Bearing Witness to the Crash That Claimed the Life of Chaim Miller

A Brooklyn resident who saw a driver strike and kill Miller, 28, as he rode his bike near Ocean Parkway last Friday recounts the crash and his interactions with local elected officials in its aftermath.

The intersection of Ocean Parkway and Quentin Road immediately after an eastbound driver fatally struck Chaim Miller.
The intersection of Ocean Parkway and Quentin Road immediately after an eastbound driver fatally struck Chaim Miller.
This account of the crash that took the life of cyclist Chaim Miller in Brooklyn last Friday was written by an eyewitness who wishes to remain anonymous. The writer, a member of the Orthodox Jewish community in Brooklyn, is a bicycle rider and street safety advocate, and over the years our paths have crossed many times. He reached out to me over the Labor Day weekend and I suggested he post his account on Streetsblog. A warning: This post includes a graphic photo of the crash scene.

For eight years running there has been an NYC unicycle festival starting just before Labor Day weekend. The Friday festivities include a ride over the Brooklyn Bridge, and then across Brooklyn to Coney Island. The group makes a stop to rest and talk along the Ocean Parkway bicycle path at Avenue P.

Last Friday at around 5:30 p.m. I went to greet the unicycle group there, hang out, and practice some one-wheel riding, before heading home to get ready for my approaching Sabbath.

When the break ended, I followed/escorted the last riders south on the bike path on the west side of the parkway for a block to the north side of Quentin Road (“Avenue Q”), where a friend of mine was watching the proceedings. On the main Ocean Parkway roadway, the usual high volume of vehicles headed north and south waited for the light to change. East-West traffic was minimal. It seemed the light was about to change, if it hadn’t already started to do so.

Suddenly, an eastbound driver came through on Quentin at high speed, presumably to beat the light. It happened so fast it’s hard to say exactly what followed in minute detail, but the car caught our attention and we turned to follow it. Then, across Ocean Parkway, around the eastern service road there was a loud collision, following which we saw a cyclist go down north of the car.

In the immediate aftermath there was silence, shock, and disbelief. (Did I really see that? Did that really just happen?) Then, realizing what had transpired, I started yelling, jumping out and gesturing in front of an NYPD van driver whom I saw right nearby, waiting for the light to change, at the head of the westernmost southbound lane.

The officer in the van didn’t appear to react to the crash. But when I started yelling and motioning and pointing across the parkway, he put on his siren and headed there quickly in front of the north and southbound vehicles, before they resumed travel after the light change. The flow of traffic resumed so I couldn’t cross to the other side. As I waited, I grabbed my camera and started shooting. As soon as I could, I crossed over to the crash site.

I didn’t have a cell phone so I couldn’t call the local Volunteer Ambulance Service. I guess the police officer radioed for help through his channels, though help seemed slow to arrive. Someone asked the victim to talk to him. I thought there was some response, perhaps not. Later I heard talk about a pulse, someone seemed to say there was none. Many compressions were done on the victim’s stomach, though not mouth to mouth. He seemed basically intact, his helmet still in place. I didn’t see a bloody aftermath, so perhaps the injuries were mostly internal.

chaim_miller

Time went by and a crowd grew — from NYPD, EMS/NYFD, Hatzalah (the local VAS), and people in the area, some headed to synagogue.

After impact the driver continued to the next intersection. The officer was shouting for him to stay there. I don’t know if he ran and was captured, but he can be seen near the car in one or more of my pics.

After a while, the police spread crime scene tape around the entire block area of Quentin Road, Ocean Parkway and East 7th Street.

I had to get going to be ready for evening services. I suspected that the victim didn’t make it, but I wasn’t sure and was out of touch over Sabbath. On Saturday night I saw in the Daily News that the cyclist didn’t make it.

On Sunday, I found a report on an Orthodox Jewish site that the victim was a member of the Orthodox community, in his twenties. The funeral would be that afternoon. I headed over there, but by the time I arrived, the eulogies had ended, and people were emerging to escort the deceased on his way.

Among the mourners was NY State Senator Simcha Felder. I mentioned to him that while I didn’t know the deceased, I wanted to share my account and pictures, in the pursuit of justice. Senator Felder said he wasn’t law enforcement. Perhaps people were still processing what had happened and thinking about the burial. Maybe the mood was more mourning than demands for justice. I was advised to visit the shiva/mourning house. I also told the senator that the victim was wearing a helmet, which could be seen in my photos, and that helmets were not the (ultimate) solution. He said we would agree to disagree on that.

On Monday I was in the area and encountered Kalman Yeger, who is running to replace the departing council member, David Greenfield, and was out campaigning. I went over and told him about the crash and fatality. He said he hadn’t heard about it. I urged him to speak up to ask that the investigation include having the car’s “black box” subpoenaed to help determine its speed prior to the crash. He said the police are doing their investigation, but he asked for my contact info and promised to check with the precinct if my witness was needed. He said he thinks charges will be filed.

A sign right near the crash site says, in large letters, black on a light background, CITY SPEED LIMIT 25, PHOTO ENFORCED” (mostly obscured by a tree however). There is also a matching sign across the avenue, in the other direction (unobscured).

Addendum: According to a portrait of the deceased in the Jewish newspaper Hamodia, he was cycling from Far Rockaway to Brooklyn to prepare for Shabbos when he was struck and killed.

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