Witnesses: National Guard Trucks Were Running Lights Prior to Fatal Crash

Kwok Fu, 82, was run down on Canal Street in broad daylight by the driver of a National Guard truck on Tuesday afternoon. A witness says truck drivers, who were traveling in a procession bound for Hell's Kitchen, did not slow down and gave no warning before running a series of red lights. Photo: ##http://www.boweryboogie.com/2012/11/more-on-the-fatal-national-guard-truck-accident-yesterday/##Bowery Boogie##

Witnesses say a convoy of National Guard trucks was blowing red lights on Canal Street Tuesday afternoon when one driver struck an elderly man, who died from his injuries. Accounts of the crash contradict statements from the National Guard that the victim ignored a police escort before walking into the path of the driver, who may have violated state traffic laws pertaining to military vehicles.

The victim was identified by NYPD as Kwok Fu, 82, of Woodhaven. Police and witnesses say Fu was crossing Canal at Centre Street from north to south when he was struck by the westbound truck, which according to the Times was part of a National Guard procession en route to the Javits Center to pick up Sandy relief supplies.

“Apparently, the gentleman stepped off into traffic,” National Guard spokesperson Eric Durr told the Times. Sam Gustin, a reporter for Time Magazine, spoke with a soldier who said, “He just ran out in front of the truck. Nobody looks left or right before crossing the street here.”

But according to witnesses, the truck drivers were running lights. David Trimble saw the collision:

I was crossing Canal from south to north. The lights on Canal had turned red and the crosswalk light was illuminated. As I approached the middle of the street I looked to the right and noticed the convoy approaching. You can usually count on approaching traffic to stop at a red light. In an emergency situation you expect sirens and flashing lights to indicate the vehicle is not going to stop. Military trucks are not a normal sight in the city and therefore it took me a few critical moments to realize these vehicles were not following normal traffic rules.

I took a few steps into the east-to-west traffic lane before I understood that these trucks were not slowing down. It is hard to judge the speed of an approaching vehicle when looking straight at it. I instantly retreated back to the west-to-east traffic lane to let them pass. As the convoy passed the driver of the first truck made eye contact with me, tapped the horn and actually accelerated. Had I not retreated from the lane I would have been hit myself.

As a cyclist I am used to close calls with traffic. Usually it is a give-and-take scenario. The vehicle slows down or stops and the pedestrian or cyclist adjusts their route and a collision is avoided. The kind of close calls that shake you up are when you realize that if you hadn’t taken major evasive action that you would have been killed. As the trucks blew past I felt a wave of adrenaline and anger immediately. In this instance it was 100 percent up to the pedestrians to get out of their way.

As the front of the convoy passed (it appeared to be five to eight trucks) I looked to my right and noticed a gap in the convoy with a further line of trucks approximately a half block behind. There are reports that the second part of the convoy was only cheating this particular light to try and rejoin the first part of the convoy. The entire convoy was maintaining speed through all of the red lights. I am not clear on the timing of the lights but it is possible the first part of the convoy beat the light at Centre Street and this elderly man simply began crossing the street as normal. I stress again it was not immediately clear that this convoy of trucks was not going to stop at the red light. There were no blaring horns, sirens, or anything else. The pedestrian was not jaywalking or trying to beat the convoy. I saw the impact clearly.

Following the impact there was confusion about what had just happened. I watched the response for approximately five to seven minutes. The victim was completely under the front of the truck. The first response was from a pedestrian who saw the accident and quickly crawled under the truck to asses the situation. The passenger of the truck got out of the truck a minute later, looked at the victim, and got on the phone. The driver did not move from his seat.

A witness wrote to Bowery Boogie that the convoy ran at least one light, adding, “I think it’s pretty safe to say they ran the previous red light as well.” Two witnesses quoted by the Daily News said the truck driver was traveling against the light at a high rate of speed. “It’s the driver’s fault,” said Armando Baez.

“It’s hard to place blame on the driver of this particular truck as he was simply following his convoy,” writes Trimble. “Does the lead truck in the convoy set the protocol? Was this convoy responding to an emergency that required absolute speed through the city? Do they have permission from the city to disregard traffic laws? If so how can they safely do this without sirens or police escorts.”

