Three NYC Traffic Deaths, Three Very Different NYPD Investigations

Police are still looking for a cyclist who appears to have been involved in the crash that killed Kyle Larson, the 20-year-old skateboarder who last week was run over by the driver of a delivery truck on Union Square West. If the cyclist is believed to have contributed to the crash, police should try to bring him in. Nevertheless, the NYPD’s search points to a double standard when it comes to traffic fatality investigations.

Larson, a student at NYU, was killed at approximately 11:15 a.m. on Tuesday, November 20. By Wednesday night, NYPD had released a video that appears to show a wrong-way cyclist who nearly collides with Larson, stops for a few seconds, then rides away from the scene. Police are seeking to question the cyclist, who as of this morning had not been identified. Witnesses were asked to submit tips via the Crime Stoppers phone number or web site.

NYPD’s swift and public actions in the aftermath of Larson’s death stand in stark contrast to other crash investigations.

Days after Roxana Sorina Buta was killed by a hit-and-run truck driver at Broadway and 14th Street, a short distance from where Larson was struck, NYPD told Buta’s mother that no surveillance cameras had filmed the crash. The family learned later that police did in fact have video, which led authorities to identify the driver. NYPD did not release the video to the public. It’s not known if they were allowed access to the video, but as of October, five months after her death, Buta’s relatives reportedly did not know the driver’s name.

In October 2011, Mathieu Lefevre was killed in East Williamsburg, also by a hit-and-run truck driver. It was March before family members saw video of the crash, which was released by NYPD only in the midst of a protracted legal battle.

Larson, Buta and Lefevre were killed in crashes where someone left the scene. In two of those cases NYPD willfully shielded its investigation from view, even keeping victims’ families at bay. The only instance in which NYPD sought the public’s assistance is the crash for which a cyclist may bear some responsibility.

NYPD should conduct as complete an investigation as possible to find out what happened to Kyle Larson. The question is why the department fails to investigate thousands of other deaths and serious injuries as rigorously as this crash.

  • Having made, in miniature, much the same points as this article in this comment:

    I thought I’d repeat my take away from that comment: Protecting drivers while attacking cyclists is starting to seem less
    like an unconscious product of windshield perspective and more of a
    conscious policy.

  • Not just an NYC thing, sadly. Rohnert Park, CA, police want to talk to a hit-and-run driver that severely injured a cyclist, but don’t have a warrant out for his arrest. They want to know if the bicyclist was at fault:

  • Driver

    Also noteworthy is the editing of the video, which fails to show the seconds leading up to the accident.  I suspect NYPD wants us to see one thing but not see another.

    My comment from the previous thread:
    What the video does not show is the important moments leading up to
    the accident.   If the truck driver overtook (passed) the skateboarder
    without sufficient passing room, then it is the drivers responsibility
    that he passes safely, and the driver should be at fault.   If the
    driver did not pass the skateboarder, but instead the skateboarder
    approached the truck from behind or from the side and got way too close,
    then it is not reasonable to blame the driver.  It is also possible
    that the driver passed the skateboarder with sufficient room, but the
    skateboarder made a drastic move that would not be reasonable
    expected.   In the video the entire curb lane appears to be open, so
    there should have been enough room for the skateboarder to have options,
    even with the approaching cyclist. 

    I think it is unfair to lay the majority of the blame on the
    cyclist.  The cyclist could be any number of obstacles in the street. 
    If a construction worker was digging up the street in that spot to
    repair a utility and the skateboarder went under a truck to go around
    it, would it be the construction workers fault?  The cyclist could have
    easily been a parked vehicle, a garbage can, a pile of dirt, a massive
    pothole, a pedestrian tripping into the street, etc. 

    I think the seconds leading up to the accident are important in
    determining who’s fault this actually was, and it is unfair to use the
    bicyclist as a  scapegoat for what was poor judgement on  the part of
    the driver, the skateboarder, or both.

