When Traffic Deaths Don’t Make the News: Jelani Irving, 22

Jelani Irving. Photo from the Irving family via Ghost Bike Project
Jelani Irving. Photo from the Irving family via Ghost Bike Project

While NYC traffic deaths are down in the first few months of 2014, they are still so frequent that not every fatality gets reported in the news. This is often the case when a victim dies from injuries in the hospital days after a crash. That’s what happened earlier this year to 22-year-old Jelani Irving.

Irving was critically injured just before 6:15 a.m. on February 2 while riding his bike at the intersection of Classon Avenue and Washington Avenue in Crown Heights. Irving’s sister, Imani Irving, said he was riding his bike home from work after his shift as a yellow cab driver.

Police say Irving was struck by a 61-year-old man driving a 1999 Nissan Maxima northbound on Washington. The driver was turning right onto Classon — a turn with a very obtuse angle that motorists can make at speed — and struck Irving as he was cycling south in the northbound lane. NYPD says Irving veered left, crossing the path of the driver. The driver was cited for two equipment violations; press reports at the time said they were for bald rear tires. There were no citations or arrests related to Irving’s death.

Irving, unconscious and in cardiac arrest, was taken to Kings County Hospital and classified by NYPD as likely to die. He died of his injuries four days later.

The crash was covered by the Brooklyn Paper and Gothamist but it was not known that it caused Irving’s death until his name later appeared in WNYC’s “Mean Streets” traffic fatalities tracker.

Irving’s cousin, Daniel Gregoire, works at a Unitarian church in Pennsylvania and wrote about his family’s loss on the church’s website:

Many of you know that last week my dear cousin Jelani died as a result of the injuries he sustained when his bicycle and a car collided in New York. He was 22 years old. My family is coping with the loss in the many ways that families come to grips with a tragedy that takes away a beloved member, seemingly well before his time. Folks were upset, crying, consoling and seeking to be consoled. Even for me, at this present moment there is a kind of “unreality” to the events that have transpired. Periodically, I find myself wondering if this event, his death, even really happened. Of course, I know for a fact that it has, Jelani is dead, and life for my family will be very different as we move towards healing.

In moments like these, everyone searches for answers. Right now, the facts of the accident are emerging: there was fog, perhaps black ice, an intersection with a confusing geometry, it was early morning. The impact of a 2,000 lb. car on 160 pounds of flesh, even at the city speed limit is enough to cause catastrophic injury if the conditions are right. I know that “why” is seldom a useful question in times like these, but time and time again I find myself coming back to the “why.”

“We all have the right to the road,” Imani Irving told Streetsblog. “There’s no word to describe the feelings we have at this time.”

The Ghost Bike Project, which memorializes cyclists who have died on New York City streets, notes on its website that, at the request of Irving’s family, it did not install a memorial at the site of his death.

This post has been updated to reflect that after publication, Irving’s sister, Imani Irving, contacted Streetsblog with additional information.

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