After NYPD Blamed the Victim, Brooklyn DA Will Reconstruct Lefevre Crash

Months after NYPD blamed cyclist Mathieu Lefevre for his own death, prosecutors with the office of Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes continue their investigation into the crash. Meanwhile, the Department of Motor Vehicles has suspended the license of the truck driver who police say fatally struck Lefevre, then left the scene.

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

Hynes’s office has retained an expert in crash reconstructions to revisit the Lefevre collision, according to Craig Esswein, chief of the Brooklyn vehicular crimes bureau. While the time frame is uncertain, Esswein said he hopes the reconstructionist’s findings will be available by fall.

Shortly after midnight on October 19, 2011, Lefevre was struck by the driver of a crane truck making a right turn at the intersection of Morgan Avenue and Meserole Street. The driver, who did not stop at the scene, was later identified by police as Leonardo Degianni. Though Degianni was cited for failing to signal a right turn and failure to exercise due care, a detective with the NYPD Accident Investigation Squad attributed the crash to “bicyclist error,” a conclusion disputed by the Lefevres and their attorney, Steve Vaccaro.

Unlike most New York City cyclist and pedestrian fatalities, the investigation into Lefevre’s death was scrutinized by city electeds and the media, due for the most part to the tenacity of bereaved family members. Last December, Lefevre’s parents filed a lawsuit against NYPD after the department denied a freedom of information request seeking records pertaining to the crash. The Lefevres have spoken openly about their shabby treatment at the hands of police.

Though NYPD considers the case closed, Esswein told Streetsblog the district attorney’s investigation is ongoing.

In March, the New York State DMV suspended Degianni’s drivers license indefinitely “pending prosecution” of the case, according to a suspension order, a copy of which was obtained by Streetsblog.

“It’s interesting to compare the response of three different agencies — the NYPD, the DA’s Office, and the DMV — to this crash,” says Vaccaro. “NYPD announced within days that there was ‘no criminality,’ a conclusion it confirmed with a hasty and questionable investigation. In contrast, the DA’s office has ordered a formal reconstruction of the crash to determine whether the driver Degianni ‘had reason to know’ he had struck Lefevre and therefore should be charged with hitting and running, and the DMV has ordered Degianni not to drive until he has been cleared of charges by the DA’s office.”

  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous

    Mathieu Lefevre’s family members are true heroes of the bicycle community and I, for one, am deeply grateful for their dogged refusal to let this drop. I hope Mathieu’s death will not be in vain, and that his family’s efforts will ultimately mean that thousands of bicyclists across New York City are safer and, in the event of an accident, respected as human beings and a legitimate users of the city’s roads who deserve — and receive — a thorough investigation.

  • NYC walkerl

    What a shame that it takes the tenacity of a bereaved family to get a basic investigation. Thank you to the Lefevre family and Steve Vaccaro for their dogged pursuit of justice.

  • moocow

    Anyone want to bet that Degianni is driving now anyway?

  • moocow

    And well said Choosler.
    You are right, hopefully there is some consolation, in the countless lives the Lefevres are saving  by tenaciously keeping after the NYPD.  

  • Squid4395

    Nothing will change. As a cyclist you should know drivers of trucks, buses and other large veihcles can not see us. I rather stay alive then be a “I Know My Rights!” kind of rider.

  • Actually, this is big news for us.

    Nothing is going to bring Lefevre back to life, but Lefevre could have been still alive if Degianni was part of a culture of self-preserving caution among motor vehicle operators. The reason why that culture doesn’t exist is because motorists feel physically AND legally invincible. 

    We’ve seen that the NYPD and the DA’s offices have been reluctant or unable to make criminals out of motorists who are involved in fatal accidents. But the DMV typically waits for the outcome of criminal cases to implement any driving penalties. This is the first time I’m hearing that a driver who wasn’t officially charged with a criminal offense for a fatal accident is instead being provisionally suspended from his/her driving privileges. That’s a steep penalty to pay for even an investigation, and much more so for a motorist who works as a commercial driver.

    This is exactly what should happen after every accident of a questionable nature… and the DMV is in a position to use their powers increasingly to keep drivers of questionable ability (or morality) off of the roads. 

    Which is to say, if the NYPD or the DAs don’t have the will to enforce the safe driving culture that we INSIST on being present, maybe this is another way for us.

  • Squid4395

    Its a simple form filled out by cops and sent to the DMV. It informs DMV of a driver with issues. Questionable driving, fatal accidents, elderly drivers who lost their skills etc. DMV can suspend or bring in a driver for testing etc. Having a drivers license is a privilege not a right.

  • KillMoto

    “Meanwhile, the Department of Motor Vehicles has suspended the license of the truck driver who police say fatally struck Lefevre, then left the scene.”

    A sliver of justice, if a small one.  And I realize the license can be reinstated at any time. 

    But… It’s time DMV owned up to their part.  The below statement is true of all drivers, but especially “professional” drivers: 
    1) A person behind the wheel *should* have seen a person size object near their car, and the mere act of hitting the victim is irrefutable proof of negligence, leading to automatic 5 year loss of license plus criminal charges, OR,
    2) A person is incapable of seeing a person size object near their car, proven by the fact that the driver hit the victim.  This leads to no charges, but a lifelong loss of driving privileges. 

    Once we do this, streets will become much safer. 

