Hit-and-Run Driver Murders Cyclist, So 90th Precinct Tickets People on Bikes

A hit-and-run driver killed a cyclist in Williamsburg this weekend. Though police believe the motorist ran over the victim on purpose, the 90th Precinct responded by ticketing cyclists and handing out bike safety fliers.

Matthew Von Ohlen. Photo via Gothamist
Matthew von Ohlen. Photo via Gothamist

Matthew von Ohlen, 35, was riding his bike east on Grand Street between Manhattan Avenue and Graham Avenue at around 2:20 a.m. Saturday when the driver of a late model Camaro approached from behind. Police told WPIX the driver then slowed and edged into the bike lane.

The driver then hit Van Ohen’s [sic] rear tire and as the victim fell off his bike, the driver slammed into him again, running over him and dragging him about 20 to 30 feet.

The driver then sped off, heading east on Grand Street.

Video posted by Gothamist shows the motorist enter the painted bike lane and drive away, leaving the victim’s body in the street.

Von Ohlen was a co-founder of Bikestock, which operates bike repair vending machines in NYC and Massachusetts. The Daily News reported that he was on his way home from a bartending shift in Manhattan when he was killed.

WPIX posted footage of 90th Precinct officers ticketing cyclists at the scene of the crash. Gothamist said cops, shown blocking the bike lane in the WPIX story, were also handing out NYPD “Operation Safe Cycle” leaflets.

“When [cyclists] got to the intersection of Grand and Graham on their way, police officers were there to stop them and hand out pamphlets on cyclist safety,” Williamsburg resident Greg Fertel told Gothamist. “I found this to be pretty enraging — I don’t think that this was an issue of cyclist safety.”

Cops from the 90th Precinct, blocking the bike lane where Von Ohlen was killed by a homicide suspect, ticket cyclists and lecture them on bike safety. Image: WPIX
Cops from the 90th Precinct, blocking the bike lane where Von Ohlen was killed by a homicide suspect, ticket cyclists and lecture them on bike safety. Image: WPIX

NYPD summons data show that enforcing laws intended to protect people who walk and bike is not a priority for the 90th Precinct. If you’d like to talk to commanding officer Captain William J. Gardner and other local brass about street safety, the precinct community council meets on the second Wednesday of the month. We could not immediately confirm if the council meets in July and August, but precinct contact info is here.

Matthew von Ohlen was killed in Brooklyn Community Board District 1, and in the City Council district represented by Antonio Reynoso.

Update: From a Transportation Alternatives statement issued today:

This is a particularly egregious example of the NYPD’s skewed priorities when it comes to traffic enforcement, and of the victim-blaming mentality that pervades the Department. Across the city, we see officers pulling over large numbers of cyclists for infractions that almost never lead to death or injury, while largely ignoring the violations that kill and maim the most New Yorkers, which are driver speeding and failure to yield. In this case, police should be using their time and resources to find the driver who killed Matthew von Ohlen, instead of lecturing cyclists on unrelated infractions.

Police Commissioner Bratton also needs to take immediate steps to improve the NYPD’s dismal record on investigating hit-and-run incidents. Only about 2.5% of all hit-and-run crashes in 2015 resulted in any kind of enforcement action.

  • Br’er Rabbit

    They could let them emulate pedestrians – stop, look, and cross if no cars/pedestrians are coming. That’s what pedestrians do anyway – and they never get a ticket.

    Handing out red light tickets to cyclists – but why not pedestrians – and neither category of road user is endangering anyone (other than themselves,perhaps) in crossing, makes no sense. It’s probably harassment – probably intended to discourage biking, because they think the poor are more likely to be riding bikes – so they pick on a community they dislike.

  • Br’er Rabbit

    OK – I didn’t see that you mentioned a gas tax, not simply higher gas prices. Well, yes – if it was a tax, that could fund more mass transit for example, why not? But – the car lobby will never allow it to happen. Since industry has well-paid lobbyists “buying” pols at all levels of gov, it’s unlikely this will ever happen, unfortunately. But it would cut down on driving if it did, which would be a good thing.

