Astoria Cyclist Xellea Samonte Killed by Motorist, Slandered by NYPD

NYPD has now blamed deceased cyclists for running red lights at least seven times in the last 16 months. Police have produced corroborative evidence in none of those cases.

35th Street at 23rd Avenue in Astoria. Image: Google Maps
35th Street at 23rd Avenue in Astoria. Image: Google Maps

The cyclist hit by a motorist in Astoria on Tuesday has died, the NYPD said Friday.

Xellea Samonte was in the bike lane on 35th Street when the driver hit her with the “front passenger side” of his van as she crossed under elevated train tracks at 23rd Avenue at around 12:20 a.m., an NYPD spokesperson told Streetsblog. She died later in the day.

Samonte, 23, lived in Astoria. The driver, identified only as a 28-year-old man, was neither charged nor ticketed.

Outlets including the Daily News and the Astoria Post repeated the 114th Precinct’s claims that Samonte caused the crash by running a red light. But an NYPD spokesperson could not say why investigators concluded Samonte was at fault.

NYPD routinely relies on driver testimony in cases where crash victims are no longer alive to tell their side of the story. But motorist accounts are often found to be false when more evidence comes to light — not that NYPD has changed the department’s practice, which further traumatizes victims’ families.

NYPD has now blamed deceased cyclists for running red lights at least seven times in the last 16 months, according to crash data tracked by Streetsblog. Police have produced corroborative evidence in none of those cases.

Not counting this week’s crash, 10 people have been injured in collisions at 35th Street and 23rd Avenue since 2009, according to City Hall. In 2016, a motorist killed 88-year-old pedestrian Savas Maounis in the crosswalk at 23rd Avenue and 33rd Street, one block away. The driver who hit Maounis was arrested and charged with a Right of Way Law violation.

Safe streets advocates are currently calling out deadly Astoria street conditions and NYPD victim-blaming on Twitter.

The area where Samonte was killed is represented in the City Council by Costa Constantinides.

  • William Lawson

    Maybe people suing the NYPD for the slander of their dead relatives might be an avenue to explore? From my own personal experience, they will falsify reports for the benefit of the driver even when multiple witnesses on the scene insist upon a different version of events. What they’re doing is absolutely slander. They’re abusing the trust the public and the media have in them in order to spread lies about someone who is unable to defend themselves, and they should face legal consequences for it.

    This is yet another reason why we need cameras at every single intersection in the city. We have a situation in which people can drive however the f**k they like because they know the police will believe any old cock and bull story in the event of them killing someone. We have a functionally useless police department which maintains an institutional contempt for cyclists and refuses to protect their lives. How is this not a desperate public safety issue?

  • Adam Sokol

    I ride that intersection every day. I went through the night this happened just after midnight. There was an NYPD van driving on 35th St. without headlights or taillights. How are we supposed to trust these people to enforce these laws when their members are all too stupid to obey traffic laws to begin with?

  • AMH

    I was very nearly hit by an NYPD SUV running a red light at high speed yesterday. No lights or siren, of course.

  • Noctournis

    You’re not fooling anyone. I live in Astoria and I have never once seen a cyclist actually stop for a red light for the entire duration of the light. At best they treat them as stop signs.

    Catching the bus to go to NYC Pride with a friend, we witnessed a cyclist speed through a red light and almost get hit by a car that had the right of way. They both stopped.

    You would expect some kind of apology… nope! In the time it took them both to catch their breath the light changed and the cyclist suddenly had the green and kept going, leaving the driver, I’m sure quite shaken.

    And if this had resulted in the cyclists death, TransAlt would be using that tragedy to smear the driver and trying to pretend cyclists aren’t running red lights everywhere, every day, at every intersection.

  • Sani Fornus

    Bicycle riders routinely run red lights.

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