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.
“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.
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.