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Witness to Xellea Samonte Crash Contradicts NYPD Victim-Blaming But Cops Ignored Him

2:53 PM EDT on July 31, 2018

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

Police who investigated the crash death of Astoria cyclist Xellea Samonte last week declined to take an account from a witness who would have disputed the NYPD narrative that she caused the collision by running a red light.

Cyclist Tim Clarke told Streetsblog that he was about 20 to 30 feet behind Samonte on 35th Street nearing the intersection with 23rd Avenue, where the fatal collision occurred early on July 24. He said he saw Samonte enter the intersection as her light turned yellow, yet before she was through the intersection, the van driver hit her at a speed so fast that he must have ran through his red light.

"As she reached the intersection I noticed the light change to yellow," Clarke said. "Looking ahead, I saw the van traveling very fast and hitting her."

Clarke said Samonte was thrown at least 20 feet and landed on the sidewalk. Video of the scene shows the van with damage to the passenger side fender and the right side of the windshield, indicating the victim was propelled over the hood and the van was traveling rapidly.

Clarke's account is counter to how the NYPD described the collision in the press, saying Samonte "rode through a steady red light." An NYPD spokesperson could not say how investigators determined Samonte was at fault, but the agency typically relies solely on driver testimony when crash victims can't speak for themselves, though motorist accounts are frequently shown to be false when more evidence is revealed.

Indeed, Clarke said that police declined to take down his statement, even though he saw the collision.

"I stayed in the road as people were gathered around her," Clarke told Streetsblog. "I stayed till she was loaded into the ambulance to answer questions if asked."

“(Police) asked if I’d seen it, and I said, 'Yes,'" added Clarke. "Then they weren’t interested.”

The driver, identified only as a 28-year-old man, was not charged or ticketed. It's unlikely the public will know how the investigation was handled anytime soon — if ever — since NYPD as a rule conceals crash reports, sometimes in perpetuity.

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

In addition to Samonte, 10 people have been injured in crashes at 35th Street and 23rd Avenue since 2009, according to City Hall. In 2016, a motorist killed pedestrian Savas Maounis, 88, in the crosswalk at 23rd Avenue and 33rd Street, one block away.

Costa Constantinides, who represents the area in the City Council, has asked DOT to study and implement street improvements near where Samonte was struck.

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