  • Joe R.

    That’s exactly my point. If the police could actually exercise some discretion and only ticket a-hole cyclists who endanger pedestrians at red lights, while giving those who cross carefully a free pass, then it won’t matter if we change the law or not. Unfortunately, they just go after letter of the law violations, like red light tickets in Central Park at 10 PM, probably for the reasons you say. That’s why I think the law should be changed. It would give them less ammunition in their war against cyclists.

  • Br’er Rabbit

    Transportation Alternatives or some biking advocacy group or a coalition of groups should call for a Town Hall with the Mayor and police commissioner, since the pace of bikers & pedestrians getting killed seems to be accelerating. The Mayor and Bratton have to implement a pro-pedestrian, pro-biker policy. It means education of drivers, adding protected pedestrian-only sequences to traffic lights, maybe letting bikes go on sidewalks if they ride slowly/carefully (if the sidewalk is crowded). Kids are allowed to ride on sidewalks – why not extend it to all cyclists? If a cyclist feels unsafe on a narrow street, they should be allowed to use the sidewalk without facing a ticket if they do so. There are still scores of pedestrians getting run over in NYC. Why is this still happening? Isn’t the problem motorists – they are not driving carefully, maybe some are drunk? Why not do random breathalyzer testing?

  • Joe R.

    My opinion here is we have some combination of incompetent/drunk/drugged/aggressive driving which in turn is exacerbated by crowded streets which foster road rage. This leads to bad decisions on the part of drivers which kill people. Short term those are all good suggestions. Longer term we need to look at reducing the traffic levels which act as an incubator for road rage.

    Kids are allowed to ride on sidewalks – why not extend it to all cyclists?

    Totally agree. In fact, I’ve noted often the older kids who are technically allowed on the sidewalk are typically more dangerous than adults riding illegally on the sidewalk. So long as sidewalks are relatively empty allowing cyclists on them can work. It’s not like the sidewalks will be flooded with cyclists in the outer boroughs. Probably you’ll just see the occasional rider, as you do now, but at least they wouldn’t have to worry about getting a ticket just for doing something which feels safer to them.

    I used to ride on sidewalks a lot when I started riding as a teenager. Now I rarely do, but I’m completely sympathetic to those who are just starting to bike who might feel more comfortable on a sidewalk. Generally, these same people will eventually mostly ride in the streets once their cycling ability increases.

  • Maggie

    Is this a Satmar thing? I can’t figure out who at NYPD would be clueless and callous enough to ticket cyclists for bells the day after a cyclist was murdered. This is semi-rhetorical: who does NYPD answer to? Who cooks up these ideas?

  • Biker Safety

    There was a marked bike lane on this road marked by white lines and everything. If you check out the video you’ll see that the driver knocks over the bicyclist, pauses and intentionally runs him over. Chilling

  • BBnet3000

    I agree that cops, like a lot of CB incumbents, wish they could eliminate cycling. However, our streets are incredibly chaotic even without cycling and the cops don’t just tolerate it but contribute to it.

  • Just once I’d like to see someone making that claim give a breakdown on cost of enforcement and revenue brought in. It’s not as if a small army of cops is working for free giving out tickets, and there are bureaucratic costs besides.

    If you don’t know the amount of revenue, and you don’t know the cost of enforcement, you can’t state as fact that it’s a money maker. It’s like saying a store is successful because the till is full of money. You have to deduct the overhead to know what’s going on.

    Imagine what it would be like if they didn’t ticket people. Anarchy.

  • CharlieRN

    A reckless and senseless crime that did not have to happen. While it is appropriate for the police to respond by trying to prevent future incidents of this type, it’s hard to see how ticketing cyclists will have the effect of preventing automobile drivers from operating their vehicles lawlessly.

