Ignored by NYPD, Crash Victim Launches Effort to Hold AIS Accountable

Cassandra Faustini took a job as a bike messenger to help make ends meet. After getting rear-ended by a hit-and-run driver last year, she tried to report the crash to a police officer, who refused to take her statement. One year later, she’s joining other New Yorkers to demand reforms to the way NYPD and its Accident Investigation Squad handle crashes – and she’s asking for people to take part in a day of online action on September 17.

Cassandra Faustini and her coworkers are launching a day of action to change the way NYPD investigates crashes. Photo: Bicycle Roots

In September 2011, Faustini was making a delivery, riding north on Church Street. The light ahead at Worth Street had just turned yellow, so Faustini braked to slow down. In a post last week on the website for the Bicycle Roots bike shop, where she now works, Faustini recounted the crash:

All of a sudden, I heard the engine of a car behind me, deafeningly loud like someone forgetting to whisper and instead shouting right into your ear. The next thing I knew, I was airborne […] Although I did not realize this until later, I hit my head upon impact. Thankfully, I was wearing my helmet. It did not crack, but there were clear impact marks on the right side. I blacked out, probably for only a second or two, but it was only later when I began to piece events together that I realized I’d hit the ground hard enough to go under.

The driver didn’t stop. Faustini, injured and shaken, walked the remaining few blocks to complete the delivery and then approached an officer to report the crash. She did not have witnesses or a license plate for the driver who fled the scene. The officer told Faustini that there was no way for him to know that she wasn’t the one behaving irresponsibly. He refused to take a report.

I couldn’t even get mad; I was in shock. Here I was, obviously injured — bleeding and concussed, although I wouldn’t realize that until later — and the cop had the audacity to blame me without even taking a statement? He would brush me off without even attempting to investigate what had happened?

In the year since, Faustini has undergone a slow recovery from her injuries and discovered that she is not alone. “In a lot of cases, individuals don’t realize how severely they may have been affected until after the accident,” she said. “It may be difficult to realize what happened to you.”

This is why, Faustini explained, filing a police report to provide documentation is critical. But as she experienced, the NYPD often makes this process difficult.

“A lot of people I know have been dissuaded from filing a report, or they have gotten back an incomplete report that prevents them from pursuing the case,” Faustini explained in an interview. “I am not the only one to have been told by the NYPD that there is no criminality suspected – or worse, that I am the criminal – in a situation where my life could have been on the line,” she wrote.

Faustini and her coworkers at Bicycle Roots are asking people to send tweets at noon on Monday, September 17, to their council members, the mayor, other elected officials, the NYPD and the media in a demonstration of grassroots support for crash investigation reform. Participants will use the #HoldAISAccountable hashtag.

The campaign is using Twitter because it “is an easy way for people to get involved” and “have a direct link to a lot of these individuals who are in a position to put pressure on the NYPD,” Faustini said.

On the Bicycle Roots website, Faustini and her coworkers outline a series of demands, including a call for more NYPD investigations of crashes.

Although the specifics of the #HoldAISAccountable campaign differ from those of a package of bills and resolutions introduced by City Council members in July, Faustini said that they are both aiming for the same ultimate goal of justice for people affected by traffic violence.

Transportation Alternatives spokesperson Michael Murphy said that the #HoldAISAccountable campaign, while not affiliated with TA, is another indicator that New Yorkers are demanding justice from the NYPD. “It’s a sign that people recognize the severity of this issue,” he said, “that so many citizens are engaged to reform crash investigations.”

Faustini urged New Yorkers to do more than just send a tweet. She encouraged people call and write to Mayor Bloomberg, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and their council members, and to leave comments on the Bicycle Roots website with their own NYPD stories.

“What we’re hoping to do,” Faustini said, “is show that there’s enough support for reform of AIS that these bills will be considered necessary by our elected officials.”

  • Rich Conroy

    There’s actually a state law requiring that police investigate motor vehicle crashes:   NYSVTL§603-a (paraphrased):  When a motor-vehicle crash results in serious injury or death, police must investigate within 5 days.   Investigations must include facts and circumstances of the crash, including types of vehicles, contributing factors, whether and which  traffic violations occurred, and the cause of the crash if a cause can be determined.

