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DA Won’t Charge Hit-And-Run Driver Who Killed Aurilla Lawrence

12:01 AM EDT on August 16, 2019

Aurilla Lawrence

Another hit-and-run driver will escape justice, thanks to police and prosecutors who won't bring charges against motorists who kill.

On Wednesday, the family of Aurilla Lawrence, the cyclist killed by a hit-and-run truck driver on Feb. 28 in Williamsburg, learned that the NYPD and the Brooklyn District Attorney won't charge the driver, once again citing insufficient evidence to convince a jury of the fleeing driver's recklessness.

"It's absolutely outrageous," said Lawrence's sister, Kathryn, after hearing the news. "I'm trying to wrap my head around it."

Lawyers who are working with the Lawrence family were also angered by the decision to absolve the truck driver because, under New York State law, prosecutors can charge some with manslaughter when someone "recklessly causes the death of another human." Such recklessness doesn't require intent, but merely "a gross deviation from the standard of conduct that a reasonable person would observe in the situation."

"Recklessness is a state of mind not where you intend to bring about a result, but rather as you go about your course of conduct, you have a subjective awareness that the conduct poses a risk of harm to others and you disregard it," said the lawyer, Steve Vaccaro. "Someone can have no desire to hurt a person."

The Lawrence case presents a perfect example of just that. According to Vaccaro, who has seen video of the nighttime crash, the truck driver approached Lawrence from the rear, meaning he had every opportunity to see her — and yield the right of way, which was hers.

"If the driver of the truck knows a cyclist is in front of them and they continue to accelerate on the assumption that they get to go first and the cyclist should have to pull off the road or find a place to squeeze into, that is disregarding an unjustifiable risk of great harm," Vaccaro said. (A similar interpretation of the law led to a conviction in a right-of-way case last year against the bus driver who killed Citi Bike cyclist Dan Hanegby — but such convictions are rare.)

But in the Lawrence case, authorities have not been inclined to see it that way. Even on the night Lawrence was killed, police were already rolling out excuses for the driver, with one source already planting the notion that the driver didn't know he had hit anyone. On Thursday, a spokesperson for Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez office told Streetsblog that "there isn’t enough evidence to bring criminal charges in this case."

The spokesperson claimed that a "thorough investigation" found that the trucker never hit Lawrence's bike, but that she had hit a pothole, which caused her to fall into the street, where she was run over.

The spokesperson claimed there was no evidence that the driver, who continued his delivery route, knew he had hit Lawrence.

Drivers routinely escape consequences for committing hit-and-runs by telling police that they didn't know they hit someone. In late March, police arrested the hit-and-run driver who killed cyclist Chaim Joseph near Times Square, but he was not charged with the more serious count of leaving the scene. Police also declined to charge the truck driver who killed Robyn Hightman. And the truck driver who killed Linda Douglas in April also said the magic words to get out of being charged.

"They frame the issue as if they have to prove intent to bring serious charges against a driver, and that's wrong, it's false," said Peter Beadle, who works with Vaccaro. "They can bring charges based on recklessness, which covers even manslaughter. It's a recklessness standard. You do not have to prove specific intent. It would be great if we started seeing district attorneys going for these charges. This case warrants it, but they don't want to go there."

At the very least, the driver should have been charged with a right-of-way violation, according to Beadle.

"Until district attorneys actually decide to bring these cases and make these charges, perceptions are not going to change and the law isn't going to be pushed in the direction we need it to go to keep people safe," Beadle said, adding that the lack of charges in these cases sends a message to drivers that "they can drive whichever way they wish, because there are no consequences."

The NYPD declined to comment. Mayor de Blasio did not comment either, but Kathryn Lawrence had a message for Hizzoner.

"I don't see how de Blasio, whose job it is to govern and protect these citizens of New York City, can continue to see this [cyclist body] count rise and rise and rise and he's not doing anything," she said. "These drivers are facing no responsibility, they get a slap on the wrist. You murdered somebody.

"There was not any Earthly justice that has been done for the murder of my sister, but there is one coming from above," she added.

Story was updated to clarify one reason that the DA did not charge.

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