DA Cy Vance: $250 Fine for Motorist Accused of Deliberately Striking Cyclist

Manhattan DA Cy Vance dropped assault charges against Jose Henriquez, the hit-and-run driver accused of intentionally striking a cyclist with an SUV. Henriquez was allowed to plead to leaving the scene and was fined $250. Vance photo: Brad Aaron. Henriquez photo via Facebook
Manhattan DA Cy Vance dropped assault charges against Jose Henriquez, a hit-and-run driver accused of intentionally striking a cyclist with an SUV. Henriquez was allowed to plead to leaving the scene and was fined $250. Vance photo: Brad Aaron. Henriquez photo via Facebook

Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance dropped assault charges against a hit-and-run driver accused of intentionally ramming a cyclist with an SUV, allowing the defendant to plead guilty to leaving the scene and pay a small fine, according to court documents and the victim’s attorney, Steve Vaccaro.

Vaccaro says the case was one of several handled by his firm, Vaccaro and White, in which Vance’s office declined or otherwise failed to pursue assault charges against motorists and pedestrians who attacked cyclists or purposefully hit them with motor vehicles.

According to Vaccaro and a witness affidavit [PDF], at around 5:00 p.m. on July 13, 2013, Michael (not his actual name) was riding his bike on Avenue B on the Lower East Side. Avenue B is a narrow two-way street with no bike lanes and parking on both sides. To avoid being doored, Michael was riding in the center of his lane. When a motorist approached Michael from behind, tailgating and honking, he responded by flipping the driver off.

Approaching the intersection of Avenue B and E. 13th Street, Michael slowed for a red light. According to the affidavit, the driver, still behind him, accelerated, striking the back of Michael’s bike and flipping him over the handlebars, causing him to hit his head on the ground. With Michael in the street bleeding from his face and head, the motorist swerved around him and attempted to drive off. A second motorist on the opposite side of the intersection tried to block the way, but the SUV driver went around the vehicle and left the scene.

Witnesses noted the SUV’s plate number, and the driver was identified by NYPD as 33-year-old Jose Henriquez, of Queens.

Michael suffered lacerations to his face. Despite his injuries and the circumstances of the crash, NYPD and prosecutors with Vance’s office initially charged Henriquez only with leaving the scene. “We went out and got the witnesses to establish that it was a deliberate strike, and to the DA’s credit, they added assault charges,” says Vaccaro. “Now, inexplicably and without justification, they have dropped them.”

Charges against Henriquez were upgraded to include third degree assault and second degree aggravated harassment. Third degree assault, the top charge, is a class A misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail. After months of delays, Henriquez was set to go to trial Tuesday. But on Monday afternoon, the assistant district attorney assigned to the case notified Vaccaro and Michael that, after consulting with her supervisor, Vance’s office offered to allow Henriquez to plead to leaving the scene of an accident with property damage. Henriquez accepted and was sentenced to a fine of $250.

Vaccaro says the ADA was intent on prosecuting the case. He believes the decision to drop the more serious charges apparently came from supervisors within the DA’s office, and reflects a pattern of failing to aggressively prosecute cases of deliberate assaults on bicyclists.

“At least 10 of our firm’s clients in the last four years have been the victims of intentional assaults while bicycling in Manhattan, and of those, in four cases, there were very strong independent eyewitness accounts establishing the intent to assault,” says Vaccaro. “Of those four strong assault cases referred to DA Cy Vance, one resulted in a plea to disorderly conduct, one resulted in a plea of hit-and-run, and two were dismissed for lack of diligent prosecution on ‘speedy trial’ grounds. That prosecutorial record gives cyclists no comfort that aggressive, road-raging drivers will face meaningful consequences for their intentional assaults.”

Vaccaro says it’s troublesome that Vance dropped the assault and harassment charges without consulting the victim, and notified him of the plea after the fact on the eve of trial. But more worrying is what this case and others like it mean for cyclists’ safety on the streets of Manhattan.

“Our city functions on the premise that people can freely operate deadly weapons on our streets — cars — and can be trusted to do so responsibly,” Vaccaro says. “When a motorist commits a deliberate strike, it goes right to the heart of our urban social compact and should be punished as surely and severely as gun violence. When Cy Vance was running for district attorney, he stated repeatedly that he understood the vulnerability of cyclists — invoking the fact that his own son used a bike for transportation in the city — and promised to protect us. He is failing in that promise.”

Streetsblog has a request in with Vance’s office for comment on the Henriquez case. We will update here if we get a statement.

  • Eugene Weixel

    I wonder if the driver has a close relative in NYPD?

  • Eugene Weixel

    Nope.

  • BBnet3000

    If only it took that much juice to get out of trouble for purposely ramming someone with a car in this city. It doesn’t.

