No Charges for Driver Who Killed 72-Year-Old Cyclist in Sunset Park

A driver killed Rigoberto Diaz as he biked through the intersection of 48th Street and Third Avenue in Sunset Park. Image: Google Maps
A driver killed Rigoberto Diaz as he biked through the intersection of 48th Street and Third Avenue in Sunset Park. Image: Google Maps

A motorist killed a senior on a bike under the Gowanus Expressway on a Sunset Park street where drivers are routinely involved in high-speed crashes.

The crash happened Wednesday at around 5:30 p.m. Rigoberto Diaz, 72, was traveling westbound against traffic on 48th Street and attempting to turn left onto Third Avenue when a driver traveling northbound on Third hit him with a Chevrolet SUV, according to NYPD and Patch.

Diaz died at Lutheran Hospital. NYPD and District Attorney Ken Thompson filed no charges against the driver, whose name was not released. A police spokesperson told us the investigation was still open as of this afternoon.

NYPD had no information on how fast the driver who hit Diaz was going. Police said Diaz was making a “wide left turn,” which could mean he was attempting to get to southbound Third Avenue when the driver hit him.

There are traffic signals at the intersection of Third Avenue and 48th Street. If the crash occurred as described by police, and Diaz and the driver approached the crossing at a perpendicular angle, one of two scenarios seems likely: Either the driver or Diaz ran the light, or Diaz made his turn near the end of the light cycle as the driver entered the intersection at speed.

Injury crashes along Third Avenue this year, with the site of Wednesday’s fatal collision indicated by the blue dot. Image: Vision Zero View
Injury crashes along Third Avenue this year, as of June, with the site of Wednesday’s collision indicated by the blue dot. Image: Vision Zero View

Third Avenue through Sunset Park is a service road beneath the Gowanus Expressway. According to city data dozens of people have been injured this year alone in crashes along the stretch where Diaz was killed. Many of the injured were motor vehicle occupants, indicating collisions at high speeds.

Sunset Park has no decent north-south bike route. A road diet approved in 2012 reduced pedestrian injuries and fatalities on Fourth Avenue, but DOT not include bike lanes. The Brooklyn Waterfront Greenway is expected to one day extend through Sunset Park, but would be located to the west of the highway, far from the residential heart of the neighborhood. Community Board 7, the district where Diaz was killed, has asked DOT and NYPD for help in making Sunset Park streets safer.

The crash that killed Rigoberto Diaz occurred in the City Council district represented by Carlos Menchaca, and in the 72nd Precinct, where as of June local officers had ticketed 199 drivers for speeding in 2015.

Correction: The original version of this post misstated how the crash occurred according to NYPD and published accounts. The copy was corrected.

  • Eric McClure

    Do we know if the NYPD investigation is complete?

  • BBnet3000

    Sunset Park has no decent north-south bike route.

    Thank you for pointing this out. 5th is an incredibly frustrating and treacherous ride, but is a VERY popular bike route nonetheless because of being the lesser of evils on the western side of the cemetery. It might as well not have a bike lane, its really a joke. 3rd is a near-highway, but in some ways the best route outside of rush hour if you’re an assertive “take the lane” type.

    4th is still fairly terrible, especially for cycling. It is one of the earliest applications of the now-infamous “double parking lane”. Its current layout is about to be set in stone forever at a cost of tens of millions of dollars under the Orwellian-named Great Streets program.

  • Simon Phearson

    Ah, so the “wide left turn” is supposed to exonerate the driver, who was safely running the red light in the far right lane (i.e., where cyclists are supposed to be). It all makes sense now. Diaz wouldn’t be dead if he just took the turn like a car driver would.

    I take “wide left turns” all the time. Maybe I should stop doing that.

  • Simon Phearson

    I’m not familiar with the area – what makes 5th treacherous and frustrating? The T-intersections and relative absence of stoplights make it look like the route I’d choose, and I can’t see why car traffic would use this street when there’s 4th a block away. Is it used as a cut-through for people avoiding congestion on 4th?

  • Larry Littlefield

    “Either the driver or Diaz ran the light, or Diaz made his turn near the end of the light cycle as the driver entered the intersection at speed.”

    That’s the thing. If you are riding 10 mph on a bicycle, and slowing down to avoid jaywalking pedestrians, you can enter an intersection at the end of a green and be trapped by a red.

