When Traffic Deaths Don’t Make the News: Jelani Irving, 22

Jelani Irving. Photo from the Irving family via Ghost Bike Project
Jelani Irving. Photo from the Irving family via Ghost Bike Project

While NYC traffic deaths are down in the first few months of 2014, they are still so frequent that not every fatality gets reported in the news. This is often the case when a victim dies from injuries in the hospital days after a crash. That’s what happened earlier this year to 22-year-old Jelani Irving.

Irving was critically injured just before 6:15 a.m. on February 2 while riding his bike at the intersection of Classon Avenue and Washington Avenue in Crown Heights. Irving’s sister, Imani Irving, said he was riding his bike home from work after his shift as a yellow cab driver.

Police say Irving was struck by a 61-year-old man driving a 1999 Nissan Maxima northbound on Washington. The driver was turning right onto Classon — a turn with a very obtuse angle that motorists can make at speed — and struck Irving as he was cycling south in the northbound lane. NYPD says Irving veered left, crossing the path of the driver. The driver was cited for two equipment violations; press reports at the time said they were for bald rear tires. There were no citations or arrests related to Irving’s death.

Irving, unconscious and in cardiac arrest, was taken to Kings County Hospital and classified by NYPD as likely to die. He died of his injuries four days later.

The crash was covered by the Brooklyn Paper and Gothamist but it was not known that it caused Irving’s death until his name later appeared in WNYC’s “Mean Streets” traffic fatalities tracker.

Irving’s cousin, Daniel Gregoire, works at a Unitarian church in Pennsylvania and wrote about his family’s loss on the church’s website:

Many of you know that last week my dear cousin Jelani died as a result of the injuries he sustained when his bicycle and a car collided in New York. He was 22 years old. My family is coping with the loss in the many ways that families come to grips with a tragedy that takes away a beloved member, seemingly well before his time. Folks were upset, crying, consoling and seeking to be consoled. Even for me, at this present moment there is a kind of “unreality” to the events that have transpired. Periodically, I find myself wondering if this event, his death, even really happened. Of course, I know for a fact that it has, Jelani is dead, and life for my family will be very different as we move towards healing.

In moments like these, everyone searches for answers. Right now, the facts of the accident are emerging: there was fog, perhaps black ice, an intersection with a confusing geometry, it was early morning. The impact of a 2,000 lb. car on 160 pounds of flesh, even at the city speed limit is enough to cause catastrophic injury if the conditions are right. I know that “why” is seldom a useful question in times like these, but time and time again I find myself coming back to the “why.”

“We all have the right to the road,” Imani Irving told Streetsblog. “There’s no word to describe the feelings we have at this time.”

The Ghost Bike Project, which memorializes cyclists who have died on New York City streets, notes on its website that, at the request of Irving’s family, it did not install a memorial at the site of his death.

This post has been updated to reflect that after publication, Irving’s sister, Imani Irving, contacted Streetsblog with additional information.

  • John Schmidt

    It is sad that another young man was lost in the prime of his life. Cyclists must remember the rules of the road apply to them too. Unfortunately a lot of motorists don’t see cyclists on the road. We must be extra vigilant.

  • Andy B from Jersey

    A young man with a bright future is dead but your report states that the car “struck Irving as he was cycling south in the northbound lane.” It is VERY sad indeed and my heart really goes out to the family but this crash may have been avoided is some basic rules were followed. The importance of cyclists following the rules of the road CANNOT be underestimated but is all too often overlooked and ignored.

    With deepest sympathies.

  • Mike Dunlap

    That split off Washington onto Classon is insanely dangerous.

  • Daniel

    I know this section of road and it always worries me when I cross Classon here. Too many drivers take Classon Ave off of Washington Ave going way too fast, especially in the early morning. The story of this collision is likely based on the driver’s testimony alone. I have a hard time making sense of it. Jelani would have needed to be maneuvering around a double parked car, or slipped 30 or 40 ft on ice, or he was very confused. There is no reason for anyone to be salmoning there. I would also wager a fair penny that if the driver had been traveling at a reasonable speed Jelani would be alive today even assuming he made the first error. I’ve asked the DOT to study this section of road. It’s especially hazardous because there is a school for the deaf and a high school right where drivers are going the fastest.

    PS I believe Jelani’s sister spoke at the Brooklyn Vision Zero Town Hall. She said that he was heading home from his job as a taxi driver. She also said Jelani volunteered at Eric Adams’ office when he was a teen. This is from memory so if anyone remembers better please correct me.

    PS2 If you feel the Classon & Washington intersection is dangerous, please write to the commissioner http://www.nyc.gov/html/dot/html/contact/contact-form.shtml and feel free connect it to my letter DOT-222413-N6G8. If enough people write there are a number of things the DOT could do to make it safer.

  • BornAgainBicyclist

    I’d have a lot less of a problem with your framing if you expressed the expectation that when people get behind the wheel they must be extra vigilant given how easy it is for their mistakes or inattention to results in others’ deaths. Why should the standard of behavior for pedestrians or cyclists be higher than that of those who have the capacity to cause the greatest harm? Answer: it should not. Drivers have as much or more responsibility to be extra vigilant. If you call cyclists out, call drivers out.

    Also keep in mind that since the driver survived and Jelani did not, we likely have only the driver’s side of the story to report from. We’ve all seen many instances where, after digging, we learn to the initial “facts” as reported in these fatalities are quite different. Why do you assume the driver was not culpable but assume the cyclist was? If you’re really concerned about cyclist safety, consider reserving judgment until the full picture emerges, and at the very least avoid taking the driver’s word. You don’t have to disbelieve the driver, but neither should you dismiss the possibility that that word is not the full, accurate account.

  • John Schmidt

    The remark about being more vigilant was directed at all. Motorists should be more vigilant with the warmer weather and more cyclists and pedestrians on the streets. I think too in an accident investigation there would have been signs on the motor vehicle as to where the impact was, no? Interestingly, the article in the NY Post re the lowering of the speed limit on Atlantic Avenue had a photo of three pedestrians crossing Atlantic Avenue against the light. Really, 25 mph on a major artery like Atlantic Avenue? From a traffic engineering standpoint that is both illogical and inefficient. Again, this is sad that a young life was lost.

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