    I regularly ride a motorcycle and bicycle and can safely assert that riding a bicycle is far more dangerous. I have an occasional close call on the motorcycle (e. g., being forced into another lane on the highway by a motorist talking on a cell phone while her car drifts). On the bicycle, it is rare for me ride without having at least one serious close call: Cars blowing through red lights (I’ve learned to wait at least 5 seconds to start through busy intersections after I’ve gotten the green light); a line of cars rolling through stop signs as I try to navigate the intersection; or cars traveling well over the posted limit passing me with only inches to spare . . .

    With lax enforcement of the motor vehicle code and the sense of entitlement that seems pervasive among motorists, it seems sadly likely that there will be many more Matt van Ohlens.

  • HamTech87

    At the pizzeria-owner’s murder a few days ago, did the cops hand out flyers for safe pizza-making, walking, or gun safety? Cops should be 100% canvassing for witnesses, not handing out stupid flyers.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/06/nyregion/funeral-held-for-murdered-brooklyn-pizzeria-owner-as-police-seek-suspect.html

  • Let me follow up on why it is so dangerous the NYPD is constantly ticketing cyclists on 34th Ave and doing NO ENFORCEMENT of drivers – cyclists are getting fed up and riding different routes. I have noticed SO MANY MORE cyclists (including school kids/teenagers) on Northern Boulevard likely because of the 34th Avenue threat of tickets. If the whole idea of Vision Zero is to make the city safer for bikes and peds, the NYPD is making cyclists choose a scary and more dangerous route.

  • Joe R.

    Not to mention all it often takes is one costly ticket for someone to get fed up enough to just give up cycling altogether. That in turn makes it more dangerous for those who remain.

    The bike advocacy movement seriously needs to band together for two things:

    1) Laws which make sense for cyclists, such as yields at stop signs and treating red lights as yield or stop signs (yields should be the general rule but complete stops before proceeding make sense at more crowded intersections with heavy pedestrian traffic). We should also allow sidewalk riding at least in parts of the outer boroughs.

    2) Getting the NYPD to focus its cycling enforcement ONLY on cyclists who endanger pedestrians by either blowing red lights through crowded crosswalks or riding fast on sidewalks.

  • There is no way to know if the man who was killed veered into the person driving…. Also, NYC riders DO NOT follow the rules of the road. News flash: you need to drive like a car… that means go in the right direction, stop at lights, ride single file, and never go through intersections… The riders live in a dreamworld if they think otherwise.

  • awwwww you do not want to stop at lights like the law states….? Poor little bike rider

  • pedestrians are only supposed to go when it says walk. You know that. Stop trying to push unwritten rules or saying “everyone does that, so I wanna do it too”. That is why no one cares about riders… they do not follow the rules to the letter but only the ones they prefer.

  • Joe R.

    When large numbers of people ignore a law, perhaps it’s because the law itself makes no sense. At best the law is proxy for safety. At worst it actually makes things more dangerous. People in an ivory tower made the silly rules which require pedestrians or cyclists to wait at red lights, even when nothing is coming and they can safely cross. It’s time these rules were changed to reflect reality. Or better yet remove all these stupid traffic signals.

    You’re not going to get cyclists or pedestrians to wait at red lights in a place like NYC. It would make walking or cycling hopelessly inefficient. The law is a means to an end, not an end in and of itself. Cyclists or pedestrians passing red lights after yielding to cross traffic are still respecting the spirit of the law, which is to give traffic with the green light the right-of-way. That’s a good enough compromise.

  • Xallxsewnxupx@gmail.com

    Are you advocating the murder of cyclists (aka human beings?) fucking sicko. Regardless of WHAT happens, drivers can’t go around MURDERING people.

  • NeedsMoreKanye

    This is dumb, you are dumb for writing it. Cars kill hundreds of people, cyclists almost 0. 100% of NYPD enforcement should be against cars.