Durr told the Times that the convoy was led by a police escort, a detail not mentioned in media reports or published witness accounts. “I did not see a police escort,” says Trimble.

State traffic code does include provisions for military vehicles. “The federal government has waived sovereign immunity under the Federal Tort Claims Act,” says attorney Steve Vaccaro. “The first question would be whether they were an ‘authorized emergency vehicle’ involved in an ’emergency operation.'”

Vaccaro points to VTL section 101, which defines a “civil defense emergency vehicle” and an “environmental emergency response vehicle” as emergency vehicles. An emergency operation, as defined by VTL 114-b, may include “responding to, or working or assisting at the scene of … [a] disaster.”

VTL 1104 states that the driver of an emergency vehicle involved in an emergency operation may “[p]roceed past a steady red signal … but only after slowing down as may be necessary for safe operation,” and that a vehicle operator may “[e]xceed the maximum speed limits so long as he does not endanger life or property.”

“If the vehicle meets the definitions, then they are liable only for ‘reckless disregard for the safety of others,’ not for simple negligence,” says Vaccaro.

VTL 1104 says that laws pertaining to emergency operations “shall not relieve the driver of an authorized emergency vehicle from the duty to drive with due regard for the safety of all persons, nor shall such provisions protect the driver from the consequences of his reckless disregard for the safety of others.”

Transportation engineer Sam Schwartz notes that photos seem to indicate that the truck was not equipped with crossover mirrors. Though the law mandating the mirrors is intended to prevent this type of crash — one precipitated by a large vehicle with limited sight lines operating in a pedestrian environment — Vaccaro says they are probably not required. “The law applies only to commercial vehicles,” says Vaccaro.

As of this morning the investigation into the crash is ongoing, according to an NYPD spokesperson.

  • Police State

    Let me guess: 

    “The NYPD has determined ‘No Criminality Suspected.'” NYPD spokesman Paul J. Browne can save his breath.  

  • Anonymous

    There can be no more gripping and meticulous eyewitness account of a pedestrian fatality than that of witness David Trimble. There can be no more disturbing and gruesome image than the photo from Bowery Boogie. Amidst the ever-ongoing carnage in our streets, I’m grateful to Trimble, Boogie and Streetsblog for putting this material in the public mind and keeping it there.

  • Was he crossing midblock? The accident scene doesn’t look anywhere near a crosswalk.

  • The back tires of the truck are parked on the crosswalk. 

  • Anonymous

    @twitter-21896987:disqus It’s pretty close to a crosswalk, you can see the traffic light poking out from behind the truck. I assume the truck just dragged him for a few feet before he was able to stop.

    It looks like the soldiers thought that everyone should know that they do not follow traffic rules. People in NYC aren’t used to having National Guard trucks around and do not look out for them. A lot of people do not look before crossing if they’re crossing with the light (or assume everyone will stop). National Guard should really should be following traffic rules when driving around in crowded cities and not going on emergencies or at least get a cop car with a siren to go in front letting people know to look out.

  • Driver

    This is a terrible story.  Without such a clear and detailed account from Mr. Trimble, many aspects of this accident would likely remain a mystery. I second Komanoff’s sentiment.

    I would like to make one point.  Crossover mirrors are not designed to and will not prevent this type of accident; where a vehicle is moving with any significant speed.  The driver would/should have a clear view of the pedestrian via direct sight lines until the last second (or less) before impact.  Crossover mirrors are only effective to see someone that has entered the area immediately in front of the truck while the vehicle is stopped or perhaps inching forward, so the driver does not accelerate from a stop with a person immediately in front of the vehicle.

  • Concerned4ALL

    FIRST of all, the men & women in the NGuard, who are dads & moms, brothers & sisters, etc. are in the SAME sit that all OTHER NYCers are in. They are operating on lack of sleep and hyper-alertness. And I guar-DAMN-tee you ALL, that they have seen much more destruction and been exposed to much more tragedy in the past week, than ALL of you combined. YES, what happened was a tragedy…poor man who died…but wherever the convoy was going, it was NOT a party, folks! STOP using this horrible incident as an excuse to nit-pick the military. If this was a convoy of Red Cross vans rushing to get blood somewhere, or ASPCA vans rushing dog food somewhere…would everyone be in the SAME uproar? I wonder….

