20th Precinct Chief Wanted to Arrest Taxi Driver Who Killed Madison Lyden — But Cy Vance Said No

Lyden was killed on Central Park West after the driver blocked the bike lane and forced her into regular traffic.

Madison Lyden's bike lies crumpled on the sidewalk after she was killed by a truck driver on Aug. 10.
Madison Lyden's bike lies crumpled on the sidewalk after she was killed by a truck driver on Aug. 10.

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.

  • Cy Vance is everything that is wrong with NYC politics. He’s an insider toady to power who does nothing to protect the innocent, only those who can afford to pay his (VERY) high price to get re-elected. We must get him out of office under any circumstances.

  • SteveVaccaro

    Incredible–this is an obvious violation of the Right of Way law. You don’t pull out of the curbside lane into a bike lane without looking for bike traffic. Failure to do so is failure of due care. Hitting someone while pulling into the bike lane is a violation of the right of way. Period.

    I’m remembering to meeting that the livable streets community had with Vance back when he was running, and he told us that his son used a bike for transportation in the city and that he took cyclists’ safety very seriously. I guess his son is using Uber now and he doesn’t give a f*&k.

  • That’s going to depend on whether any other Democrats have the gumption to challenge him in the primary next time around. Let’s hope that this outrageous decision, combined with the Weinstein-related corruption, will be enough to inspire some serious candidates to put aside the profoundly anti-democratic tradition that has built up around the district attorneys’ offices.

  • walks bikes drives

    (2) Driving on or across bicycle lanes prohibited. No person shall drive a vehicle on or across
    a designated bicycle lane, except when it is reasonable and necessary:
    (i) to enter or leave a driveway; or
    (ii) to enter or leave a legal curbside parking space; or
    (iii) to cross an intersection; or
    (iv) to make a turn within an intersection; or
    (v) to comply with the direction of any law enforcement officer or other person authorized to
    enforce this rule; or
    (vi) to avoid an obstacle which leaves fewer than ten feet available for the free movement of
    vehicular traffic.
    Notwithstanding any other rule, no person shall drive a vehicle on or across a designated bicycle
    lane in such manner as to interfere with the safety and passage of persons operating bicycles
    thereon

    4-12(p)(2)

  • Andrew

    But maybe the car needed coffee or something.

  • JL

    Actually it might not be enough. He ran unopposed even after this oscar-nominated documentary.
    https://www.wnyc.org/story/oscar-docs-2018-abacus/

    Abacus: Small enough to jail

  • J

    Wow, when you’re worse for cyclists than the NYPD, you truly are a villain.

  • Maggie

    This quote doesn’t make any sense to me. Is there more context? Is this someone guessing at Vance’s office’s reasoning? Is it Vance’s office saying they think this is an unreasonable lift for Vance?

    “You would have to get a jury to accept the notion that a bike lane is assumed to have cyclists in it.”

  • BubbaJoe123

    Steve, one correction: he didn’t actually hit the cyclist, the cyclist swerved to avoid him and the truck hit her. Don’t disagree with the fundamental point, though.

  • SteveVaccaro

    Good point! That’s why the Right of Way law has two subsections, (a) and (b). (a) applies to what this livery driver did, (b) would apply if he had hit her.

  • BubbaJoe123

    Good to know, thanks!

  • MatthewEH

    I’m just realizing an additional implication here:

    Pulling through a bike lane to get to or from a legal curbside parking space is allowed (so long as it doesn’t interfere with bike traffic), but Peralta wasn’t coming from a parking space. He was coming from a bus stop, which is a no-standing zone. (Expeditious passenger pick up and drop off is allowed in a no-standing zone, but longer stays are not allowed.)

    So per the law, as written, neither his move to pull to the curb or away from the curb was legal at all. Whether there were any cyclists in the lane at that moment at all is immaterial to that.

    This also implies that it would be illegal for the bus driver to pull into any of the bus stops to the curb side of the bike lane, though, which is an absurd result. This suggests the law is defective; at the very least 4-12(p)(2) should add a carve-out for buses accessing a bus stop. And perhaps the northbound bus stops on CPW (and any similarly-configured roads) should include signage on the bus stops indicating “bus stop buses only: no standing; no stopping” to be completely crystal-clear on this.

  • com63

    It’s crazy that DA’s are not willing to take a chance of losing. Is it really that bad if he prosecutes and the driver gets acquitted by a jury?

  • Rex Rocket

    It’s very bad to have to go to trial for Uber, Lyft, and what’s left of the taxi industry–so bad that if it happens too frequently, DAs will not get campaign contributions.

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