Updated | The NYPD wanted to arrest the taxi driver whose maneuver to block a Central Park West bike lane led to the death of cyclist Madison Lyden last month, but Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, Jr. refused to prosecute, the commanding officer of the local police precinct said on Tuesday night.
Lyden, a 23-year-old Australian tourist, was cycling northbound on Aug. 10 when taxi driver Jose Peralta pulled into the bike lane, forcing her into regular traffic, where a truck driver ran her over and killed her. The truck driver, Felipe Chairez, was charged, but Peralta was not, much to the apparent chagrin of the 20th Precinct.
"We took it to the DA, the DA’s office," Capt. Timothy Malin told Community Board 7 (video). "Everyone on the scene wants to arrest. The Collision Investigation Squad wants to arrest. The DA’s office didn't want to prosecute.
"A lot of cops took that one very personally," Malin added, noting that the precinct flagged 260 drivers for double-parking in the bike lane in the aftermath of Lyden's death.
It is unclear why Vance chose not to prosecute in a fatal crash that was so high-profile that the mayor visited the scene soon after the collision. In similar cases of a driver causing the death of a cyclist, other district attorneys have said they are reluctant to bring prosecutions when criminality is unclear — a version of the "it was just a tragic accident" argument.
In 2015, Vance was forced to defend his failure to aggressively prosecute drivers who kill and maim — and didn't do a very good job of it.
And in 2013, he declined to prosecute a taxi driver who maimed a British tourist in Midtown after hitting a cyclist, despite the driver's history of reckless driving.
In this case, a lawyer who works with vehicular cases told Streetsblog that a reckless endangerment case against Peralta is tough, but not impossible, given that the crash happened as a result of Peralta violating a bike lane, not merely double-parking.
"You would have to get a jury to accept the notion that a bike lane is assumed to have cyclists in it," said the lawyer, who requested anonymity because he handles cases before Vance. "That is is because recklessness requires an awareness of risk. The driver will take the position that he didn't expect there to be any bicyclists in the bike lane." But an aggressive prosecutor could get a jury to see that a bike lane is for bikers and no one else.
One cycling activist who was at the cB7 meeting appreciated Malin's remarks.
"I was gratified to learn that the cops on the scene saw abundant reason to arrest the driver and shocked that we live in a city where it's still possible to get away with causing a death as long as you're behind the wheel of a vehicle," said Ken Coughlin, a member of CB7.
Streetsblog has reached out to Vance's office for comment and will update this story if the DA responds.