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

The truck driver who killed Aurilla Lawrence in Williamsburg on Feb. 28 will face no consequences for the crash. Photo provided by Danijela Dusanic.
The truck driver who killed Aurilla Lawrence in Williamsburg on Feb. 28 will face no consequences for the crash. Photo provided by Danijela Dusanic.

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.

  • Joe R.

    Thank you NYPD for just giving every motorist the playbook to avoid charges. All they have to do now is flee the scene, and claim they didn’t know they hit anyone.

    “….the Brooklyn District Attorney won’t charge the driver, once again citing the widely disputed legal standard that prosecutors can’t make a case if a driver claims to have not known he or she hit anyone.”

    Wow. Just wow. I guess more drivers will start using this as an excuse instead of “medical episodes”.

  • JohnBrownForPresident

    NYPD are utter scum.

  • Tooscrapps

    So her hitting a pothole that caused her death? (Yeah, right.)

    But if that’s the way they want to absolve the driver, it sounds like NYC is liable for failing to maintain the streets in such a way that it does not cause injury or death. Cities in California have been getting creamed by such lawsuits. At some point BdB might wake up and see that it’s cheaper to provide safer infrastructure than paying out on lawsuits.

    https://www.bicycling.com/news/a20047727/bike-injury-lawsuits-los-angeles-fixing-bikeways/
    https://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/news/politics/sd-me-lajolla-pothole-million-20190211-story.html

  • HAPPYCATCANUCK

    I have driven Semi’s, Buses, Payloaders and other large vehicles in my life time and could never say I didn’t feel if I ran over something. You always know when you run over something. So the cops and DA are dumb if they believe the truck driver.

  • AJ

    This part also boggles my mind:

    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.”

    Following this reasoning; because the general driver in NYC doesn’t even try to be aware of cyclists, it is the standard of conduct that as a driver you don’t see cyclists. So running them over with a car because the driver didn’t properly look around is fine, because that’s not deviating from the standard of conduct in NYC.

  • Ten Blocks

    I’m all about calling out the right people here, but this is not the NYPD, this is the Brooklyn DA. There should be an immediate ride out to the DA’s office in protest.

  • KeNYC2030

    Imagine if we lived in a city where if you kill or injure a vulnerable street user, the presumption is that you were negligent and the burden is on you to prove otherwise (as I believe is the case in the Netherlands). Think about how much more carefully people would drive! But our leaders don’t want to place such a burden on drivers, and they’re willing to live with the current carnage to avoid doing that.

  • AJ

    In the Netherlands, the driver is liable when he hits a pedestrian or cyclist (a more vulnerable traffic participant) with his motor vehicle without the need of proving the guilt of the driver. If the driver proves a force majeure, then his liability is cancelled.

    There is only a force majeure when the event couldn’t have been foreseen. For example, when a child accidentally rides into the street from the bike path next to the road and a driver hits the child, that isn’t regarded as a force majeure and the driver is still liable. Even when he stuck to the speed limit, he could have foreseen the kid making an error.

    Even when a driver can prove a force majeure causing the accident, the drivers insurance always has to cover a minimum of 50% of the damages suffered by the vulnerable street user. With kids under 14 the driver is nearly always 100% liable, except when he can prove that the child made himself get hit on purpose.

    This is how people are protected on Dutch streets.

  • AMH

    This is so fucked up. You can tell the cops that you couldn’t see anything because you were driving with your eyes closed, and their response will be that it was therefore the victim’s fault. The whole culture is broken.

  • J C

    Ever driven a box truck in NYC?

    It’s quite possible not to see.

    And yes, this can be compounded by the bicyclist riding stupidly and/or illegally, however I have no idea if that applies to this case.

  • J C

    Pretty sure Dutch law assumes guilt until proven innocent. So that’s a huge difference in criminal law.

    And at least in NYC, “bicyclists” frequently make themselves vastly more “vulnerable” by riding illegally. However I have no idea if this is the case with the death of Ms Lawrence.

  • J C

    “Thank you NYPD for just giving every motorist the playbook to avoid charges. All they have to do now is flee the scene, and claim they didn’t know they hit anyone.”

    How would that work if you’re driving a sedan with windows?

  • gene99

    so when you drive a box truck you can’t see what’s in front of you?

    read the article, J C.

  • Joe R.

    If we can use this against NYC in that manner it would be great. I usually alternate between which thing makes cycling in NYC the most unpleasant—potholes or traffic signals. Most of the time the latter wins, but only by a small margin. Potholes are not only dangerous, but poor road surfaces cause a cyclist to use more power to maintain any given speed. I don’t remember NYC’s streets ever being in anything I might call good condition, but they’ve been worse than ever over the last, say, 10 years.