  • Anonymous

    This is a moronic comment. There IS a way to know – there is a video showing the car veering into the bike lane. The driver knocks over the bicyclist, pauses, and runs him over. Stating that NYC riders don’t follow the rules is also a gross and dangerous overgeneralization which only serves to further pit drivers and bikers against each other, when really they have the same goal – getting from place to place safely. You could replace “drivers” with “riders” in your comment and it would still be true – cars SHOULD go in the right direction, stop at lights, ride single file, and never go through intersections. NEWS FLASH they don’t. As is evidenced by THIS GUY DRIVING A CAR WHO RAN OVER AN INDIVIDUAL AND DROVE AWAY. NOT FOLLOWING THE RULES.

  • Kwyjibo

    Thank you for leaving this comment.

    By defending a motorist who used his/her vehicle to murder someone, a crime that was caught on video, and blaming all cyclists for whatever drivers do to them, you’ve demonstrated how depraved the cyclist-haters really are. Better than any sane person could.

  • DarrylD

    Cops always blame the cyclists. It’s easier that way.

  • qrt145

    Wait, are there still gas stations in NYC? 🙂

    A $5 tax in NYC would encourage more driving too, to buy gas outside the city. At that price people would even be willing to drive to NJ and pay a toll to get cheaper gas. A gas tax needs to have a wider regional focus. For NYC, I think congestion pricing makes more sense than a gas tax as a tool to discourage driving.

  • ocschwar

    I think we have a prime suspect here. Say, baba, what vehicle do you drive?

  • ocschwar

    I wish a lot of things about my job would go away. But my job is to do my fucking job, and the aggravating things are the reason I’m paid to do my job instead of my coworkers doing it.

  • Andres Dee

    > News flash: you need to drive like a car… that means go in the right direction, stop at lights, ride single file, and never go through intersections… The riders live in a dreamworld if they think otherwise.

    News flash: I do all that, consistently, always. For that, I’ve been beeped, sideswiped, told to ride on the sidewalk or in the park, accelerated at had things thrown at me.

    All the available evidence indicates that that Matthew von Ohlen was riding legally, in the correct lane when he was butchered. As was Emma Blumstein. As were the 5 cyclists run down in Kalamazoo a few weeks ago.

    Kindly and respectfully GFY.

  • Vinstar

    Google maps doesn’t show any marked bike lanes on the street in question (Grand Street between Manhattan Avenue and Graham Avenue in NYC)

  • Lloyd Davies

    A real question to ask. Why is it only white people who get killed cycling get any outrage from the cycling community but when a black man gets killed riding a bicycle in the city, there is no coverage from the cycling groups?

  • Saddened

    This is a real shame. I had the fortune of working with Matthew on some Bikestock stuff and he was so nice, caring, and an all around great dude. I hope people take a second here to mourn the loss of a kind and honest individual.

  • Vooch

    good question – may I posit a guess. Its not a ethnic selection process Which victim gets the Big publicity. I’ve observed that victims get lots of Publicity when:

    1) They are Young
    2) Have lots and lots of connected friends willing to communicate to the press
    3) Have a bit of money to file a lawsuit
    4) photos of victim Looking gorgeous or Handesome Readily available

    I notice the elderly victims of traffic violence all tend to vanish from sight after a short News item. Tragic

  • qrt145

    Most of the time, Streetsblog reports crashes second-hand, based on what’s published on the local papers, which have their own bias. Do you know of an example of a black man who got killed riding a bike in the city, which was reported by the local papers, and was not covered by Streetsblog?

  • Brad Aaron

    This is complete bullshite.

    http://www.streetsblog.org/?s=in+memoriam

  • Brad Aaron

    Don’t know what blog you’re reading, but I cover most fatalities for Streetsblog, including follow-ups when charges are brought and civil suits are filed, and if I had to guess I’d say the majority of stories I do are about people who are not young, rich, connected, and good-looking. The vast majority.

  • Vooch

    brad – Streetsblog is the exception. You do a first rate job of trying to tell the story of every victim of traffic violence. We thank you for your work.

    My comment was directed towards old media outlets.

  • Brad Aaron

    Thank you.

    When you spend most of your waking hours worrying over strangers who died needlessly, you tend to get peeved when know-nothings fling accusations at you.

