  Initially I figured the driver was trying not to be found, but after further thought and reading on SB, I realized it is possible that the delay in finding the driver was simply the result of lack of effort/competence on the part of NYPD. 
    I am interested to know if the NYPD covered any of these issued as part of its investigation. Personally, I suspect that the driver worked the system to avoid a DWI/DUI vehicular homicide charge.  Even with the status quo “it was an accident” system, it would surprise me that an investigation would ignore the suspicious circumstances surrounding the disappearance of the driver in this case.

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