    D. Porpentine, yes, the cyclist intentionally rode against traffic, but I do not think that automatically makes any misjudgment on the part of those involved in the accident the cyclists fault.  As an example, if a pedestrian jaywalks into oncoming traffic, one car stops, and gets rear ended by the car behind it, is the accident the pedestrians fault?  
    If the cyclist had crashed into the skateboarder, causing the accident, the situation would be very different and the cyclist would be much more culpable.  Of course this is just my opinion, I would be interested to know what the legal interpretation would be.


  • Anonymous

    @SB_Driver:disqus : the problem is trying to put 100% of the fault on just one actor. If you break the rules  of the road and create a hazardous situation, I believe you are at least partly responsible for whatever happens. I’m talking morally here; the law may be different (and insurance companies in particular seem to want a black-and-white assignment of fault).

    In your example, yes, the pedestrian has some of the fault, but so does the second driver for following too closely or not paying attention. Who has the bigger share is a question with plenty of room for disagreement.

  • Guest

    This is the problem with a politicized approach to street safety that prioritizes one mode of travel over another rather than holding all lives — and deaths — as equal under the law.

    If only our public advocate could advocate for the public here.

  • Jimmy Shanks

    Well, obviously. The NYPD hates cyclists with a personal passion and are using the NYU student’s death as a way to fulfill their personal vendetta.

  • CheapSkate

    I’m still not entirely sure I actually see anything in this video.

  • Anonymous

    Without seeing the earlier video showing the arrival of the skateboarder and the truck, we can tell nothing about how and why this crash occurred.  Crash prevention is based on crash analysis, and crash analysis requires running through the entire history from the approach to the crash to the getaway (if any).  Don’t want to see blood, and guts and gore…? (thank you Arlo for that line.) Then crash analysis is not a business you want to be in.  But some of us don’t like being attacked on the streets and we work hard to determine what went wrong, so we can prevent it from happening again.  Unlike most of the NYPD, DAs and Judges, (and CBS News.)

    The cops have released just enough of the video to “identify” a cyclist, but not enough to determine if he played a critical role in the crash, nor the role the driver’s behavior played.  Very selective use of facts and evidence that may be distorting the truth.

    Remember, it’s not just the skateboarder that can see the wrong way cyclist coming at him, it’s also the truck driver!  If the cyclist is a potential road hazard, then both the oncoming truck driver and the skateboarder have to be prepared to take evasive action.  Several writers have commented that there are many hazards on the street that can throw a skateboard off course.  Driving too fast and too close when the roadway is narrowed by the cyclist or pavement problems or a standing pedestrian is a failure by the driver to overtake safely.

    And as I said last week, Union Sq West is not a major through street, in fact, with the adjacent market, it is practically a shared pedestrian street, even if DOT was not allowed to close it.  Motor vehicles have no expectation of speeding through this street, but that is what the truck driver did.

    So now the cops are trying to blame two victims?

    As Bob Dylan said,
    The cops don’t need you, and man, they expect the same.

  • Amazing how complicated and full of epistemic anxiety the world gets when a biker might have been the principal cause of a fatal collision.

  • Driver

    CheapSkate, pause the video, and bring it back to the beginning frame (0:00).  It looks to me like the skateboarder’s right arm and T-shirt are visible, next to the truck and directly in front of the cyclist.  Press play, and he instantly vanishes under the truck.   
    Although there are several possible scenario’s, the editing of this video makes me suspect that the truck driver passed the skateboarder too closely. 

    The blatant double standard in the way the NYPD is pursuing this case is disturbing to say the least.

  • Varunreg

    The best solution? Get 90% of NYPD out of cars and onto bikes.

    Someone should propose that to Mayor Bloomberg. We’ll see how their standards change when that happens.

  • My heart sank when I heard about this death for all kinds of reasons. One of them is that I knew it would instantly start the thing abut cyclists posing a severe danger to other road users. The last time someone died after a collision with a cyclist in NYC, as far as I know, was March 2009. There have been around 1,000 deaths as a result of crashes involving motor vehicles since then. The NYPD hands out around 5 per cent of its tickets to cyclists, who make up (I think) around 1 per cent of traffic. There’s a substantial prejudice at work – as I explain here: It doesn’t even always seem that unconscious a prejudice.


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