  • Jordan

    This is assault with a deadly weapon.

  • mistermarkdavis

    NYPD seized the central park cyclist’s bike and he hit someone by accident.

  • mistermarkdavis

    In a case like this does insurance cover the driver even though this was in no way an accident?

  • mistermarkdavis

    I called the cops after a cab hit me twice on purpose. The cops wouldn’t do anything.

  • interceptor III

    I would think that without a conviction on some relevant charges any insurer would assume it was an “accident”. I’ve often wondered if in some cases getting a conviction might actually leave the victim without recompense. Insurance won’t pay, assailant has no assets, you lose a second time.

  • Interceptor III

    I’ve had interactions bad enough to prompt me to call the police several times. I’ve never had an NYPD experience that made me think it was worth my time. This has even been the case twice in the beloved 78th. If you’re on a bike, cops are not for you.

  • Edwards

    Sounds to me like a little vigulante justice is in order! If that douchbag hit me and only had to pay a $250 fine… I’d hunt him down and hit him with a $250 baseball bat till I gots my moneys worth!
    But that’s just my southern upbringing talkin.

  • mistermarkdavis

    I had an odd interaction in the 120th precinct where I was treated very rudely. I found out a bunch of the things they did was against their manual like not showing me their badge number or tell me their names. They told me they would have never pulled me over if I was in a car. I was in a bike lane, I was not even stopped for a traffic violation. I was randomly stopped, just because I was on a bike.

    I felt that the police didn’t care about me as a vulnerable road user. Now I feel like the DA doesn’t either. I just want to be treated as a human being.

  • susan boyle

    It seems like in addition to assault charges it could have been prosecuted as a hate crime…. is that crazy?
    Is TA considering heading up a petition or letter writing campaign directed at the DA?

  • DaSpellingBee

    sounds like a little spell check is in order

  • Cold Shoaler

    It’s dumbfounding how profoundly someone encased in a multi-ton machine will lose their shit if you TOUCH “their car”. It’s as if you could harm them or the “property damage” done by the hand of a pedestrian or cyclist were meaningful.

  • Cold Shoaler

    I don’t know if it’s “crazy”, but why would this be a hate crime?

  • Cold Shoaler

    Spark-plugs break windows. Smash-and-grab thieves figured out that shit back in the crack years. Ceramics, yo.

  • David Keegan

    It would be a hate crime b/c the crime was motivated by a bias (causing violence to someone riding a bicycle) and the criminal acted out his intent.

  • TheNic

    Are you referring to ‘vigulante’, or ‘douchbag’, or ’till’, or ‘gots’, or ‘moneys’, or ‘talkin’?

  • kurtjens

    exactly why I removed my Airzound horn. When I needed it, I was too busy braking and maneuvering to avoid a collision. Using it afterwards to express my annoyance just seemed pointless.

  • Interceptor III

    I emphatically object to the notion that expressing my annoyance is pointless. It’s practically all I’ve got.

  • Joe R.

    Noise-making devices in general on a bike seem pointless, at least from a safety/warning standpoint. I put a small bell on my bike a few years back only because I didn’t want to get a ticket if I was ever stopped by the cops. I have yet to use it.

  • Cold Shoaler

    Seems like a stretch. I’d be thrilled just to see it prosecuted it as a regular-type crime.

  • I have a simple air horn with a bulb. I use it every day. It is very effective for alerting both pedestrians and drivers of my presence.

  • Joe R.

    Question-if you didn’t alert them to your presence would the end result be a collision? The way I typically ride, it doesn’t matter if a driver or pedestrian knows I’m there. I usually keep a pretty large buffer zone so even if somebody does something totally stupid at the worst possible moment, I have an out.

  • kurtjens

    I didn’t say it was pointless for YOU to express your annoyance. If you re-read my post, you’ll see that I felt it was pointless to express MY annoyance.

  • Typically these are cases where, if my horn or my shouts were not heard, I would have to stop. As I mentioned, at least one of these cases happens every day.

    I work hard to ensure that the drivers and pedestrians know that I am there. For this reason I also use white gloves and lots of hand waving. I strive to be as conspicuous and predictable as possible at all times. Doing otherwise is a big mistake.

  • Joe R.

    I do a lot of gesturing, especially to make it clear to people crossing that I’m giving them the right-of-way. I might see the value of a bell or horn to alert someone whose head is buried in their phone, but I rarely encounter that on my rides.

  • Joe R.

    Although I love the idea in concept, in general the only protected characteristics under hate crimes laws are race, religion, ethnicity, nationality, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, and disability.

    Bicycle-Americans anyone? Or maybe Velo-Americans?

  • nygrump

    Maybe if a few more people pull out hatchets the citizens will get some respect

  • Edwards

    Excuse me “Spelling Nazi” I guess I should have “quoted” each expletive
    to “Emphasize” that I was making fun of that goombah looking New York
    piece of trash in his native tongue… but then I expect most people to
    read it in context. Looks like someone needs a Dic!

