When a Driver Had a Seizure and Killed Two in Manhattan, It Was Murder

The motorist who killed a cyclist and injured several others in Brooklyn yesterday told police he had a seizure after he did not take his medication. If the driver’s claim is true, the case would be similar to a Manhattan crash that resulted in a murder conviction.

According to reports, at around 7 a.m. Tuesday 37-year-old Claudio Rodriguez, driving against traffic on Fourth Avenue, hit a male cyclist head-on, near the Atlantic Avenue intersection, killing the victim instantly. The Brooklyn Eagle identified the cyclist as 35-year-old Alejandro Moran-Marin.

Reports said Rodriguez hit a stopped vehicle before striking Moran-Marin, and drove into another car before coming to a stop near Fourth and Flatbush Avenue. Five people, including Rodriguez, were hospitalized.

From WABC:

After smashing into the back of the Camry, witnesses say the driver backed up, went around the Camry then drove into oncoming traffic and kept speeding up the block, hitting the bicyclist near Atlantic Avenue.

Witnesses said Moran-Marin’s bicycle was scattered in pieces across several blocks.

A witness told the Daily News he “thought the driver was trying to flee after rear-ending the Toyota because he backed up before taking off.”

In the immediate aftermath of the crash, several outlets reported that NYPD said the driver had a seizure, information the Daily News and the Post said came from Rodriguez himself. “He admitted to cops that he had forgotten to take medication on Monday to control his seizures, law-enforcement sources said,” the Post reported.

“I was feeling, like, you know when you feel dizzy,” Rodriguez said. “After that, I don’t remember until I hit the other guy and the other guy hit me.”

As of this afternoon no charges had been filed against the driver by NYPD or Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson, police told Streetsblog. NYPD said the investigation is ongoing.

In 2009, Manhattan DA Robert Morgenthau secured a murder conviction against Auvryn Scarlett, a sanitation truck driver who killed two British tourists on a Midtown sidewalk. Scarlett was off his epilepsy medication when he hit Jacqueline Timmins and Andrew Hardie.

“Apparently, he stopped taking his medication,” an NYPD spokesperson said of Scarlett. “It was a conscious decision, so he’s being charged.”

“It is like playing a game of Russian roulette, only instead of pointing the gun at yourself, you point it at other people,” ADA Chris Ryan said in court. “And if someone dies — that is murder.”

The circumstances in the two crashes are not identical. Scarlett’s job entailed driving a truck every day. Other factors, including Rodriguez’s medical history, would have to be considered. But if Rodriguez told the truth, yesterday’s crash was precipitated by his failure to take medication required in order for him to drive. Otherwise, available information would suggest that Rodriguez chose to speed down crowded streets, killing a person and injuring five others.

Motorist crashes are routine in the area where Atlantic, Flatbush, and Fourth avenues meet — a major transit hub near Barclays Center. According to DNAinfo, more than 150 collisions occurred there from January 1 through July 7. Drivers killed two seniors in separate crashes at the intersection of Atlantic and Flatbush in 2013 and 2014. Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams biked to the site of the crash today, where he called for a “fast-tracking of Vision Zero.”

Atlantic Avenue and Fourth Avenue are two of the four streets in line for “Vision Zero Great Streets” funding, but the intersection where they meet may not receive a redesign. The Department of City Planning is studying Atlantic, though the study area does not include the Fourth Avenue intersection, and the Fourth Avenue project will cast in concrete changes that were already implemented with paint.

Responding to calls from Transportation Alternatives and electeds, in March 2014 Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg pledged to prioritize safety fixes on Atlantic. A month later DOT named Atlantic Avenue its first “Arterial Slow Zone,” retiming lights and installing 25 mph speed limit signs. At that time, NYPD Chief of Transportation Thomas Chan promised to ramp up speed enforcement. As of June the 78th Precinct, where Monday’s crash occurred, was ticketing an average of one speeding driver a day in 2015.