  • Anonymous

    In fact, you can sue the NYPD for failing to take a crash report.  At least one person has done it and won:

    http://www.courts.state.ny.us/reporter//3dseries/2010/2010_20288.htm

    Others, like Jake Stevens, are pursuing similar claims against NYPD:

    http://www.streetsblog.org/2012/06/11/husband-sues-nypd-for-botched-investigation-into-death-of-clara-heyworth/

  • Joe R.

    Even though this collision was entirely the fault of the motorist here’s a little word to the wise-never brake on a yellow light when there are vehicles behind you. Point of fact, if I’m within 20 or 30 feet of an intersection when the light goes yellow I sprint at full power to get through the intersection before the light for cross traffic turns green. That’s pretty much SOP for motor vehicles in NYC, and it makes me more predictable to them.

    That said, I support what Cassandra is doing 100%. It’s sickening that if you get in a collision while riding a bike you can expect little help from the police, even if you weren’t at fault as in this case.

  • Anonymous

    Can we please stop blaming the victim? When are we going to stop saying things like, “Never brake on a yellow light when there are vehicles behind you?” I’m tired of it. Our streets are unsafe for cyclists and peds both because they’re engineered only to accommodate vehicles and because of the appallingly irresponsible behavior of the people driving them, to say nothing of the utter lack of enforcement of existing laws. There are only so many things we can do when we make split second decisions out there, and second-guessing a victim’s decisions in a case like this only make you sound like the sort of fool who thinks nothing bad will never happen to him (always a him, it seems, too).

    Guess what, folks? It could have been you, too. Quit thinking you’re too smart to be victimized the same way.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “Never brake on a yellow light when there are vehicles behind you.”

    It is often dangerous not to.

    We’ve got the shortest yellow lights anywhere.  We’ve been over this when discussing motor vehicles — I got hit with a red light camera ticket because I switched my vision from the signal to the crosswalk as I approached an intersection and had the light switch to yellow and then red before I got into it.  So I now stop on yellow in a motor vehicle unless I am right there, and would have to jam on the brakes.

    On a bicycle those of us who aren’t fast riders, when crossing a major street, will often still be in the middle of it when the light turns against them if they don’t stop on a yellow.  And then it will be “legal” to stomp on the gas and run them over because they “ran a red light” — when in fact they ran a yellow.  In some cases, in fact, you’ve got to stop at a green light because the yellow cycle will come and go before you make it across, particulary if you are blocked by a swarm of jaywalking pedestrians.

  • Slow and Steady Wins the Race

    “On a bicycle those of us who aren’t fast riders….”  I think that’s Joe R.’s cue to remind us how he averages 20+ mph on his bike.

    But that’s just distraction.  This is one more example of why Ray Kelly needs to go, now.

  • Anonymous

    Suggesting what the victim could have done to avoid the situation and blaming the victim are two completely different things.

    Are you familiar with the phrase “dead right”? Being right (e.g., following the law) doesn’t help you if you end up dead because you assumed that acting right will magically protect you from those who act wrong. That’s the essence of defensive [insert mode of transportation here]. That’s why it’s a good idea to look both ways before crossing a one way street, for example.

  • Joe R.

    Thanks qrt145. I was indeed merely suggesting a possible way to avoid the situation, not blaming the victim. I’ll also add that unless you’re a fast rider on a decent machine, Larry Littlefield has a good point that you might not make it through the intersection before cross traffic gets the green light. Point of fact, if I’m crossing a street like Queens Boulevard, even I won’t go on a yellow light because there’s no way I’m crossing a 150′ wide street before the light for opposing traffic goes green, even if I manage to sprint at 30 mph. It’s a simple matter of using common sense. On most roads, I can get across in time if I get yellow within 20 feet of the intersection. If I can’t, I usually just turn right instead. This avoids any conflicts with cross traffic, and I still stay in motion so I won’t get rear-ended by motorists trying to beat the light.

    @359bccf030a85f76dd96f320964eba4e:disqus Nope, I only occasionally average 20+ mph for portions of a ride where I get favorable traffic signals and no obstacles, like on NY25 past city limits at 2 AM. My overall average speed usually falls into the 16 to 17 mph range. I did cover 10 miles in 25 minutes once back in my college days but this was on Route 1 in New Jersey-obviously a different situation than riding anywhere in NYC, even in Eastern Queens.

  • Reader

    In the chaos that is NYC streets, never trust advice from a person who says “never do this” or “always do that.”  

    To counter Joe R., let’s say the cyclist had sped up to make the light.  She could have just as well been clipped by a driver jumping the light on the cross street and injured or killed. That’s why it’s really pointless to argue about what could have happened differently… there are just too many variables on NYC to say that a different choice would have been better. 