  • Anonymous

    @9e48bf8f259d0fe6ffbb9bc94d213736:disqus 
    I’m sorry but your reasoning is flawed and frankly somewhat offensive.  
    You’re accusing everyone on this thread of being hypocrites (if this was the red cross or aspca) and anti-military. 

    We’re anti-more dead peds and cyclists on our streets.   Don’t impugn our motives without any evidence.   This isn’t the NYPost. 

    And spare the “they’ve seen a lot of destruction” BS. Do you know who else has seen a lot of destruction?   ME!  And everyone else who lives in NYC.  We’ve all been effected. 

    Police/Military/Government vehicles violate traffic laws all the time and kill people with little consequence.  That’s it.  That’s our concern.  So long as there’s little consequences, then these people will continue to be killed.

    The national guard truck (i) ran the red light, while (ii) speeding and then (iii) blamed the victim(”He just ran out in front of the truck. Nobody looks left or right before crossing the street here.”) 

    And you want to claim, because they’ve been picking up garbage and dropping off bottled water, that somehow, it’s not their fault.  

    As we say in Brooklyn, get the f— out of here!

  • Anonymous

    @9e48bf8f259d0fe6ffbb9bc94d213736:disqus 
    I’m sorry but your reasoning is flawed and frankly somewhat offensive.  
    You’re accusing everyone on this thread of being hypocrites (if this was the red cross or aspca) and anti-military. 

    We’re anti-more dead peds and cyclists on our streets.   Don’t impugn our motives without any evidence.   This isn’t the NYPost. 

    And spare the “they’ve seen a lot of destruction” BS. Do you know who else has seen a lot of destruction?   ME!  And everyone else who lives in NYC.  We’ve all been effected. 

    Police/Military/Government vehicles violate traffic laws all the time and kill people with little consequence.  That’s it.  That’s our concern.  So long as there’s little consequences, then these people will continue to be killed.

    The national guard truck (i) ran the red light, while (ii) speeding and then (iii) blamed the victim(”He just ran out in front of the truck. Nobody looks left or right before crossing the street here.”) 

    And you want to claim, because they’ve been picking up garbage and dropping off bottled water, that somehow, it’s not their fault.  

    As we say in Brooklyn, get the f— out of here!

  • New Yorker

    +1 to @JarekAF:disqus . I couldn’t have said it better myself. 

  • Eric McClure

    I think everyone appreciates the work the National Guard is doing aiding storm recovery. But this sounds like a completely preventable and needless death.  Not stopping for lights in a densely populated urban neighborhood a week after the hurricane?  It’s not Ramadi.  It’s Chinatown.

  • Joe R.

    If there’s any fault here I’d say it lies with the police for not securing the convoy route. Military conveys do what they do for a bunch of reasons, period. It’s best to think of them the same way you might think of a speeding train. Nobody in their right mind is going to think a speeding train can or should stop to avoid people on the tracks. Same thing here. The convoy must stay together and stay in motion because that’s the safest way to proceed. This issue is to make sure people are informed to keep clear of convoys. Apparently as I said in another thread, the NYPD was too busy policing gas lines to do something much more important, like keep elderly people from getting killed by a convoy. Either that, or the National Guard should have stationed people along the route to control pedestrian traffic, although I doubt they had that kind of manpower.

    This situation is entirely different from the ongoing problem of the NYPD routinely violating traffic laws when they’re not on call. A convoy is basically akin to a fire truck trying to get to the scene of an emergency as rapidly as possible. You stay the f out of the way of fire trucks, at least I know I do, and you stay out of the way of convoys and military vehicles in general for the exact same reason. You don’t know where they’re going or why they’re going there. This is a horrible thing to have happened, I won’t argue that. I just wish people here wouldn’t try to put it in the same category as the crap driving the NYPD routinely gets away with, or even worse the carnage civilian passengers cars regularly inflict. Like I said, if anything it’s the NYPD’s fault for not ensuring a clear path for the convoy. Hopefully we’ll never have a repeat of this type of incident.

    And on another note, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to equip military vehicles with lights and sirens for exactly this reason. Most people know to steer clear of anything with blaring sirens. A group of vehicles running lights at speed without sirens can easily catch a crossing pedestrian off guard. That seems to be exactly what happened here.