  • Mark Walker

    People who need medication to drive safely should not be licensed to drive at all. Even if they take their medication reliably, other factors (like the amount of food in the stomach) affect how the medication is absorbed. And the level of medication in the bloodstream varies throughout the day. It’s not only drivers who are playing Russian roulette — it’s also the irresponsible state authorities who license them. We have to let go of the idea that driving is a right to which everyone is entitled. It should be privilege strictly limited to those capable of driving safely — at all hours of the day, and even under less than ideal conditions.

  • Needless to say, the indication that the driver in this case backed up after the first collision and then continued does appear to undermine the seizure theory, although the human mind is a mysterious thing.

  • J

    ADA Chris Ryan gives us a very useful way of thinking about street safety. I’ve amended the quote to include other highly dangerous behaviors that people commonly engage in:

    “[Speeding/running red lights/running stop signs/violating ped right-of-way in crosswalks/failing to yield to pedestrians while turning] is like playing a game of Russian roulette, only instead of pointing the gun at yourself, you point it at other people, and if someone dies — that is murder.”

    Sadly, despite the strong relationship between these behaviors and death, DA Vance and the NYPD routinely choose to ignore them.

  • Kevin Love

    I wonder if airline pilots are allowed to fly with these types of medical conditions?

  • WalkingNPR

    It’s much stricter. For example, there’s ton of medications that disqualify a pilot:

    https://www.faa.gov/about/office_org/headquarters_offices/avs/offices/aam/ame/guide/pharm/dni_dnf/

    Commercial driver’s licenses are in between–though off-hand I’d say there’s way fewer disqualifying conditions and meds than for pilots.

  • BBnet3000

    I know this shouldn’t matter, but lets also not forget that this is in a location that is not car-dependent. There are some edge cases (people who need to carry a lot of tools, etc) but most people in New York City do not need an automobile to get around. There’s even plenty of suburbs where you can meet your daily needs without an automobile, without a great inconvenience.

    This person elected to drive even though it posed a danger to others.

  • Kevin Love

    Perhaps the exact same conditions and medications that make it dangerous for someone to fly an airplane also make it dangerous for someone to drive a car.

  • Kevin Love

    “…people who need to carry a lot of tools…”

    You mean like this plumber?

    http://bicycleplumbing.com/wordpress/

    Or this one?

    http://bikeportland.org/2011/02/04/portlands-latest-bike-based-business-the-bicycle-plumber-47367

    Or this carpenter?

    https://www.facebook.com/thecyclingcarpenter

    I can keep going with examples… none of which is in The Netherlands…

  • Simon Phearson

    I don’t know about you, but I’m perfectly willing to sacrifice more lives in order to entitle a slightly broader swath of people to fly themselves. Air travel is so safe, we have plenty of lives to spare!

  • Jesse

    I don’t think your point is irrelevant. It also really bothers me not only that he chose to drive but that he chose to drive such a big car too when more car means more energy which means more potential for damage in the event of a crash. But it’s heresy to even consider issues like this in our culture.

  • AndreL

    No, this standard doesn’t make any sense. Cars can be stopped at a moment’s notice in emergency cases, planes can’t.

  • AndreL

    The requirements for pilots vary drastically between private pilots flying their own planes (regardless of size) and commercial pilots flying cargo and passengers as part of an air transport business (aka airline).

  • FLYINGCHOPSTIK

    I highly doubt that this guy had a seizure. If that was the case, how would he be able to reverse the vehicle and then put it back in drive? That seems like it took some quick consious effort. More like “oh sh#%, i just f___d up”

    Im sure it would have been another awful hit and run if he had not crashed after backing up and proceeding down Atlantic. Also, why is the NYPD going by the drivers word alone? They should not inform news outlets that it was a “seizure” until an investigation was completed but then again, i dont have much faith in the NYPD.

  • Matthias

    For many people, a larger vehicle is “safer” because it “protects them better” in a crash (by doing more damage to the other guy). No one thinks about the consequences for others, and this must change.

  • Joe R.