  • gene99

    Pretty sure, J C. But you’re wrong. The only time something like that might apply in Dutch law pertains to the right to remain silent in money laundering cases. Otherwise, the presumption is the same as here.

  • KeNYC2030

    Thanks — I was hoping someone would explain their law.

  • Joe R.

    Your last paragraph pretty much describes the situation. Drivers in this city aren’t even all that aware of other drivers, never mind cyclists or pedestrians. The “standard of conduct” in NYC seems to be to drive either with your head buried in your phone while texting, or in a drug-induced haze (either prescription drugs or illegal drugs). In both cases, you’re not particularly aware of your environment.

  • Kenny Lawrence

    Lawmakers don’t want to be held accountable themselves, for murdering a cyclist, therefore the written laws allow for everyone who kills a cyclist to go without prosecution.

  • J C

    gene99:

    “so when you drive a box truck you can’t see what’s in front of you?”

    Yeah, you needs familiarize yourself with the Lawrence death.

    Nowhere does it say she was run over by a truck while she was in front of a truck.

  • bolwerk

    The hell? STFU with your absurd pronouncements about law and cyclists riding “illegally.” It isn’t okay to hit someone with a bigger vehicle because they were cycling “illegally.” It isn’t legal either, even in New York. And drivers have no color of right in any legal system to do so. For an argument like that to fly, almost anywhere, you pretty much have to prove the cyclist was trying to get hit or otherwise so reckless a reasonable person might think they were trying to get hit or at best that the bike flew into the driver’s visibility so quickly that s/he had no time to react. And all that’s assuming the driver in question was following all driving procedures, which we know they almost never do, at least in New York.

    Presumption of innocence is baked in to EU law by the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, provisions in several treaties, and by EU directive. It is constitutionally protected in most European countries too, either explicitly or by judicial rulings. That includes France, so don’t repeat that canard. It is also a given in pretty much any state party to the Council of Europe Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, which includes such human rights luminaries as Russia.

  • bolwerk

    @KeNYC2030:disqus appears to be referring to is civil liability, which has nothing to do
    with criminal guilt. In most of the world, the burden of proof is on
    the person more likely to have a believable claim under the
    circumstances. That includes the U.S..

    Also, while “guilty until proven innocent” is a constitutional principle in Europe, it’s a judicial principle in the U.S.. The U.S. Supreme Court interprets various constitutional rights to imply guilt until proven innocence, but the U.S. constitution doesn’t explicitly say people are to be regarded as innocent until proven guilty.

  • pacoflaco

    “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.”

  • J C

    Then let’s see the video.

    See how that works? I’m perfectly willing to ascribe blame to the driver of the truck, provided evidence.

  • J C

    bolwerk:

    Since you don’t know: in NYC bicyclists and “bike” drivers ride/drive illegally all the time. Some times that endangers them. Some times it endangers pedestrians.

    “It isn’t okay to hit someone with a bigger vehicle because they were cycling “illegally.””

    Never said it were. But your use of “illegally” just puts you in the the category of ignorant knee jerk defender of bicyclists riding illegally. But as I say such illegality can put the bicyclists at great risk to themselves. Also avoid the straw man construction it’s a form of lying.

    “And all that’s assuming the driver in question was following all driving procedures, which we know they almost never do, at least in New York.”

    Unlike about 30% of bicyclists and “bike” drivers, 99%+ of drivers stop at read lights in NYC–they don’t always stop at yellows. So more evidence you’re living in NYC.

    Now, true the Dutch constitution presumes innocence. I checked, and I was wrong, but you’d be very surprised by the police powers in France, and likely the Netherlands. For example the cops can hold you without charge for several days, which is very hard in the USA.

    But deal with NYC bike ignorance first.

  • neroden

    Why do DAs have a monopoly on prosecutions?

    When this country was founded, they didn’t. Anyone could bring a prosecution in the name of the People of the State of New York. The laws on the books have never actually changed; judges just started being hostile to private prosecutions in the corrupt days of the late 19th century.

    This monopoly needs to be broken, because the DAs are corrupt. Flat out corrupt. They are criminal co-conspirators, in fact; they are guilty of conspiracy to commit reckless driving, along with the actual reckless driver.

    Grand juries still have the right to indict people regardless of what the DA thinks; this was enshrined in the Constitution. And they have the duty to investigate any crime in their area of which they become aware — although the DA won’t tell them this.

    Any grand juror in Brooklyn (Kings County) who reads this should demand that their grand jury investigate this killing.

    Meanwhile, the Brooklyn DA needs to be voted out of office. The next DA needs to promise to prosecute *every* case of vehicular homicide, no exceptions.