  • Anonymous

    @2555783a6f62598b6aadd2d882a4830f:disqus I think you nailed it in your lead sentence, though I would amend it to say: There *is* fault here, and it lies with the police for not securing the convoy route.

  • The old man was probably looking at the pedestrian signal telling him that it is ok to cross. So sad for all involved, especially the victim and his family.

  • it’s me

    I was actually waiting to cross Canal Street on the other side of the National Guards truck when the accident happened.  There is one important fact that was left out.  There was a taxi waiting to turn from Canal Street onto Centre Street as the National Guard trucks were traveling down Canal street in opposite direction.  When the light on Canal Street turned red, the taxi wanted to make the turn and cut in between the row of National Guard trucks.  The taxi’s notion to turn might had caused the truck driver involved in the accident to be hesitant to cross the intersection.  Unfortunately, the hesitant was enough of a gap which the old man decided to cross the street.  I felt really bad for not able to help as my offer to be a witness was not taken.  May the old man rest in peace. 

  • Anonymous

    ”He just ran out in front of the truck. Nobody looks left or right before crossing the street here.”

    That’s some deeply grotesque victim blaming there.

    And, uh, @9e48bf8f259d0fe6ffbb9bc94d213736:disqus: 

    STOP using this horrible incident as an excuse to nit-pick the military.
    If this was a convoy of Red Cross vans rushing to get blood somewhere,
    or ASPCA vans rushing dog food somewhere…would everyone be in the SAME
    uproar? I wonder.

    First: A man was killed. Criticizing that is not nitpicking.

    And second: you can be sure that if the Red Cross *killed someone* in a process that’s supposedly being carried out to *save lives*, then, yes, people here would criticize them. The real question is why you wouldn’t. Why are hypothetical lives more valuable than real ones?

    I’ll be kind and pass over your ASPCA/dog food analogy in silence.

  • fj

    I had an extremely inconsequential accident quite close to where this tragedy occurred where riding my bicycle at a speed not much more than a slow walk I started turning a corner when an Asian man of middle age also started running to cross the street.  He hit my handlebars and continued running and I lost my balance and fell.

    At first I was tempted to yell at him but ultimately had to laugh at his good fortune and mine that my vehicle only weighed something like 30 pounds and I was going very slow.

  • jrab

    I am a Soldier and I am disgusted to read the comments by Concerned4All on this thread.

    It doesn’t matter how tired you are, or how much crap you’ve seen in country, or how close your wife is to leaving you and taking the kids. Killing a bystander during convoy operations in peacetime is the definition of mission failure. In the Army, everyone is a safety officer, and if it occurred to anyone on that convoy that running red lights was unsafe, that Soldier should have stood up and halted the convoy.

    I hate to break it to you, but serving in the military is an honor and privilege, not an excuse for half-assed behavior.

  • Adam Anon

    The truck run a red light and it wasn’t an emergency vehicle. This is peace time convoy operation and civilian safety is #1 priority here. End of story.

  • Adam Anon

    The truck run a red light and it wasn’t an emergency vehicle. This is peace time convoy operation and civilian safety is #1 priority here. End of story.

  • John

    Outrageous and unacceptable.

  • Chand26iel

    You go “jrab”…you speak my mind. 

  • That Woman

    This is how the military operates in Iraq and Afghanistan – barreling along with no regard for human life – if you are in their way tough shit…it’s coming home to roost folks.

  • Dryfsce2004

    Dude if it was a truck transporting cute puppies, people would still be mad. They ran down an old man running past a res. No police escort or sirens to warn less that a truck is running the red. You must be involved in the Nat guard or something to think Pple are trying to nit-pic the military. This was a operation meant to help people, not a war time operation. Get a grip on reality. If your loved one got hit in this manner, I bet your attitude would be different.

  • Cassandra

    My cousin, an Army veteran, explained to me that a convoy ” keeps moving” , does not stop for red lights or pedetrians. Doesn’t matter if they are in a civilian area. His opinion– National Guard totally right, the pedestrain was to blame. I was shocked.  No sirens, no other protections. There seems to be no responsible rules about how to function responsibly in a city. Is this true? Want to know if these are indeed the rules for National Guard rescue work.