  • Edwards

    And tha Dic is for you!

  • ApathyNihilism

    This is a disgrace. So you can intentionally hit someone with a car, and be fined $250?
    It should be charged as attempted murder.
    The driver should lose his license for life and go to to jail.

  • ApathyNihilism

    No. The entire idea of “hate crimes” is silly. That category should be done away with. How do you determine if someone hates someone else? Does murdering someone because you hate them make it worse than murdering someone you like?

  • Robyn Weinbaum

    next time i’m lying in the ground with broken bones i’ll make sure i don’t escalate things…

  • Andrew

    They seriously believe that their car’s paint job is more important than your life. After all, they’re driving a car and you’re not.

  • Fallopia Tuba

    A brain injury can fuck you up for life; I think the punishment here is ridiculously mild.

    But also, the cyclist should have been wearing a helmet; don’t ever assume you’re in control when you’re on a bike. (I’ve talked to people who flew over the handlebars when they were on their bikes, but they still felt they were in such control, they’d never wear a helmet. What are you, made of steel?)

  • Maggie

    So the driver was never tested for drug or alcohol impairment, if I read this correctly – that’s completely unknown? Thanks, Cy Vance, for keeping this creep on the road. I’m so appalled. Still shaking my head.

  • Maggie

    Just curious, are you sure the cyclist wasn’t wearing a helmet? The article doesn’t say that.

    I think there’s as compelling a case for pedestrians to wear helmets in NYC. (That said, I still wear one when I’m biking around cars).

  • cknj

    This is an epic fail on the DA’s part…WTF were they thinking in his office?

  • Fallopia Tuba

    Admittedly, it was only an assumption, because fewer than half the cyclists I see on the streets of New York City have a helmet on—and this even includes deliverymen from restaurants.

  • Rabi

    Do you look at shooting victims and say they should have been wearing bulletproof vests?

  • Rabi

    Being a cyclist is not a protected class.

    This dirtbag should be in jail, but this definitely was not a hate crime.

  • Fallopia Tuba

    This is like comparing apples and oranges; I don’t wear a helmet for walking down the street, for instance, and neither do you. But in fact it’s recommended and even the law in New York State to wear a helmet when cycling:

    http://www.health.ny.gov/publications/3128/

  • Rabi

    I wear a helmet whenever I ride and encourage others to do the same. Accidents happen. But “Michael” was deliberately run down. This wasn’t even an accident in the “driver was texting and speeding and not paying attention” sense; this was assault with a deadly weapon. It is as comparable to being shot as it is to being hit by a distracted driver.

  • Rabi

    Henriquez fled the scene, so it may have been too late by the time he was caught. Besides, it’s assault regardless.

  • qrt145

    It’s the law for children under 14 only.

    Rabi’s analogy was apt given that this was a deliberate vehicular assault and not any sort of “accident”. This makes it comparable to an intentional shooting.

  • Fallopia Tuba

    I’m not denying that; a 4-ton SUV is definitely a deadly weapon. But even deliberate vehicular assault is usually called an “accident.”

  • Joe R.

    Compare the relative risk of a head injury while walking compared to cycling. It’s actually about the same or more:

    http://www.howiechong.com/journal/2014/2/bike-helmets

    If you’re going to be logically consistent and wear a helmet while riding, then you should wear one while walking.

    Also, helmets are nearly useless in bike-motor vehicle collisions in terms of preventing life changing injuries. Sure, I’ve heard of instances where a helmet “saved” a cyclist after a motor vehicle collision. Saved in this context basically means saved them from dying only to spend the remainder of their life in a wheelchair due to other injuries they sustained which the helmet couldn’t prevent. I’d personally rather have died than have survived as an invalid.

  • Fallopia Tuba

    Your last sentence there is pretty offensive, but I take it personally. 33 years ago I sustained a TBI as a pedestrian and was comatose for four weeks. But for that matter, I’m guessing that you mean that for everyone whose life is saved in a disabling accident, they’re better off dead.

    Most pedestrians don’t walk in the street, or even in the bike lanes; cyclists hate it when they do. I find that I’m usually not at risk of being run over by a car if I stay on the sidewalk.

    Considering the technologies available to improve the lives of differently-abled people now—compared to even ten years ago—I wouldn’t be so quick to say you’d rather die than live with a disability.

    True, people nowadays have a low threshold of what they will tolerate, and a lot of people think they would never want to live if they couldn’t walk/talk/hear/see/fill-in-the-blank. But people are more adaptive to changes than they often think.

    On the other hand, you’d better prepare a Living Will stat—so you aren’t kept alive beyond your sell-by date.

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