  • Andrew

    @8528cb6a255d5552f866292a64d03349:disqus Drivers of trucks, buses and other large vehicles can see you – they just choose not to look (and the NYPD does not give them any particular incentive to look).

  • Ian Turner

    @Andrew_J_C:disqus : To be fair, the visibility of some of those crane trucks is shockingly limited. That does not excuse their operators, of course; when operating a vehicle with such limited visibility, one must apply commensurate extra care.

  • Ben Kintisch

    I’m glad the Brooklyn DA and the DMV have stepped up where our NYPD has failed us.

    Berlin dispatch to offer to the discussion:
    Because of the way laws are written here in Germany, things are very different here, resulting in much safer biking and walking conditions:
    In any accident where a cyclist or walker is injured or killed, a crime has been committed. Blame automatically rests on the car/truck operator involved with the accident. Blame is only shared with the vulnerable user if, after investigation, the victim is found to have committed an error, too. By placing the main onus on the operator of the larger, more dangerous vehicle, this German law (similar across much of Western Europe) gives each motorist a LEGAL reason to stop and wait for walkers and cyclists to pass safely before turning or passing them.
    The law is “behind the scenes” but you feel it all the time as you bike and walk here – just last night, during a rush hour ride home, a driver of a large truck waited for me to overtake him on the right from behind before he turned. I said to myself, “Wow. That would never happen at home!”

  • Driver

    Ian, from what I can tell from the accident videos, this appeared to be a flatbed truck with a crane attached to it, like a materials delivery truck, not one of those big huge construction cranes.  The cab of the truck looks like a standard truck cab, and the boon crane on the back should not restrict visibility in normal operations. 

  • With the utmost respect and admiration to the Lefevre family, I still want to know if Mathieu was riding with lights on his bike.  I’ve heard nothing in the coverage of this case confirming the use of a legal assortment of lights by Mathieu.  If he wasn’t it would change everything.

  • Anonymous

    @2995d81157fecd50fe4b728419a38787:disqus
    (A) Go here and look at the top video:
    http://www.streetsblog.org/2012/01/31/security-video-of-fatal-hit-and-run-doesnt-match-nypd-descriptions/
    At the 5:04 mark, you can see Lefevre on his bike. There’s a spot at the front and center of his handlebars that looks pretty clearly like a light. 

    (B) As that video also shows, this is a pretty well-lit city street.

    (C) I doubt there’s perfect evidence of this, but I think it’s reasonable to believe that the truck driver passed Lefevre on at least that stretch of road immediately before the crash. So even if Lefevre didn’t have a light, the truck driver should’ve seen him.

    (D) Apparently there’s video evidence that shows that the truck was on top of the double yellow median:
    http://www.streetsblog.org/2012/03/14/vaccaro-video-shows-nypd-wrongly-faulted-slain-cyclist-mathieu-lefevre/
    My guess is that’s further evidence that the driver saw Lefevre and had moved to Lefevre’s left so he could “have room” to make his murderous turn.

    (E) I think we can all be certain that, thanks to the incompetence of the police, we’ll never know about any detail as minor as whether he did or did not have lights. A huge truck dragged him and his bike along a poorly paved city road. My lights have come off on speed bumps. Something like that would erase their existence from the earth.

    (F) Federal regulations require the *low beams* on motor vehicles to be
    15,000 to 20,000 candela *per lamp*. Whether Lefevre was using some tiny
    light with maybe 150 candela is trivial.

    (G) I can’t for the life of me see how Lefevre using or not using lights “would change everything.” A huge truck hit him with his front tire after turning into him without signalling. That’s the problem–the only one. 

  • Anonymous

    I too remember seeing a video that showed that Lefevre had lights on.

    While it might be too much to say that it would change “everything”, it would certainly change “something” if he had been riding with no lights: he would have been riding in a riskier (and illegal) way, thus changing the balance of contributing factors the crash. I’m not saying it would mean it would have been all his fault, but fault is often shared to some extent or another and is not always 100% vs 0% (despite what insurance companies might say).

  • Anonymous

    @qrt145:disqus I agree that it would’ve changed *something*. I suppose part of it is that I can’t get past my conviction–only somewhat justified by the evidence so far presented–that the driver absolutely knew Lefevre was there and was just cutting him off out of the typical spite that people seem to often display when a bike passes them, gets passed by them, then passes them again, etc.

  •  dporpentine

    Thanks for the link.  You answered a long running question of mine.  With amazing lighting technology, there is really no excuse not to be using bright LED lights for and aft these days.  Well lit streets won’t get you seen by car drivers (I drive one too and the windshield does make much it harder to see unlit riders compared to being outside).

    Lights are cheap.  I think your life is worth at least $25.

  • Anonymous

    @2995d81157fecd50fe4b728419a38787:disqus I certainly agree about the value of lights. I have three: one the back of my bike, one on the back of my helmet, and one on my handlebars. And it bothers me as pedestrian and as a cyclist–and an occasional driver–when people don’t use them.

    I just don’t think it’s very relevant here–but again, that’s partially because I’m convinced the truck driver had been playing tag with Lefevre for several blocks and knew very well that he was there.

  • I really appreciate the step taken by the Lefevre’s parents and on the other hand I feel very sorry for them.

  • the LED lights tend to last much longer when comparing with the traditional tungsten filament bulbs from regular tail lights.

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