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After a Fatal Crash, NYPD’s Initial Version of Events Often Turns Out Wrong

The intersection where a U-Haul driver struck and killed a cyclist Sunday afternoon. Image: Google Maps

Yesterday, the 24-year-old driver of a U-Haul van struck and killed a 43-year-old cyclist at the Grand Concourse and 158th Street in the Bronx. Police investigators have made a preliminary determination that the van driver had the right of way, according to NYPD, but the agency has yet to reveal the basis for that conclusion.

NYPD's public information office told Streetsblog the driver was traveling southbound on the Grand Concourse but did not know the cyclist's direction of travel. Nor did police have information on the driver's speed, saying the investigation is ongoing.

The preliminary findings of police are what get reported and broadcast to the public the day after someone is killed in traffic, but in several cases, early NYPD accounts blaming the victim of a deadly crash later turned out to be erroneous.

When 3-year-old Allison Liao was struck and killed by a turning SUV driver in 2013, the initial Daily News report cited anonymous police sources who said she was hit "after she broke free from her grandmother." Video later showed that at the moment of the collision, Allison was holding her grandmother's hand, walking with the signal in a marked crosswalk.

When Max Mendez, 6, was killed by an MTA tow truck driver in 2010, an anonymous NYPD source told the Post that "he jaywalked across an entrance ramp to the Triboro Bridge." The "entrance ramp" was in fact a surface street people cross to reach a public pool, and later reports indicated that Max and his mother were actually struck on the sidewalk as the driver disembarked to respond to a call without looking in front of him.

An NYPD investigation of the crash that killed Rasha Shamoon in 2008 relied only on testimony from the 21-year-old driver and his passengers to conclude that she had run a red light on her bicycle. A civil trial revealed that at least seven people had called 911 after the crash and that the driver was speeding at the moment of impact. The jury found the driver, Abraham Soldaner, 95 percent responsible for killing Shamoon.

We don't know why police believe the victim of yesterday's crash did not have the right of way. Until we do, NYPD's history of prematurely exonerating drivers who hit and kill people provides ample reason to be skeptical of the initial version of events.

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