    The so-called “absolute immunity” doctrine for DAs was invented by corrupt judges and has no legal basis whatsoever, not in statute law, not in common law, not in anything. It’s time to take it on full bore by suing the District Attorney for conspiracy to commmit manslaughter. Because make no mistake, the DA is engaged in conspiracy to commit manslaughter, by all legal definitions.

  • Vooch

    In Germany, you crash your car – your driver’s license gets automatically taken on the spot. You then go to a Judge are have to argue to get it returned.

  • Vooch

    ‘…Ever driven a box truck in NYC? It’s quite possible not to see….’

    Therefore, operators of box trucks need to never exceed 5 MPH and have a lookout walking alongside the always blind box truck.

    If not, then the operator of blind box truck is willfully and recklessly driving.

    Thank you for clarifying the matter

  • Frank Kotter

    Not true.

    Greetings from Germany.

  • J C

    “Therefore, operators of box trucks need to never exceed 5 MPH and have a lookout walking alongside the always blind box truck.”

    I suggest you propose that to the City council, and then wait for your local market to be stocked.

    “If not, then the operator of blind box truck is willfully and recklessly driving.

    Thank you for clarifying the matter”

    It’s you who have clarified that you have no idea how the food in your kitchen gets there–provided you live in NYC. And this goes for restaurant kitchens, anything you purchase online, a shirt you got at the GAP, and lot of of other things like the furniture in your apartment.

    Good job displaying extreme ignorance of NYC and generally driving. NOT sarcasm.

  • FizzyMyNizzy

    JC they don’t understand what blind stop is, and will always think they’re right.

  • DoctorMemory

    I think what gets me here isn’t the fact that he’s not getting charged with a felony, but the fact that literally nothing is happening. I’m not entirely sold that extending the reach of our terrible criminal justice system is a good solution to anything ever, nevermind traffic safety, and honestly it’s a fair cop that if we’ve decided as a society to put up with the endless carnage of allowing cars and trucks to drive through the city, it’s probably not actually helpful to dropkick otherwise productive members of society into the meatgrinder of our prison system when the inevitable happens…

    ..but fucking do something. Take away the driver’s license. Raise his goddamn insurance rates. You’re blaming a pothole? Fine, show me the plan for keeping Broadway well-paved in the future. (LOL) Tell me when the protected bike lane is going in. Do literally anything other than shrug your shoulders and say “oh well, whatchagonnado?”

  • Joe R.

    I definitely agree here. I’m one the few voices here who often mentions that the goal shouldn’t be putting bad drivers who kill in jail, but rather making sure they never, ever drive anything larger or faster than a bicycle again (OK, maybe a moped but that’s it). Jail is to contain people who are dangerous to society. These people aren’t dangerous to society unless they’re behind the wheel of a car. Just take away their driver’s license for good, problem solved.*

    * We need real teeth for this to work, so I propose anyone caught driving without a license will forfeit the vehicle they’re driving.

  • Vooch

    PLUZ – trucking costs from the DC to my local shops is currently less than 2% of the cost of the product. Increasing the cost by 50% would mean 3% of the product MSRP.

    JC – you are arguing that killing and maiming 50,000 innocent New Yorker’s every year is worth a 1% lower cost of produce. really ?

  • Vooch

    In Bavaria, happens routinely. Maybe among Prussian it doesn’t

  • J C

    “PLUZ – trucking costs from the DC to my local shops is currently less than 2% of the cost of the product. ”

    Immaterial, didn’t comment on the cost. You still have to move the stuff into NYC via truck.

    (Used to be that there were subway spurs that served some of the big Manhattan department stores–Altman’s for example.)

    “JC – you are arguing that killing and maiming 50,000 innocent New Yorker’s every year is worth a 1% lower cost of produce. really ?”

    I said no such thing. Stop this straw man crap; it’s a form of lying.

    Nowhere have I said trucks driving illegally shouldn’t be cited, screamed at one today. And drivers of any motor vehicles who run over or into pedestrians or bicyclists–whom the drivers easily could have seen–and seriously injure them should be prosecuted, provided clear evidence supports the case. Right, this includes e-bike drivers.

    And of course bicyclists who run into pedestrians and seriously injure them, provided evidence, need to be prosecuted.

  • J C

    “JC they don’t understand what blind stop is, and will always think they’re right.”

    Do you mean “blind spot”. If yes, then you are correct.

    I’d like to see this video that shows Ms Lawrence clearly–yes also legally–in front of the truck. This is the first I’ve heard of it.

    The legally thing is important, not because the driver wouldn’t bear some responsibility for her death if he really could have seen her easily even if she were in front of him after an illegal turn say, but because hypothetically she could have massively contributed to her death via illegal and/or grossly irresponsible bicycle riding. But as I say, I have no idea of what occurred besides her death under a truck.

  • Vooch

    so you arguing that all parkways and superhighways should be commercial only from 0600 to 1900 ?