    It happens to me all the time trying to get past 23rd Street and 14th Street southbound in the afternoon.

    In a car, that means you have the right of way, since you entered the intersection with a green. On a bike, that appears to mean they have the right to run you over.

  • BBnet3000

    There’s only T-intersections for a short length (and of course that only applies northbound). Southbound cars go very fast along that section, as it has all the looks of an open road and sharrows placed off to the side encouraging door zone riding and unsafe passing (though most drivers here do try their best as far as passing distance is concerned).

    For my money, 5th Ave from 3rd St to 25th St has among the highest numbers of cars and trucks in bike lanes of anywhere I have been in the city. I go blocks at a time in the general traffic lane because of these obstructions. I’m not actually comfortable doing this when I just want to relax on my commute, but there’s really no choice.

    Traffic is low compared to 4th but still insanely high for what is in practice a shared street. There is lots of through traffic on 5th. The utility companies have also come through in the past year and utterly destroyed the pavement, primarily in the bike lane. It’s an extremely rough ride to the point of being a possible fall hazard in places.

  • Geck

    There is a great deal of double parking as well as cars pulling in and out curbside parking and you are bound to hit a red light every two or three blocks.

  • Brad Aaron

    We don’t know.

    But yes, we know.

  • knisa

    Yup.

    On 4th, there’s a 5-foot-wide yellow-striped buffer zone along the concrete median that serves as a de facto bike lane that is never blocked by double-parked cars. Unfortunately this will disappear once the “Great Streets” (i.e., highway landscaping for the benefit of motorists) happens.

  • Kelley Howell

    I sure hope you stop. It’s among the top reasons why you’ll get in a crash.

  • Kelley Howell

    Seriously? I’m not in NYC, just happened upon the thread. This kind of thing, which gets dragged in under the umbrella of new urbanism is irritating.

  • Simon Phearson

    Sounds like you’ve never ridden a bike.

  • Kelley Howell

    I’m a bicycling instructor, actually.

  • lop

    When there’s a turn bay the existing median is too narrow to offer any refuge for a pedestrian who couldn’t cross the entire street in one light cycle. The area has a substantial elderly population, you couldn’t fit a wheelchair in the current median when there’s a turnbay. If you use the buffer zone to extend the median then there is a more substantial refuge. If the entire painted area becomes the new median then it’ll be much improved from today. This makes the road far less hostile for those who live in the area.

  • Simon Phearson

    Apologies.

    I’m not talking about crossing traffic going in the same direction; I’m talking about taking a turn so that I end up, after the turn, where I’m supposed to and required to be, on the far right side of the rightmost lane, instead of turning into the nearest lane of traffic, which is what a car driver is supposed to do. I would always take these turns from the turning or leftmost lane, controlling the lane and not beside any turning traffic. (If I happen to find myself stopped behind a turning car, I’ll either make sure I’m ahead of them or hang back.)

    I can think of all kinds of ways to do that “wrongly” or in a way that’s dangerous, but I can’t think of how what I’m actually trying to describe would be dangerous, absent cross-traffic’s failing to observe a red light.

  • Joe R.

    I do the exact same thing. Given that I’m supposed to be as far right as practical, it makes all the sense in world to just make sure I get there while I’ve finished my turn, as opposed to turning into the left lane, then going right. I don’t see how it’s dangerous, either. I’ve done this maneuver literally thousands of times in my life without even a close call. The only time it’s remotely dangerous is when you may have a vehicle right behind itching to gun it to turn the second there’s an opening. Fortunately though I tend to be similarly aggressive when there’s an opening. By the time the driver reacts and gases it, I’m already well into my turn, and out of his/her way.

    Don’t know if anyone else does this but I also tend to swing wide like a semi driver when making right turns. Two reasons for this. One, it gives me a much better view of any pedestrians in the crosswalk I’m turning into. Two, I can carry all or most of my speed through the turn if the crosswalk is clear. Any energy saved by not needing to slow down then speed up again is welcome.

  • MatthewEH

    Everything BBnet3000 said, plus a million.

    I actually do rather like riding 3rd Avenue at speed when it’s not rush-hour, but “assertive take-the-lane” type riding, and keeping things fast, is definitely needed.

