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DMV Reform

No Word on Whether Trucker Who Killed Mathieu Lefevre Will Keep License

More than three years after the crash, the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles held a hearing today to determine whether to take action against the truck driver who killed cyclist Mathieu Lefevre. But Lefevre's family will have to wait on a DMV decision.

Mathieu Lefevre. Photo by Chieu-Anh Le Van via ## Justice for Mathieu Lefevre##
Mathieu Lefevre. Photo: Chieu-Anh Le Van via ## Justice for Mathieu Lefevre##

Lefevre, 30, was killed just after midnight on October 19, 2011, while riding his bike on Morgan Avenue in Brooklyn. As Lefevre approached the intersection of Morgan and Meserole Street, Leonardo Degianni, who was driving a 28-ton crane truck and traveling in the same direction as Lefevre, ran over Lefevre while turning right. Degianni did not stop at the scene, and was identified as the driver after police found the truck parked a block away.

It took a lawsuit and a lot of well-earned negative publicity for NYPD to share information about the crash with Lefevre's family. NYPD concluded Degianni was unaware he struck Lefevre based on video of the crash. Detective Gerard Sheehan, the crash investigator assigned to the case, also apportioned some blame to Lefevre in his report. Though Degianni did not signal before turning and Lefevre was riding legally, Sheehan said Lefevre “should not have been passing on the right side.”

Lefevre's family asked Charles Hynes, then the Brooklyn district attorney, to review the case, but Hynes declined to press charges. Degianni was eventually ticketed for failing to signal and careless driving, but the DMV threw out the tickets.

At this morning's "safety hearing," DMV administrative law judge Marc Berger heard testimony from Sheehan, who basically repeated the conclusions contained in the NYPD crash report. Berger also reviewed video of the crash, and accepted photos of the scene as evidence.

Berger questioned Sheehan on key details, such as the number and position of the mirrors on the truck, and whether in Sheehan's opinion Degianni should have known he hit a person on a bicycle. Sheehan at one point indicated he believed Degianni should have seen Lefevre, had he used his mirrors properly, but said police could not determine if Degianni had passed Lefevre prior to the collision. Though the investigation found Degianni made contact with Lefevre on the driver's side of the truck, Sheehan said drivers of large vehicles often say they didn't detect running someone over.

Berger did not render a decision today.

Today's proceeding was a vast improvement over the 2014 hearing when Berger asked the driver who killed Brooklyn pedestrian Clara Heyworth for his analysis of the crash scene. But the DMV adjudication process is still biased to favor motorists who kill people.

First, the DMV is supposed to convene "safety hearings," like the one held today, within a year of a crash. But DMV doesn't hold hearings for all fatal crashes, and many are delayed. At one point Detective Sheehan remarked that it had been three-and-a-half years since he'd seen the truck that Degianni was driving, so he didn't remember exactly what it looked like. This kind of time lag can hinder the investigative process, as memories fade and investigators move to other jobs.

Berger came prepared for this hearing, with notes on the crash and Google images of the scene. But he didn't know the DMV had tossed Degianni's tickets, or why, until Sheehan told him. According to Sheehan, a DMV judge dismissed tickets issued to Degianni because some involved parties didn't show up for the hearing.

Drivers can represent themselves or bring attorneys to safety hearings, but deceased victims can't speak for themselves, and no one may testify on their behalf. The Lefevre's attorney, Steve Vaccaro, was permitted to question and clarify some of Sheehan's conclusions, but only because Berger allowed him to do so. Erika Lefevre, Mathieu's mother, was not allowed to speak until the hearing was officially adjourned. Her testimony will not be factored into the DMV's decision, and there is no record of it. Degianni, who declined to testify, and his attorney left the room before Lefevre read her statement.

Degianni's attorney repeatedly noted that his client was not charged or convicted with a crime. This tactic exploits a justice system that fails to penalize drivers for killing people and then leaves victims' loved ones to look to DMV as the last hope for accountability.

Ultimately, the measure of the DMV hearing process is how effective it is at keeping dangerous drivers off the roads. In January, another DMV judge listened attentively to testimony from police, watched heart-rending footage of a fatal crash, and announced that he would decide the case in private. He took away the license of the driver who killed 3-year-old Allison Liao for 30 days.

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