Motorist Who Killed Matthew von Ohlen and Fled the Scene Convicted of Manslaughter

Juan Maldonado killed von Ohlen in the summer of 2016. On Monday, a jury convicted him of second-degree manslaughter, leaving the scene, and reckless driving.

Grand Street where Juan Maldonado killed Matthew von Ohlen. Despite entreaties from Transportation Alternatives and local City Council Member Antonio Reynoso, among others, DOT has done nothing to make cycling safer on Grand since von Ohlen’s death. Photo: Google Maps
Grand Street where Juan Maldonado killed Matthew von Ohlen. Despite entreaties from Transportation Alternatives and local City Council Member Antonio Reynoso, among others, DOT has done nothing to make cycling safer on Grand since von Ohlen’s death. Photo: Google Maps

The hit-and-run driver who killed cyclist Matthew von Ohlen in Williamsburg has been convicted of manslaughter.

Matthew von Ohlen. Photo via DNAinfo
Matthew von Ohlen. Photo via DNAinfo

Von Ohlen, 35, was riding east on Grand Street between Manhattan and Graham avenues at around 2:20 a.m. on July 2, 2016, when Juan Maldonado approached from behind in a Chevrolet Camaro. Maldonado ran a red light and swerved into the bike lane, knocking von Ohlen off his bike and running him over before driving away.

Police arrested Maldonado last November, four months after the crash. DNAinfo reported that on the day before he killed von Ohlen, Maldonado was fired from his truck driving job at a Brooklyn lumber company because, among other reasons, he repeatedly came to work intoxicated.

Prosecutors initially charged Maldonado, then 56, with assault, manslaughter, leaving the scene, weapons possession, speeding, reckless driving, careless driving, and violating the victim’s right of way, according to court records. The top charge against Maldonado was assault in the first degree, a class B felony with penalties ranging from five to 25 years in prison.

The assault charge was later dropped or dismissed. On Monday, a jury found Maldonado guilty of second-degree manslaughter, leaving the scene, and reckless driving, according to a statement from Acting Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez.

“The driver in this case engaged in the types of criminal actions I am determined to prosecute in Brooklyn in order to reduce fatalities on our roads and streets,” Gonzalez said. “The jury has now agreed that this was not an accident but a crime, and this defendant will be held responsible for his reckless behavior that cost an innocent man his life.”

Manslaughter is a class C felony with a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison and a minimum sentence of probation. Maldonado is scheduled to be sentenced in October.

Von Ohlen co-founded the bike repair vending machine company Bikestock. He was reportedly riding home to Ridgewood after tending bar in Manhattan when he was killed.

In the days after the crash, NYPD set up shop near the scene and on the Manhattan Bridge to ticket people on bikes.

Joan von Ohlen, the victim’s mother, spoke with DNAinfo after the trial:

The mom said that often in New York City, “a cyclist dies and nothing happens. That creates a climate where it’s kind of okay.” She hoped Monday’s verdict would show that “it is not okay to kill a cyclist. There is a consequence.”

Von Ohlen’s family and friends joined Transportation Alternatives and City Council Member Antonio Reynoso to call on DOT to install a protected bike lane on Grand Street, which connects Williamsburg and the Williamsburg Bridge, to help prevent injuries and further loss of life. More broadly, TransAlt wants the city to prioritize buses, biking, and walking on Grand when the L train is shut down for Sandy repairs.

DOT has made no improvements to Grand since von Ohlen’s death. It’s unknown if the city’s L train plans will include a bikeway on the street.

  • Vooch

    What we are seeing is the first glimmer of hope. Of course, the first successes will require victims to be attractive, well connected, and have friends/family who know how to apply political pressure.

    Tragic and unfair but at least the winds are changing.

  • MatthewEH

    Can anyone explain to me why the charge was manslaughter in the 2nd degree, not murder in the 2nd degree?

    http://codes.findlaw.com/ny/penal-law/pen-sect-125-25.html lists this as grounds for 2nd degree murder charges:

    2.?Under circumstances evincing a depraved indifference to human life, he recklessly engages in conduct which creates a grave risk of death to another person, and thereby causes the death of another person

    Seems like this qualifies. IANAL.

  • William Lawson

    Verdicts like this are hugely important because they give cops and district attorneys fewer and fewer excuses to exercise their usual incompetence and laziness in refusing to pursue charges against killer drivers. How can they say that such crimes are impossible to prosecute, when they’re clearly not?

  • Brad Aaron

    I assume the assault charge was dropped because prosecutors didn’t think they could prove intent, though NYPD initially said video seemed to show the driver deliberately ran over the victim.

    The state’s highest court has set the bar extremely high for proving depraved indifference in vehicular cases.

    Just spitballing.

  • MatthewEH

    Intent would be hard to prove, yes. All Maldonado would have to do is say “I wasn’t trying to kill anyone. I was impaired. I didn’t even see he was there.” It may be dubious, but still in the reasonable-doubt range.

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

This Week: Call for a Safer Grand Street Bike Lane

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Last month, a hit-and-run driver struck and killed Matthew von Ohlen while he was riding in the Grand Street bike lane in Williamsburg. Tomorrow night at a special meeting of Brooklyn Community Board 1, von Ohlen’s friends and family will ask DOT to explore upgrading Grand Street to a protected lane. Check the Streetsblog calendar for a full list […]