    I truly hate the “what ifs” that get posted here every time someone describes a horrible injury, fatality, and terrible treatment at the hands of the NYPD.  Regardless of fault, it’s the NYPD’s job to take a report.  Period.

  • JamesR

    In many cases, it is not safe to try to gun it through a yellow light while riding in NYC. Perfect example: while waiting at a red light, cab drivers love to get on the gas before the light actually turns green, apparently using the logic that it’s not actually considered running a red light until you are directly beneath the stoplight. This can get you sideswiped in a hurry if you’re going through the yellow while they’re moving before they have the green.. I’m not saying it’s right, but these streets are a jungle and they are a bigger, meaner (if dumber) animal than you. Be smarter and take only calculated risks.  

  • Joe R.

    @TVDinner:disqus “Our streets are unsafe for cyclists and peds both because they’re engineered only to accommodate vehicles and because of the appallingly irresponsible behavior of the people driving them, to say nothing of the utter lack of enforcement of existing laws.”

    And this is all the more reason why more people should practice “defensive” cycling until things can change. I’m not so arrogant as to assume nothing bad will ever happen to me (and I’ve had my share of close calls). I do however do everything in my power to put the odds in my favor by assuming every vehicle out there will do the most stupid, illegal thing at the worst possible moment, and giving myself an out in case that happens. After 34+ years riding I’ve seen literally everything and gotten pretty good at predicting when drivers will do stupid things.

    There’s no arguing that in the final analysis the real solution is to re-engineer our roads to make them inherently safer for all users. Just because I’ve become adapt at avoiding bad situations doesn’t mean all cyclists can. Truth is I feel they shouldn’t have to. Defensive cycling is an unfortunate bandaid which I’m forced to use because of the very situation you mention. I would just as soon prefer to ride on bike roads free of the hazards of motor vehicles where I could actually relax a bit, lay back, enjoy the scenery, and hear myself breathe. I look forward to the day when a parent can send their 5 year old off to ride alone and not be concerned for their safety. Don’t think for a minute that I think what I must do now for the sake of survival is an ideal situation. It isn’t. We need to stop making excuses for the disgusting behavior of people in motor vehicles. We also need to make getting around by human power safe for people of all abilities and experience levels. Cycling shouldn’t solely be the province of alpha males who are unafraid to play in traffic.

  • Anonymous

    @6939c0e4e35b543968271cffcdde0569:disqus , I agree that we can never know a specific “what if”, but there are still lessons to be learned from crashes, and there *are* measures that can be used to avoid them, even if not always with 100% success. Whether Joe’s approach of rushing at the yellow light is a good measure or not is something that can be debated, but I think we can all benefit from looking at other people’s crashes and try to think what the victim could have done to avoid it. The best teacher is experience, but when it comes to fatal crashes in particular, you can’t learn from your own experience, so you better learn from others’.

  • Reader

    I don’t disagree but this doesn’t seem to be one of those cases.

    If you’re riding and a driver decides to gun it behind you without first checking to see if it’s safe to do so, I don’t know what lesson can be learned for next time other than to hope that you develop a strong telepathic ability to control the driver’s brake pedal.

  • Joe R.

    @0725e26de8afcbf0a72ccf98de3fb783:disqus And the scenario you mentioned is precisely why you need to examine the situation around you. Generally, when I “gun it” on yellow, I’ll also move towards the middle of the road just in case a motorist tries to jump the light. By the time they’re in the middle of the intersection, I’m long gone. I also incidentally improve my line of sight by doing this. If traffic doesn’t allow me to move towards the center of the road, then I’ll just turn right instead unless there are no cars waiting on the cross street. I won’t get myself into a situation where if someone jumps the light I have no out. As I said, you need to evaluate every situation as it occurs. In general, you really can’t go wrong if you ride with the assumption that every motorist will do something stupid at the worst possible moment.   I personally don’t believe in taking calculated risks at all. If there’s no room for an out, I just slow down or stop. My life is worth more than saving a few seconds.

    Here’s a page with a bunch of great defensive cycling pointers:

    http://bicyclesafe.com/ 

  • Joe R.