  • Vooch

    edited original comment for clarity 🙂

  • LinuxGuy

    Everything you just said will increase crash rates, ticket safe drivers, and ticket the wrong people. Ever hear about all the errors this stuff makes? Why not push for best-practice engineering and enforcement?

    Bicyclists and pedestrians must obey the rules, which does not happen many times.

  • Mathew Smithburger

    So if I speed, blow through a red light then I’m a “safe driver” or am I playing the odds until I hit and then injure or kill someone. As an cyclist and a pedestrian and a driver in NYC I can tell you what you have just written is pure and simple bullshit coming from a frustrated driver.

  • Tom Sherman

    THATS WELL PUT AND EXACTLY WHAT I THINK. AFTER ROAD RULES WERE MADE FOR CARS NOT BIKES WHY APPLY THEM TO BIKES THEN. I VIOLATE RULES AT INTERSECTIONS ON MY BIKE ALL THE TIME.

  • LinuxGuy

    Since you are resorting to insults and cursing, you prove that you do not want to discuss anything and have no case. We all should seek best-practice engineering and rational enforcement. This needs to apply to bicyclists and pedestrians too. Set sane rules and all people obey them.

    I can give lots of details, but for brevity will only address what you brought up. Nobody speeds if speed limits are posted to the 85th percentile free-flowing traffic speed. Nobody blows though red lights, if the yellows are long enough. Sensors can be used to prevent crashes too.

  • Joe R.

    Right, sane rules will be obeyed but the rules as they apply to bicycles and pedestrians make no sense. More than 85% of both groups will pass red lights if nothing is coming. Therefore, let’s apply the same rationale you advocate for setting speed limits here and just make this legal. Yielding at stop signs and red lights still fulfills the spirit of the law, which is those who have the green get the right-of-way. It’s also safer for both pedestrians and cyclists. Pedestrians just have to look for cross traffic, not turning vehicles. Cyclists can’t get right-hooked, and they’re not stuck in a pack of accelerating cars, either.

    Most cyclists and pedestrians who are killed are in fact doing nothing illegal at the time of the incident.

  • Mathew Smithburger

    ” if speed limits are posted to the 85th percentile free-flowing traffic speed. Nobody blows though red lights, if the yellows are long enough. ” Seriously, what did you get that out of Traffic Planning Introduction from Tempe Community College? Right the free flowing traffic speed up 8th is 50 miles per hour the posted is 25 mph, 100 percent of your drivers exceed 25 mph and I’d reckon that 85 percent of drivers do not exceed 45. That’s not safe, because that’s what we have now. Look you can make yellows as long as you want and drivers will still blow through the reds and speed but stung once or twice they’ll learn and stop and we will all be safer for it. Seriously I’d rather you hurled curses at me.

  • neroden

    De Blasio has the legal power not only to fire Bratton, but to arrest Bratton, handcuff him, and throw him in jail. But de Blasio is not willing to actually do anything about the corrupt gang in blue.

  • neroden

    The 14th amendment entitles us to “equal protection of the laws”.

    Police giving special privileges to one religious group — endangering everyone else while doing so — is a 14th amendment violation and a 1st amendment violation and should subject those police to arrest and prosecution.

    The problem is: who’s gonna arrest and prosecute the gang members in blue?

  • neroden

    If a “cop” doesn’t want to take the risk necessary to engage in *de-escalation* of violent situations, they aren’t a real policeman, they’re just a killer thug. At that point it’s completely legit for the public to kill them in self-defense, and that’s how the public will perceive it.

    This is not a direction we want to go down. It’s time to disarm the police, the way they did in Britain. Gun control should have no exceptions for police.

  • LinuxGuy

    So if you purposely degrade the road, how will that make things safer? Will ticketing a guy 1-3 months later solve anything now? No. Bad drivers should be stopped at the instant. If engineering is poor and enforcement predatory, people would call that a scam. Numerous studies have also shown very high error rates for cameras. Even the most supportive of people would not condone ticketing the wrong car, or giving a ticket in error.

