Court documents indicate police were driving in pursuit of a man when he struck and killed a Greenpoint pedestrian five years ago, contrary to NYPD denials and confirming statements from witnesses who told Streetsblog the crash occurred during a high-speed chase.
Jose Maldonado was driving a stolen minivan when he passed an unmarked police car near the intersection of Graham Avenue and Jackson Street on the afternoon of April 27, 2009, according to a recent ruling from the Court of Appeals, New York’s highest court. As Officer Steven Truglio approached the van on foot, Maldonado drove off. Police sped after Maldonado as he ran red lights and went against traffic on one-way streets.
“It is undisputed that defendant consistently drove well above the 30 miles per hour speed limit and violated numerous traffic rules as he attempted to evade capture by the police,” court documents say. “The police followed with lights and sirens activated as defendant drove towards Manhattan Avenue, a major thoroughfare and commercial hub.”
Maldonado drove north on Manhattan Avenue, swerving head-on toward southbound traffic as he passed other drivers. He “did not even apply his brakes” as a pedestrian dove out of his path at Milton Street, and continued running lights and driving in the wrong lane as he approached Manhattan Avenue at India Street, where he hit Violetta Krzyzak.
Her body flew into the air upon impact and landed over 165 feet, or almost one block, away from the point of collision. A witness who saw the moment of impact estimated that defendant was driving at 70 m.p.h., while another bystander thought his speed was closer to 80 m.p.h.
Maldonado “did not brake” after striking Krzyzak. He crashed into parked vehicles five blocks away, at Manhattan Avenue and Dupont Street, and was finally tackled by witnesses when he tried to flee on foot.
Krzyzak, 37, died at the scene. She was married and had a 20-year-old daughter, according to the Greenpoint Gazette.
Graham T. Beck, who came upon the scene the after the crash, wrote a series of stories for Streetsblog with quotes from multiple witnesses who saw the white minivan being chased by police. But weeks later at a community council meeting, Deputy Inspector Dennis Fulton, then the commanding officer of the 94th Precinct, said there was no pursuit.
“At this point it appears as though there was not a high-speed chase,” said Fulton. “To make sure, it’s being investigated by our Internal Affairs Bureau. But it does not appear that anyone was following [the perpetrator].”
Despite Fulton’s denials, Maldonado was charged with two counts of fleeing police, in addition to second degree murder, manslaughter, homicide, grand larceny, and possession of stolen property.
The NYPD Patrol Guide states: “Department policy requires that a vehicle pursuit be terminated whenever the risks to uniformed members of the service and the public outweigh the danger to the community if [the] suspect is not immediately apprehended.” Krzyzak was one of five bystanders killed during NYPD chases, alleged or acknowledged, between February 2009 and June 2010. Drivers in these chases were suspected of crimes ranging from armed robbery to shoplifting cold medicine.
The latest known victim was 4-year-old Ariel Russo, killed in 2013 by a teenager who jumped a curb on the Upper West Side after police tried to stop him for making an illegal turn. To this day, NYPD continues to allow officers to engage in high-speed chases, in apparent violation of department protocol, with no signal from Mayor Bill de Blasio, Police Commissioner Bill Bratton, or the New York City press corps that this conduct should stop.
As first reported by the Village Voice, the Court of Appeals this month reduced the top charge against Jose Maldonado from murder to manslaughter, which carries a lighter sentence. This is a major setback for prosecutors in New York State who pursue cases against killer drivers. We’ll have a full report on the Court of Appeals ruling in the coming days.
Dennis Fulton has since moved on from his post at the 94th Precinct. He was promoted to inspector by former NYPD commissioner Ray Kelly in 2012.