  • MatthewEH

    Fun fact: in California, the vehicle code is written such that a left turning driver may enter any lane at the end of their turn, not just the leftmost. (Unless there’s a situation where there are multiple lanes from which an allowed left turn can be made — think double-left-turn-bays and the like — in which case road markings will indicate what paths are allowable.) This part of the code applies equally to cyclists.

    I learned to ride as an adult in CA, and would thus tend to swing left turns inside-to-out. I never once thought about *not* carrying that habit over to riding in NY.

  • Simon Phearson

    I tend to swing out for right turns, as well. It conserves speed, but it’s also easier to “lean” rather than “steer” the turn, which feels better and more bike-like.

    It’s one of those things that separates cycling from driving and walking as a mode of transport – the elegance one can express by flicking the hips around an obstacle or writing a line around a well-known pothole, etc. Every jumped queue is a commentary. It’s not all about pounding out the miles to get to your destination as quickly and as sweaty as possible. It’s about having fun along the way.

  • Simon Phearson

    Well, slightly less hostile, and primarily at intersections. If they wanted to make it “far less hostile,” they’d provide mid-block pedestrian crossings to accommodate the jaywalkers (instead, they’re raising the median and adding plantings to steer people to the intersections) and remove parking to accommodate cyclists (instead, they’re keeping the parking lane as-is).

    Never mind that our DAs interpret the ROW laws so that leaving a pedestrian island when you don’t have a full walk signal means you no longer have the ROW. Legally speaking, expanding refuge space means imposing delays on pedestrians crossing.

    Don’t get me wrong – I’m happy that the diet seems to be working, and I’m not one of these cyclists who’s going to put cyclist comfort ahead of a local pedestrians who live and cross the street every day. But it’s a very moderate step.

  • Andy S

    Either the directions called out in the text, or the arrows drawn on the photo, are wrong here. If the cyclist was westbound and turned left, he’d be going south. The car is stated to have been going northbound. The arrows show them both going the same direction after the turn. It makes it a completely different type of collision (almost typed “accident, phew.)

  • Joe R.

    Yes, almost forgot about that part. In general a bike almost seems like a natural extension of your body. That’s one of the things which make riding enjoyable. Conversely, the lack of that, plus the isolation, makes driving a chore.

    It’s not all about pounding out the miles to get to your destination as quickly and as sweaty as possible. It’s about having fun along the way.

    I very rarely do entire rides “at my limits” but I do go hard enough to get a good workout and have fun. There are also times where I’ve had a few good rides like that in a week, so I just do what I call a “rest” ride where I don’t really bother doing anything beyond getting my body moving. Either way it’s enjoyable to me. Part of what has always been cool about riding is the fact a decent rider can maintain the kinds of speeds Usain Bolt sprints at for miles. Or nearly anyone in average shape can do sub 4 minute miles. A bike functions as a natural extension of your innate abilities. It’s probably one of the most liberating inventions ever.

  • South Brooklyn Cyclist

    Granted I wasn’t there, but riding westbound on 48th Street toward 3rd Avenue means he was riding against traffic, and from the context of the article it looks like he turned south from 48th St onto 3rd Avenue into oncoming traffic. He could’ve crossed the northbound lane and been trying to turn onto the southbound side, but we don’t really know. I took the “wide left” language to mean that he was probably coming down 48th very fast and swung into oncoming traffic very fast. I’ve almost been hit by drivers swerving to avoid people who do this. My commute is along this stretch and I take 3rd Avenue some days and this didn’t really surprise me unfortunately.

  • FLYINGCHOPSTIK

    Hold on i never heard of this Great Streets program. Please elaborate.

  • FLYINGCHOPSTIK

    I agree and the bike lane on 5 th seems more like a shartow. Theres very little space between moving traffic and parked cars.

  • lop

    The blocks are short. During much of the day traffic is too heavy to jaywalk, improving the crossings at the frequent intersections is still huge. A parking lane+bulb out is better for someone walking around than a bike lane. Parking protected bike lanes are good though.

  • Brad Aaron

    The diagram was wrong. The image and the copy have been corrected.

    Thanks.

  • JoshNY

    Not that this is any kind of a revelation, but: people drive way too fast on 3rd Avenue. A lot of the traffic is drivers trying to beat the traffic above them on the highway.

  • neroden

    No investigation has been started into the criminal conspiracies (suppression of evidence, concealment of evidence, false statements made to the press under color of law) committed by the NYPD in order to support automobile murders.

    …oh wait, that wasn’t what you were asking?

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