    @6939c0e4e35b543968271cffcdde0569:disqus I’ll be the first to admit that there are some cases where a cyclist really couldn’t have done anything differently to avoid a crash. Suppose a drunk driver runs off the road at 80 mph and rear-ends me? I wouldn’t even see it coming, much less have time to do anything about it. Nevertheless, as qrt145 says, it’s prudent to look at bike crashes like this and think if the victim could have done anything differently. This isn’t blaming the victim. They may not have thought to do anything differently in the split second when they had to make a decision. Rather, the purpose of such analysis is for us to learn if there is any possible way to avoid such crashes. If such advice saves the life of even one cyclist, it will be worth it. My advice here isn’t a blanket “always rush at a yellow light”, but rather a “don’t stop at a yellow light when vehicles are behind you”. You have three options here. One is to go straight through the intersection on yellow. If time or possible red light jumpers make this action imprudent then you can turn right. This is almost always safe because a bike turning right and riding to the right of motor traffic generally doesn’t cause a conflict, even when turning on a steady red light. The third option if you wish to stop is to move to the far right first, out of the vehicle travel lane, so any cars gunning to make the light won’t rear end you. Whether or not any of these options would have worked in this situation is open to debate. I wasn’t there so I don’t know. Nevertheless, it’s always a good idea to see how any crash could have been avoided. That’s exactly what I did over the years every time I crashed.

    There’s no arguing the motorist was 100% in the wrong here. Thankfully at least Cassandra didn’t pay for the motorist’s mistake with her life.

  • Anonymous

    I think running yellows is, in general, dangerous. But what do I know? I think blowing red lights is dangerous.

    In any case, my sense is that most crashes that a cyclist could in some logical sense “prevent” are the result of a good many context-specific factors. That’s why hypotheticals are mostly unhelpful and why I think it’s best to keep biking rules to a minimum–the chief one being to do whatever seems safest at the given moment.

    Somehow, for me, this very rarely ends up being speeding up for yellows. So I think it’s likely that I would’ve done what this person did.

    Let’s get back to working to hold the police accountable for their indifference to the lives of cyclists.

  • Ben Kintisch

    I’m not impressed with people advocating for zooming through yellow lights. That seems to me reckless and risky. Being cautious, and yes, sometimes a bit slower, is safer. Remember, folks – the cargo you are carrying is precious – it’s your life!

  • Ed Ravin

    Sheesh, only someone who hasn’t been hit from behind could theorize how to avoid it.  I’ve been run down by a motorist from behind me and there was no way I could have reacted in time, even if I had seen the unlicensed livery car driven by an unlicensed driver in my rear view mirror.  Please folks, get out of your armchairs and onto your bikes.

  • Anonymous

    Let’s not get too distract by supposing what she might have been able to do differently to avoid the crash.  Sometimes certain things work, sometimes they don’t.

    The real issue is that, if you are hit by a driver, you have zero recourse to law enforcement unless the driver decides to stay on the scene. Even if they do stay, there is a good chance that the police will still fail to do anything.

  • Nathanael

    Rich Conroy: thanks for this: “There’s actually a state law requiring that police investigate motor vehicle crashes:   NYSVTL§603-a…”

    So if NYPD officers are routinely and systematically breaking the law, what does one do?  One ought to arrest them.  I suppose it would have to be a citizens’ arrest.

    It’s obvious civil penalties are insufficient to get the NYPD to change its behavior.  So how does one go about organizing *criminal* prosecutions of the *police department*?

    This is FAR from the first example of NYPD breaking the law; many are far more egregious, including the “arrest quotas” and the attempt to lock up a whistleblower, and of course driving police cars across the pedestrian deck of a bridge, which Streetsblog reported sometime back.  Until the police officers responsible for these crimes go to prison, the criminal behavior by police officers will continue.

  • Nathanael

    From “Cunningham v. New York” we can see what the state courts’ views are on the legally prescribed duties of police officers:
    “…and recognition of a private right of action would be consistent with the legislative scheme (see generally McLean,
    12 NY3d at 200). With regard to the last noted consideration, we note
    that the Legislature did not provide any mechanism in the statutes to
    enforce police officers’ obligation to perform the nondiscretionary
    duties, e.g., no civil or criminal penalties for an officer’s failure to
    perform the statutorily-required tasks (cf. id. at 200-201).
    Rather, the Legislature simply required police officers to perform
    certain nondiscretionary duties, and left the mechanism of enforcement
    to the courts”

    Which mean, when there is no enforcement mechanism specified, the courts have discretion.  Interesting, never heard of this before!

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