Matthew Brenner, 29, Killed Earlier This Month on Sands Street

Matthew Brenner, who was struck by a motorist on Sands Street at an on-ramp to the BQE near the Manhattan Bridge bike path on July 6, died of his injuries soon after, his family and friends report.

Matt Brenner. Photo courtesy Leslie Newman.
Matt Brenner. Photo courtesy Leslie Newman.

“We’re still just kind of reeling from all this,” said Leslie Newman, Brenner’s half-sister. “We don’t really know much. We don’t have a police report yet. The police did not try and call my stepmom or any of us.”

NYPD says it received a call at 9:35 p.m. on Sunday, July 6. Brenner, 29, was struck by a 25-year-old woman driving a 2010 Volkswagen Tiguan as she pulled onto a ramp for the northbound Brooklyn Queens Expressway from Sands Street. She stayed on the scene; he was transported to Bellevue Hospital in critical condition with head trauma. Today, police said the investigation remains open and no charges have been filed.

Police say Brenner was riding against traffic on the eastbound side of Sands Street when he was struck. “It sounds surprising. There’s well-defined bike lanes in that area,” said Patrick Malloy, one of Brenner’s friends. “He was a well-versed urban cyclist. He wouldn’t try something like that.”

“The impact that I saw on the windshield of the car was on the far edge of the passenger side, so he was really close to the barrier,” said Braden King, who passed the crash scene on his way home just after 10 p.m. and has helped connect the family to resources in New York since then. “It’s obvious that the car was traveling pretty quickly,” he said. “It’s an on-ramp to the BQE.”

Malloy had heard from Brenner’s mother that he could have been walking his bike across the ramp entrance from the sidewalk and was attempting to get over the barrier separating the road from the Manhattan Bridge bike path when he was struck. The south side of Sands lacks crosswalks at the BQE ramps, and there is no sidewalk between the bike path railing and the roadbed. DOT traffic cameras are positioned on this stretch of roadway and would likely have captured the collision. The family has hired an attorney to investigate the crash.

Although Brenner was struck on Sunday evening, family and friends did not find out about it until Tuesday. Brenner did not have personal identification on him at the time of the crash. His phone was at the scene, but was not taken in the ambulance with him and has since gone missing. His family has also not been able to recover his bicycle from NYPD.

When he didn’t show up at work Monday, coworkers became concerned. On Tuesday morning, his employer left a note at his apartment, and his roommates got in touch with friends and his girlfriend to see if anyone knew where he was.

Brenner had started dating Lora Gettelfinger in May. “He was so funny. I would get his text messages and just laugh,” she said. “We were just taking things slow, just to the point of getting comfortable with each other.”

Gettelfinger last saw Brenner on Saturday afternoon at her apartment in Bushwick. “I knew he had a head cold,” she said, but that didn’t slow him down on Sunday. “He went to the beach that afternoon and he sent me pictures of his sunburn.” Around 9:15 p.m., he texted her to see what she was doing that evening. Brenner had just finished eating dinner and left his apartment on Tillary Street, where he had moved in June. Friends and family say they don’t know where he was going, but Gettelfinger says he liked to occasionally take short bike rides in the evening.

“I texted him around 9:28 and I didn’t get a response. And I texted him again an hour later, saying I was going to bed, and I hope you had a good day,” she said. By that time, Brenner was in an ambulance on the way to Bellevue. He died there at 5:40 a.m. on Monday.

Gettelfinger became worried by Tuesday morning. That’s when Malloy got in touch with her. Brenner’s mother, who lives in Texas, had filed a missing persons report with NYPD. They began calling precincts and hospitals to see if he had turned up anywhere, and found a report on Gothamist about an unidentified cyclist injured on Sands Street. Tuesday afternoon, Brenner’s cousin came from New Jersey and identified his body at Bellevue. Brenner’s mother flew in from Texas the next morning. Wednesday night, friends and family held a memorial on the roof of his apartment building on Tillary Street.

“He was laying there for two days and no one really knew,” Gettelfinger said through tears.

The crash site on Sands Street. Image via Braden King.
The crash site on Sands Street. Image via Braden King.

Brenner, who has three older half-sisters and an older half-brother, grew up in the suburbs of northern Virginia and enlisted in the Air Force when he turned 18, serving in England, South Korea, and Kansas before receiving an honorable discharge and moving to Washington, DC, where he worked as a bicycle courier for three years. Brenner moved to Brooklyn last June and began working for a retail marketing firm.

He was also a DJ, and had garnered a following under the names Matt Stackswell and Count Stackswell. Brenner was taking night classes at the Fashion Institute of Technology to earn a bachelors degree in apparel design, Gettelfinger said. “He was very much a go-getter, and it was non-stop,” she said. “I wish I could’ve had more time, because it was just beginning to be something that I felt could’ve lasted for a long time.”