  • Anonymous

    Cassandra, you cousin is correct.  I was trained by the army as armored cavalry reconnaissance, including to drive day and night convoys.
    Often, only the lead vehicle in the convoy knows the route, and everyone following works hard to stay in line and not get lost.  Even when they know the way, they do not want to get separated.
    However, it’s the responsibility of the lead vehicle to drive at a low enough speed that each following driver can stay close and not be separated – not leave gaps for other vehicles to turn into.  In that case speeds have to be fairly slow so trucks don’t rear end each other if they have to slow.

    It is very probable that the lead driver was traveling too fast along Canal Street for all the trucks on the convoy to stay closely in line.  From the article: “the driver of the first truck made eye contact with me, tapped the horn and actually accelerated.”  It appears that a large gap opened between later trucks, which encouraged the taxi to make a
    (possibly illegal) left turn in front of the truck, and gave the pedestrian the impression
    that the truck would be stopping at the light.

    On the third hand, if the traffic light had turned red ahead of the lead vehicle, the driver should have stopped at that point, unless he had police escort in place to hold cross traffic (sometimes know as corking the intersection.)  If he stopped, the rest of the convoy would stop behind him, and they would all restart on the green – gaining speed slowly so they don’t separate.  At that point, with the convoy rolling again, no other convoy vehicle will stop at that intersection, even if the light turns red.  They will all continue through in a parade/convoy formation. 

    This may be hard to determine, but the relatively recent military experience in Iraq and Afghanistan, with roadside bombs, mines and ambushes, is causing convoy drivers to operate at slightly higher speeds and run red lights, than is appropriate on NYC streets. I was trained during the Vietnam period by Armor School sergeants who served in Europe, where they drove their heavy tanks and trucks on German streets and roads.  Even after driving in Vietnam, I may drive aggressively, but I’m careful to lower my speeds to meet local conditions, especially if I have someone following me.  The different combat conditions in the Middle East may have unintentionally and probably subconsciously caused these drivers (or perhaps just the lead driver)  to misjudge the right speed and acceleration for traveling on Canal St.

    Tragic, but unintentional.  Misjudgement of speed by the lead driver, and misunderstanding of the convoy’s movement by Mr. Kwok Fu.

  • Cassandra

    Thanks Brownstone2 for your explanation. It’s not the answer I hoped for,  but important to know. Think we need to have different rules for conduct in hostile situations versus rescue work at home ( even though I know some people consider NYC a hostile environment). If there will be military convoys here, people need to be strongly warned. There should at least be sirens or to cordon off streets to avoid killing pedestrians or motorists.

  • Joe R.

    I think Brownstone2 has it right-the convoy was likely being operated by soldiers fresh out of war zones were they’re told over and over “if you stop, you die”. This certainly played a role here, even if subconsciously. I do agree with Cassandra that military convoys should use sirens/lights when operating in urban non-combat areas. I also strongly agree that the police should have condoned off the convoy route to prevent pedestrians from doing exactly what Mr. Fu did here. Lots of people here just don’t know about how military convoys operate. I’m not faulting them for that, but it’s the job of the police to prevent these people from doing things which could lead to injury or death.

  • As a loyal Streetsblog reader and Army soldier, it’s been my experience that the Army puts safety first. The safety of the convoy and of passersby is not the responsibility of the police or civilian authorities, it’s the responsibility of the convoy commander. The great thing about the army as opposed to civilian operations is that in the Army there actually is a chain of command in which leaders are held accountable for the actions of subordinates.

     

  • Gimoyo

    Military convoys have the same rule that funeral processions possess. They do not need to stop for red lights, so long as the first truck is already through legally.

  • Anonymous

    @aae52e73926af4b07f618eec77a8d40a:disqus The question isn’t whether they’re required to stop. It’s whether, in a crowded city during non-emergency procedures, they nonetheless should stop, when the alternative is treating human beings like traffic cones.

  • Truck Mud

    I like this type of information because you always can learn some interesting new knowledge and at the same time revive the knowledge you already know.

  • “He just ran out in front of the truck”  – I believe that, 82 year olds are crazy runners.

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