    I’d go with that

  • J C

    “so you arguing that all parkways and superhighways should be commercial only from 0600 to 1900 ?”

    What are you talking about?

    I said no such thing. Stop this crap.

    Also since you clearly don’t know travel for 30 miles on a highway (you clearly have no idea what a parkway is in NY State) usually takes less time than travel of 4-7 miles within NYC. But stores, buildings that need heating oil, etc are within NYC.

  • Vooch

    Your argument started that commercial trucking is sooooooo important that driving box trucks at safe speeds would cause the city to grind to a halt with Heating oil (among other things) impossible to supply.

    Therefore, I supported your contention that trucking deliveries are vital to the life of the city. So vital is trucking to the lifeblood of the city, that we shouldn’t hinder deliveries with private cars jamming up traffic on Superhighways and Parkways during working hours.

    Why suddenly do you think trucking isn’t so important ?

    Finally – you trying to tell me that a Robert Moses Parkway can handle a Ford Econline Van or a Silverado Pick-up with roof rack if driven by a Suzy Homemaker but NOT the same vehicles if they have commercial plates ? BWAHHHHH

  • J C

    “Your argument started that commercial trucking is sooooooo important that driving box trucks at safe speeds would cause the city to grind to a halt ”

    No, you pretended that only travel at 5MPH or less, within NYC, was a safe speed for such trucks. The speed limit in most of NYC is only 25 MPH. Safety on City streets is far more about paying attention than simply going slowly.

    Most, not not all, truck drivers know to pay attention, about 30% of “bike” drivers and bicyclists think “paying attention” means “how can I get away with breaking the law while endangering pedestrians and quite possibly myself”.

    Enjoy no food, not restaurants, no theatre, no mail, likely no heat, etc.

    “Therefore, I supported your contention that trucking deliveries are vital to the life of the city. So vital is trucking to the lifeblood of the city, that we shouldn’t hinder deliveries with private cars jamming up traffic on Superhighways and Parkways during working hours.”

    I made no such “contention”. I pointed out things you won’t have, To be clear: You’re not going to get those things sans trucks wherever you live, which clearly isn’t NYC. Nor did I say anything about it either being passenger cars OR trucks as the only option. Then there you go again making a fool of yourself by using the term Parkways, for the NYC area, incorrectly.

    (There was this idiotic Bill O’Reilly, the FoxNews guy, print column I read about 8 years ago: He really seems to think that a guy living on a bayou island in the Mississippi Delta makes his own hunting guns, and shells, and gun power. Then fuels his boat and gets spare parts for it without any interaction with the outside world. So nothing shipped to him to pick up, no light bulbs unless he makes them, no radio receiver, no cellphone, no radio transmitter. O’Reilly’s delusional opinion essay is more reality based than your understanding of truck travel in and around NYC. Or for that matter in the USA generally–and yeah small town USA has pedestrians and people who ride bicycles too.)

    “Finally – you trying to tell me that a Robert Moses Parkway can handle a Ford Econline Van or a Silverado Pick-up with roof rack if driven by a Suzy Homemaker but NOT the same vehicles if they have commercial plates ? ”

    So you have no idea of the difference between a box truck and a pickup truck. Does the term 24′ box not mean anything to you? Clearly not. Or you suppose a standard big pickup truck 24′ plus cab and engine long? (So that total would be about 33′ long.)

    And yep, you’ve lied again, since I said nothing about a commercial delivery van, or say a contractor’s pick up.

    Now, you managed to figure out some of the NYC area Parkway laws, but you screwed up so badly that you confirmed that you don’t live in the NYC area.

    Also there is NO Robert Moses Parkway anywhere in NYC. His name was removed from a NY State Parkway in far western New York State back in 2016. So you can add the inability to do an internet search to your CV. (No, Moses didn’t even build all of the NY State Parkways in the NYC area.)

    Now in Suffolk county, NY, there is the 8 mile long Robert Moses Causeway which starts in the north in West Islip (LI) with its southern terminus on Fire Island. No regular commercial traffic allowed.

  • jrasero

    ha, when will this dude stop making up crap

  • Vooch

    Geez – so you think that driving 5 MPH on city streets would destroy commerce in NYC ?

  • J C

    “Geez – so you think that driving 5 MPH on city streets would destroy commerce in NYC ?”

    Goods gettin’ to stores is gonna be real slow. NYC ain’t just 3 square miles. And in mid-town Manhattan trucks already travel at less than 5MPH in the middle of a normal week day, but you’d have them creep around the whole city.

    Do visit once before thinking you know anything of NYC.

  • J C

    DoctorM:

    You know the truck driver is at fault how? What evidence do you have to back up this claim?

    I suspect it’s a corporate owned truck, and he’s just a driver.

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