Brenner’s friends are hoping to organize a fundraiser to defray travel and legal costs for Franci Brenner, Matt’s mother. To learn more, visit MattStackwell.com. His mother is also interested in establishing a fund to improve safety for bicyclists in the New York area.

“This is her only child, and she’s pretty devastated by this,” Newman said. “She doesn’t want his death to be in vain.”

This article has been updated with additional details from Brenner’s family, including his time of death.

  • Kevin Love

    “Brenner, 29, was struck by a 25-year-old woman driving a 2010 Volkswagen Tiguan…”

    I note that the brand name and year of manufacture of Mr. Brenner’s bicycle was not reported. I’ve seen that kind of double standard in reporting a lot. One more example of “windshield bias.”

  • Well, it was just a bicycle, they’re all unwieldy death machines right?

    The lack of professionalism in attending to the injured cyclist at the scene, including the loss of evidence, is infuriating. Think if one of your relatives was terribly injured in an accident or crime and they just swept up their body (and nothing else) as if it were a stray hubcap left in the road

  • I saw the original report on Gothamist about this and immediately suggested that the police story sounded strange. I still don’t find it all convincing. On the other hand, I’ve seen another cyclist ride up the BQE on-ramp, presumably mistaking it for a way onto the bike path.

    I am desperately sorry for this young man’s family and his girlfriend. It all seems a terrible waste of life.

  • nanter

    I like seeing the make and model as there is such variability in auto weights and sizes. An environment and culture that encourages speeding is bad enough, but add in these ridiculously huge and heavy vehicles people in dense cities insist upon owning…

  • Reader

    I don’t think the make and model of the bicycle is important. Of all the double standards the police apply to drivers and cyclists — and the list is long — this seems almost too trivial to matter and not worth the complaint. The make and model of a car can tell you a lot, since there are significant differences between trucks, SUVs, sedans, sports cars, etc. The differences between a mountain bike and a road bike are minimal, at least in terms of how they respond when hit by a car.

    What’s more disturbing is that the NYPD either does not have or will not release Brenner’s bicycle to his family. Family members deserve better than the treatment they get from our police department. I wish I could apologize to them on behalf of all New Yorkers. Those aren’t our values.

  • Daphna

    Matt Brenner’s death is tragic. I am very sorry and sad.
    While this location is an on-ramp to the BQE, it is also in the heart of a dense urban area with a lot of cyclists and pedestrians around. All drivers should be using caution and driving reasonably slow at all times in that area. That on-ramp is long and a driver can accelerate later once they are further from the intersection.
    Drivers in NYC should be prepared to yield to pedestrians and cyclists at all times no matter who has the official right of way. Our culture needs to change to make yielding to vulnerable road users something that is automatic for drivers.

  • Kevin Love

    Or perhaps the infrastructure could change to protected Dutch standards with a car-free Island of Manhattan.

    This just in… A document slipped through a gap in the space-time continuum from 1962…

    “Our culture needs to change so that the use of asbestos is no longer the default material for so many industrial, commercial and residential applications.”

  • Can you please refrain from responding to nearly every comment, no matter how reasonable, with the same basic talking point over and over again. It’s overbearing, doesn’t add to the discussion, and is a detriment to the comments section.

  • dporpentine

    Earlier this week, a bunch of us in my building started worrying that the terrible smell coming from one of the apartments was a sign that our neighbor had died. We were right, of course, and it was the NYPD that broke open that neighbor’s door and discovered the body.

    Not five minutes later every cop there was outside the apartment building laughing. Many of them were engaged in quite literal backslapping.

    That’s the image I’m gong to carry in my mind forever of the NYPD: every single one of them having their jollies while a few feet away one of my neighbors sobs.

    And it’s what I imagine went on, more or less, when they discovered Matthew Brenner. Another day, another dead cyclist. Gotta be his fault. Those cyclists–unlike us cops–they’re so fucking stupid.

  • Daphna

    I like Kevin Love’s comments. I think participation is good, even a lot from one person.

  • Bolwerk

    Does he really repeat himself more than anyone else? You have to go back seven days to see where he last mentioned the Dutch.

  • Joe R.

    Same here. And quite a few people, me included, often tend to reiterate whatever talking points they consider important in their posts.

    Car-free island of Manhattan? Couldn’t happen soon enough if you ask me. The more people like Kevin keep mentioning it, the more likely it will at least remain in people’s thoughts as something to strive for in the future.

  • Hilda

    My sincere condolences to the family and friends of Matthew. I do not know anything about him, but my instinct is he may very well have been trying to do something generous at the time of the collision. I have often seen things in the middle of the road that could cause damage to a vehicle or a person that I will try to stop and pick up or move.
    And thanks to Braden for the image. It seems that an image like this, if created for investigation purposes by the C.I.S. could be vitally important for understanding what happened in situations like these, and preventing them in the future.

  • Braden

    It’d be incredibly helpful if information like this was publicly available for every crash. Understanding how these crashes happen is the first step toward increased safety for everyone – pedestrians, cyclists and drivers. You can’t fix something if you can’t see it.

