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.
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.”