    I recall a story about a woman who survived a crash because she was in an SUV. The passengers in the other vehicle didn’t survive. This made her say she would get a larger SUV in the future to offer even better protection. To me a decision like that borders on sociopathic. We’ve been having an arms race for a long time on our public roads where those able to afford to operate a bigger, less efficient vehicle literally perform Darwinism in action by killing off those who can’t, or choose not to. Something seriously needs to be done. Perhaps we need different gradations of licensing for larger, heavier vehicles, along with a requisite amount of extra training. While we’re at it, if your choice of a larger, heavier vehicle results in deaths which otherwise wouldn’t have occurred, there should civil, perhaps even criminal sanctions.

  • Alexander Vucelic

    fascinating article on SUVs from 2004. SUVs are far more Unsafe than other cars, but The marketing plays on people’s irrational fears. Auto industry engineers never believed SUVs would sell.

    http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2004/01/12/big-and-bad

  • Ian Dutton

    On the contrary, this airline pilot thinks it makes a lot of sense.

    If I had a seizure in all but a few-dozen seconds of my 8-hour flight from Oslo to Newark today, no one would have been in immediate danger and in fact, few would have even known. It is almost inconceivable that a driver in the highly complex environment of New York City who suffered a seizure wouldn’t put others at grave danger – as I witnessed on Monday in my neighborhood.

  • MiklosMeszaros

    Its not so clear cut in terms of safety. The key factor is the object or structure the SUV is coming into contact with the addition of angle, velocity, and area of contact. In the case with smaller vehicle, the opposing vehicle does not have the same momentum and force as being applied to the SUV. The strike would cause the other vehicle to change trajectory at a greater variance as the SUV would. Now int terms of force, the SUV is designed to withstand a force of its mass a certain velocity against a solid barrier. Which is considerably less force than the smaller lighter car was designed with and thus experiences more deformation in this incident. That is design parameter that needs to change as smaller cars should be designed to withstand greater momentum forces then they do today.

    Now when an SUV hits a barrier at above the 30mph NHSTA test, it performs in compliance. During the IIHS tests at 40mph, the story is quite different. The additional momentum took a considerable toll the structural integrity of the vehicle as the pillars and beams are longer, and thus overall weaker than a shorter beam with similar construction. So when an SUV strikes a solid barrier with high rate of speed, it will likely suffer more intrusion in the passenger space than a smaller vehicle built to similar standards. In a collision between to vehicles, the large SUV is placing a greater force upon the smaller vehicles, causing those occupants to experience greater intrusion into their cabin space.

    The only likely solution in the near term would be for insurance rates to be increased relative to weight. Remember that in a test, a Honda Accord caused severe damage to Smart car, causing likely serious injury to Smart car occupant. Large Luxury sedans can often equal the mass of SUV’s.

    If we moved towards smaller cars on average. The injury rates experiences would overall drop as the forces induced in collision would be lessened. While its easier to dissipate energy using larger crumple zones with large cars, its easier to achieve stronger occupant cabins with smaller cars. Today you often see drivers of high performance carbon vehicles walking out of severe accidents without major injury. The often lower mass, incredible structure strength, and well though out energy dissipation in design all play a part.

  • WalkingNPR

    Thanks for the link to this article–fascinating. Buying High and Mighty now!

  • johnmassengale

    @BrooklynSpoke: Drivers running red lights is what is to be expected when the city is calling its main urban spaces “primary arterials.” In the Federal lingo that funds roads, that means “highways.” We are in the midst of a revolution, but the evolution of that revolution is sometimes very slow. Until we stop seeing streets as transportation corridors for private drivers—and making one-way, suburban-style arterials to support that—we will have induced traffic with impatient drivers who run red lights and sometimes hit people. You can not get to Vision Zero if the main vision for the streets where millions of people are walking is a vision for getting millions of drivers in and out of the city.

  • Arnold Stang

    Prosecutors brought the charge because he’d lied about his epilepsy for
    10 years on licensing paperwork, and had gone off his seizure meds two
    weeks before the crash. Its hard to say you forgot 14 straight days.

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