  • I wrote a little while ago about coming across a scene where the NYPD were fishing a body out of the Hudson. When I came back later, there were two cops sitting at a table playing cards, with the body just lying on the ground under only a thin sheet, next to them: http://invisiblevisibleman.blogspot.com/2014/06/an-uptown-ride-hudson-incident-and-why.html I guess it’s hard for cops to stay constantly in touch with the horror of what they’re seeing. But the NYPD doesn’t always seem to react with appropriate compassion.

  • I almost did that the first time I was trying to take Sands in that direction. If you’re used to just being in that area to go on the Manhattan bridge, you don’t really know about the separated bike lane, and it’s out of the sight lines of your normal path. So if Google says “take Sands St. in this direction,” you say “OK … WOAH, WAIT, NO!” I’m always looking out for possible causes of my death on a bike so I immediately realized that I’d gotten something very wrong, but it’s a lot more possible than people used to the Sands St. path would think.

  • Kevin Love

    Yes, I am kind of curious about what Ben considers to be “the same basic talking point.” Its been over a week since I mentioned the Dutch and over two weeks since repeating the death and injury toll of the lethal poisons from car drivers.

    I believe that death, injury and a child-hostile (and adult-hostile!) urban environment are bad things. And that there are proven solutions to these problems that can be seen to work in real life in The Netherlands and many other places around the world.

    Are these issues not why Streetsblog exists? If I have been unduly emphasizing some part of this problem… sure I’ll dial it down.

  • Nugget

    It is truly a tragic accident. That area has some of the most protected bike lanes as well, on Sands Street, phased traffic lights to cross the intersection and the bike lane onto the Manhattan Bridge. I ride that area all the time and if he was new to the area he may have either missed the entrance to the protected bike lanes on Sands Street or possibly the car could have hit him at the crosswalk and carried him all the way to the onramp.

  • Jimster

    I never met Matt personally but knew him from Soulstrut.com for his DJing and also from his love of bikes. He enjoyed his time here in the UK and I would send him Sainsbury’s biscuits and the like, from time to time. Everyone in the US that knew Matt had nothing but great things to say about him. I am truly gutted to hear about the way he passed.

    I knew that he was a pretty experienced cyclist, and as the article mentions, worked as a courier for some time – a job that makes you pretty alert to the perils of urban riding. Something doesn’t add up in the story here.

    Matt was a great guy.

  • KellyBelly

    This is so sad. My condolences go out to his family, friends, and coworkers. I am a cyclist in NYC and this is yet another reminder that we need to constantly be on guard and alert. I’ve rode on that bike lane many times. For the most part, it is very safe and the bike lane is separated from the street. There is one section, however, going east, just past the intersection of Jay and Sands (as you go under the overpass where it is darker) where the bike lane suddenly veers on the the sidewalk. If you miss the turn, you will suddenly find yourself on the onramp for the BQE with the concrete barrier between you and the bike lane. A car could easily whip around the corner without seeing a cyclist there.

    Every time I go over the Manhattan bridge into Manhattan, I always wonder why the city hasn’t made that bike lane easier to find. Sigh…what a tragedy.

  • hellskitchencyclist

    Ben, I don’t think your overbearing blowhard moderating style is adding much to the comments section. I read Streetsblog because I’ve lived in the Netherlands (Amsterdam)–and France–for years at a time, and have returned to NYC in a near-perpetual state of shock and rage. I want to hear about Dutch infrastructure daily. FRIGGIN every MINUTE. Please refrain from passive-aggressive NY-style silencing of the entire reason many of us read Streetsblog. We hate the status quo and we’re tired of reading about cyclist deaths.

  • hellskitchencyclist

    Please don’t dial it down…At least while we still have so-called “freedom of speech” in this absurd, blinkered, completely self-destructive American Wasteland of ours…

  • ralph

    This just doesn’t make any sense. It says he “moved to Brooklyn last June,” meaning he’s lived there a year. Seems safe to assume this was not the first time he rode a bike to/from to the Manhattan Bridge entrance at Sands. So what on Earth was he doing on the on-ramp side of the concrete wall? I hope they manage to get the footage from the DOT cams and update us on what might have happened.

  • Rob

    The bikes should be banned in ny. If not the city should make them pay for insurance just like a person who owns a car. They are just as reckless as a person who drives a car. And cause a lot of accidents and they usually leave the scene of the accident that they cause. I was crossing the street and was hit by a cyclist, this guy didn’t stay at the scene! he took off like a jack rabbit.

  • dnk

    Dear Rob,

    You are a complete fucking idiot.

  • ItsEasyBeingGreen

    I also missed the Sands St path the first time I came off the Manhattan Bridge and tried to find my way home in Brooklyn by bike. I ended up taking the right lane down the hill, where an inattentive driver could have killed me. It’s not that well marked, and that intersection is really not designed for cycling.

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