How Many Are Hurt and Killed in NYPD-Involved Crashes? Don’t Ask NYPD.

Gothamist has been following the case of Ryo Oyamada, the Japanese student who was struck and killed by an NYPD officer near his Queensbridge home in the early hours of February 21. The department claims the cruiser was moving at 35 to 39 mph on 40th Avenue, with lights on, as officers responded to a call, and that Oyamada stepped in front of the cruiser mid-block. But multiple witnesses say there were no lights or sirens, and that the officer was driving at 70 mph when Oyamada, 24, was hit near 10th Street.

Ryo Oyamada was struck and killed by an NYPD cruiser in February. Police blamed Oyamada for the crash, but refuse to release a video the department says supports its version of events. Photo via Gothamist

Contrary to the official NYPD version of events, Oyamada’s father says police initially told the family that, to avoid alerting their suspect, officers did not have lights or sirens activated. Video taken after the crash shows locals confronting NYPD about police speeding through the neighborhood.

Like the family of Mathieu Lefevre, the Oyamadas say they have been treated poorly by police. NYPD has refused to allow the family access to information about the crash, including video that, according to an officer who met with community members, shows the cruiser’s lights were on.

Oyamada is at least the second pedestrian killed by an NYPD cruiser strike in the last year. In April 2012, officers reportedly ran down Tamon Robinson, who they suspected was stealing paving stones, in Canarsie.

In its monthly crash data reports, NYPD lists the number of collisions involving ambulances, fire trucks, buses, taxis, and non-municipal vehicles, categorized by type. Conspicuous by its absence is a line item for NYPD vehicle crashes.

NYPD-involved crashes resulting in property damage, or civilian injuries and deaths, are not uncommon, whether it’s a cyclist knocked to the ground or pedestrians hospitalized or killed when a police vehicle jumps the curb. Then there are police chases, acknowledged and alleged, during which suspects have crashed vehicles into bystanders.

A spate of such crashes in 2009 and 2010 left three pedestrians, a cyclist, and two vehicle occupants dead. Mary Celine Graham was killed when a robbery suspect attempting to evade police collided with another vehicle and slammed into a group of pedestrians in Harlem. Karen Schmeer was fatally struck by men suspected of taking over-the-counter allergy medicine from a CVS pharmacy on the Upper West Side. Restaurant worker and father of three Pablo Pasarán was run over in Long Island City by a suspect after an alleged drug buy. According to witnesses, a suspected car thief was fleeing police when he hit and killed 38-year-old Greenpoint mother Violetta Kryzak. A video camera captured an apparent Staten Island chase that led to the death of a couple with young sons.

A query to the NYPD public information office for crash figures has not been returned. We’ve looked elsewhere for this data, and the closest thing we’ve found is the annual comptroller’s report on claims against the city.

NYPD leads all departments in claims and payouts, and police crashes are enough of a concern that, in the FY 2011 report [PDF], Comptroller John Liu’s office recommended “on-going training regarding police vehicle chases that balance both law enforcement goals and liability concerns.” The report notes that the fifth largest settlement paid by the city in FY 2011 resulted from a crash in which a passenger in a vehicle being chased by police suffered a brain injury.

There were an all-time high 8,882 claims against NYPD in FY 2011, with a total payout of $185.6 million. Those numbers include allegations of police misconduct, civil rights violations, and other claims, in addition to property damage and personal injuries. We’ve asked Liu’s office for a breakdown of claims involving NYPD vehicle crashes, because the annual report does not itemize them.

Even if we know the number of claims resulting from police crashes — we’ll post the data if we get it — it would not provide a complete picture of reckless driving on the part of police. Along with crucial details on traffic crashes and investigations, NYPD keeps this information out of sight.

  • Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?
     

  • Doug

    I’m bothered that Streetsblog and the media report eyewitness accounts of speed. I doubt that the average person – fewer in the car-poor New York – can estimate the speed of a vehicle with any accuracy. Would the eyewitnesses have been able to distinguish 50 mph and 70 mph? Above 40 or 50 mph (I’m guessing!) everything just seems REALLY FAST to a bystander.

  • Doug,  I agree that eyewitness accounts of speed are problematic, although I think they are as likely to underestimate as overestimate speed.  I learned that one day when I happened to have use of a speed gun and tried it out on Park Avenue.  On the other hand, NYPD has a policy of refusing to provide details like the speed of the vehicle until an investigation is closed, even if “no criminality suspected” was announced right after the crash.  Often, investigations take weeks or months to close because NYPD is waiting for toxicology results.  So it is either eyewitness accounts, or nothing at all until weeks or months after the crash–when no one cares to listen to such details. 

  • Joe R.

    @twitter-22824076:disqus In the case of bikes, the speed estimates seem to be uniformly high, while for trucks they’re probably uniformly low. It’s a human tendency to estimate speed according to the number times a vehicle covers its own length in a time interval. I actually had a woman tell me I should really slow down or I might get a speeding ticket when I was cycling one day. I was going maybe 25 mph when I passed her. A few minutes later, coming back the other way, and going much slower due to traffic conditions, the same person saw me, and asked didn’t I just come flying by a few minutes ago? I asked out of curiosity how fast she thought I had been going. She said at least 50 mph, possibly even 60 (and the remark about getting a speeding ticket followed). She was dumbfounded when I told her I was doing at most 25 mph, well under the limit. I would imagine the effect would be exactly the opposite with a bus or heavy truck.

  • krstrois

    It makes me ill that we treat people this way and that feeling of disgust is only made more intense when someone from a more civilized place is killed by a driver here and the person’s family confronts THIS. 

  • Joe R.

    While on the subject of police cruisers speeding without lights or sirens, one night last summer I was riding along the LIE service road westbound when a few police cruisers flew by at about 80 mph. Thankfully, they were in the left lane but I shudder to think what might have happened had they passed near me. About ten blocks down I saw a couple of police cruisers at a gas station. Now there aren’t too many ways to get to this gas station other than the LIE service road, so I’m 99% sure these were the same police cruisers which flew by me a few minutes earlier. Why the need to go 50 mph over the speed limit just to gas up? Police cruisers should be electronically limited to 30 mph unless the sirens are on. That’s a simple, quick, low-cost fix which would save lives.

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