    What you should do is work to end distraction, fatigue, DUI, etc. This applies to all people. I am sure you have seen pedestrians walk into traffic while staring at the phone, or bicyclists with the phone on the handlebars. If not, you likely did not notice. This stuff is the real issue. Same for music earbuds.

    No I worked at an ENR 500 engineering firm and worked on major roads like I-95 and did timing studies for traffic signals. No mail-order degree.

    Proper speed limits and yellow lights foster compliance and safety. Incorrect engineering causes the problems you want to prevent. I can explain why in detail, but it will take a few paragraphs.

  • LinuxGuy

    The concept of both red and left yellow flashing arrows does some of what you want. This is slowly being adopted nationwide. You can go, BUT you do not have the right of way. Places like NYC ban right-on-red turns, which makes no sense except in the most urban parts of the city. Why in neighborhoods? Visitors do not see the signs coming into the city and will not even know. In the whole rest of the US, it is legal to do a RTOR, unless posted. NYC does the opposite and posts where turns are legal. People do not know current rules anyway. How many people know you can do a left on red from a 1-way onto a 1-way?

    Right now, we have rules for red lights, stop signs, etc. Until this stuff is changed, it is the law. I am not sure basically making California stops legal at every traffic light or stop sign would be good. having different rules for cars, bikes, and walkers could also cause problems. This would need to be evaluated and would depend upon the specific area.

    Actually both bikes and walkers do wacky stuff a lot. This link talks about bikes.

    http://wlos.com/news/local/apd-crash-reports-show-bicyclists-at-fault-more-times-than-drivers

  • Mathew Smithburger

    I have absolutely no faith in your well intentioned opinions regarding what it takes to make it work in a heavily congested urban area. The engineering of which you write that makes I-95 the world’s largest and fastest parking lot isn’t the social and behavior engineering needed to make a city work. NYC streets have i-95 traffic volumes with the same mix of heavy trucks and buses and passengers cars but shoved into a 5 borough area some of which is on a grid system. I’m sure you are aware of this situation. However, the automobile and truck and bus really represents an imposition on what is essentially a pedestrian (including hotdog carts, pedicabs, horse drawn vehicles and bicycles) environment. Drivers need to be aware of this fact the minute the tires on their vehicle touch NYC asphalt. Red light and speeding cameras will do that immediately. We are not talking about accuracy, or justice we are modifying behavior in a group of people who are generally breaking the law and are doing so in a dangerous manner. Drivers coming into this city need an attitude adjustment not fiddling with yellow light timing so that we can continue to enable this attitude.

  • Joe R.

    My point is because of the sheer number of traffic signals in NYC reds are going to be ignored by both cyclists and pedestrians unless cross traffic is so heavy that they can’t physically go through the intersection. The situation is more or less analogous to setting speed limits improperly. If limits are set improperly, they will largely be ignored. If you require cyclists or pedestrians to stop for no good safety reason (i.e. the intersection is empty) then that rule will be ignored as well.

    My point is to legalize what’s already being done so the NYPD doesn’t waste resources on pointless enforcement of something which isn’t a safety hazard and/or ticket cyclists in disproportionate numbers. I’d rather they go after things like failure to yield, or reckless driving, or even cyclists who blow red lights through crowded crosswalks. Those are all safety hazards. The Idaho stop has been the law in Idaho for over 3 decades. It hasn’t caused any extra safety issues with cyclists. It just legalizes what they already do, which is slow down, check if the intersection is clear, go if it is, yield to cross traffic if it isn’t.

  • Not “slow down”, but “stop”. A full stop at a red light is required before proceeding, which is entirely appropriate. The law allows bicyclists to treat a red light as though it were a stop sign, not as though it were a yield sign.

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Council Member Antonio Reynoso today urged DOT to upgrade the bike lanes on the Grand Street in North Brooklyn. The existing painted lanes did not protect Matthew von Ohlen, who was struck and killed by a hit-and-run driver in July. In a letter sent this afternoon to DOT Brooklyn Borough Commissioner Keith Bray, Reynoso calls for “the immediate installation of safety mitigations […]