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NYPD Crash Investigations

Lawsuit: AIS Rebuffed Calls From Officers at Scene of Fatal Heyworth Crash

3:54 PM EDT on June 11, 2012

The lawsuit filed today by Jacob Stevens renders in detail how NYPD destroyed the case against the driver who killed his wife, Clara Heyworth, by failing to investigate the crash. It's as enraging as it is heartbreaking, all the more so considering the number of times this scenario may have played out in other fatality cases.

Per the text of the suit:

    • Officers from the 88th Precinct arrived at the scene at 2:05 a.m., approximately 15 minutes after the crash. Within one minute, an officer radioed a 911 dispatcher to say that Heyworth was likely to die. Two minutes later, the officer requested that AIS be sent to the scene, the first of "repeated attempts" to summon crash investigators.
    • While officers called for AIS, Heyworth was taken to Bellevue Hospital. Moments after her arrival, at 2:59 a.m., the NYPD dispatcher announced that AIS had cancelled its investigation. "The apparent reason for the cancellation given was 'No DOA at loc[ation]," i.e., Heyworth was not yet dead when she arrived at Bellevue," the suit reads.
    • One of the precinct officers at the scene suspected that driver Anthony Webb was intoxicated. Because NYPD assigns responsibility for blood alcohol tests at the scene of serious crashes to AIS, and AIS had called off its investigation, no testing equipment was available.
    • In the absence of AIS, testing equipment was brought from the 88th Precinct. After a one hour delay "due to the unavailability of the equipment," Webb was tested and found to have a BAC of .07 percent. Webb was arrested for DWI, among other charges. It was later discovered that, though it was functioning properly, the machine used to test Webb's BAC had not been calibrated according to manufacturer recommendations -- it was last calibrated in 2007. As a result, "no evidence admissible in criminal court of Webb's impairment was preserved."
    • On July 11, one day after the crash, Heyworth died from her injuries. On July 14, NYPD was informed of Heyworth's death, and resumed its investigation. By that time, according to the suit, "virtually all of the critical evidence of Webb's culpability had already been lost or destroyed."
    • In October 2011, prosecutors from the office of Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes told Stevens that they planned to seek a grand jury indictment of Webb for various charges, including vehicular manslaughter. Less than a week later, prosecutors said they were reconsidering their decision, due to the failure of NYPD to calibrate the breath testing equipment used to test Webb.
    • In February 2012, Hynes's office notified Stevens that all criminal charges against Webb would be dropped due to lack of admissible evidence.

In related news, City Council Member Peter Vallone, Jr., who along with James Vacca presided over the February hearing on NYPD traffic enforcement and crash investigations, was asked by Gothamist about the lawsuit. Here's what he had to say:

"I share the concerns of Clara's husband. We heard from many people at our hearing who were very dissatisfied with the way these investigations were conducted. Most of us agreed the AIS had to be changed. For me, a former prosecutor, there is no difference between someone who backs through an intersection at 30 mph and breaks somebody's ankle and someone who backs through an intersection at 30 mph and kills a senior citizen."

"See, the conduct is exactly the same, and it makes no sense to me for have one be investigated while the other one goes scot-free. I think many in the police department probably agree. The problem is that they had to set these parameters because of a lack of resources. They basically drew a line someplace because they didn't have the manpower to get out and investigate anymore than cases involving likely to die or deaths. The number one thing that has to happen is that this unit has to be expanded. As far as I know, it has not been yet."

NYPD has yet to adopt any reforms regarding crash investigations or street safety in the wake of the February hearing.

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