Attorney for Killed Cyclist: Victim-Blaming NYPD is Conducting a Botched Investigation
Police were very quick to blame a cyclist for her own death in the Rockaways last month, but the lawyer for the dead woman’s family says even a cursory investigation by the NYPD would have revealed that the cyclist was not at fault — and that the driver was a recidivist speeder.
Sixty-six-year-old Ada Martinez died from her injuries sustained on Sept. 27 when she was run over by a Ford van after she attempted to make a left turn from the bike lane on Rockaway Freeway onto Beach 94th Street, but cops said Martinez turned “directly in the path of” the van — language that implied she illegally pedaled towards her own death.
“This Thanksgiving while families gather to recite what they are grateful for, our family is broken missing our matriarch,” Martinez’s daughter, Natasha Martinez, told Streetsblog, adding that the family wants answers.
The initial police report failed to indicate that the bike lane directs cyclists to do exactly what Martinez did — to make a left turn in front of oncoming traffic or after it has passed. (The intersection is captured in a video taken by her family’s attorney Daniel Flanzig, who is filing a wrongful death lawsuit against the city.)
“That is the path of the bike lane. Segregated and flows against traffic. What she did was legal and the design of this lane,” said Flanzig.
Nonetheless, the initial police report is a welter of contradictions and conflicting information. It starts with the van’s 40-year-old driver heading east on Rockaway Freeway “with a steady green light” and continuing straight as he approached the intersection of Beach 94th Street.
“The bicyclist was traveling westbound on Rockaway Freeway, also with a green traffic signal, and traveling in a designated bike lane,” the police said. “The bicyclist attempted to make a left turn onto southbound Beach 94th Street, directly in the path of [the van].”
This is the part that gets confusing.
“The bicyclist veered towards the right to avoid striking the van, and in turn fell to the ground, becoming separated from the bicycle,” the police narrative continued. “The bicyclist was then subsequently struck by the van, causing the aforementioned trauma.”
Flanzig said that narrative is inconsistent with reality — and is almost certainly based entirely on the testimony of a driver seeking to exonerate himself.
“The whole ‘fell off the bike’ thing [may be] just the driver’s version, obviously she can’t tell her side of the story,” said Flanzig, referring to Martinez’s death on Oct. 12.
According to Flanzig, Martinez was biking back from watching the sunset at the beach with her husband — a trip they made often during the warmer months. He was biking in front and made the left turn ahead of her, presumably because he saw that the van was far enough away. But after he made it through the intersection, he heard a loud crash and turned to see his wife fatally injured on the road. He didn’t see what happened, according to Flanzig.
But there are only really two scenarios that make sense: either that the van was moving so fast that Martinez made a last-second twist to get out of the way and did, indeed, fall off her bicycle before she was hit by the van. Or the van driver simply hit her at high speed, separating her from the bicycle in a manner decidedly different from how the cops described it.
The official police report obtained by Streetsblog faults Martinez for failing to yield while entirely absolving the driver. Flanzig can’t understand how a bicyclist could be said to have failed to yield to the van that hit her while also, according to police, falling to the ground before getting run over.
“There’s nothing there to support any allegations of fault,” said Flanzig.
The driver, who works for a Far Rockaway-based medical transportation company called Sinai Van Service, stayed at the scene, but it’s unclear if cops even asked him how fast he was going at the moment of impact — police refused to answer Streetsblog’s questions about whether he was speeding or distracted.
And it’s likely that he was going above the speed limit given that the van has earned 15 violations for speeding in school zones or going through red lights in the last year, according to city data compiled by the HowsMyDriving app.
The van that ran over and killed Martinez would never have been on the road if city lawmakers had passed, and the mayor had signed, Brooklyn Council Member Brad Lander’s proposed Reckless Driver Accountability Act, which would allow authorities to impound any car with more than four moving violations in any 12-month period. The van had 11 since July — all of them in Queens not far from where Martinez was killed.
Had the Department of Transportation designed the bike lane better so that it didn’t direct cyclists to turn into speeding cars, and made the road safer with more traffic-calming measures, and had the driver been more careful, then maybe Martinez — a beloved mother and wife — would still be alive today, her daughter told Streetsblog.
“The private ambulette driver who is hired to transport people safely should have been aware of the second cyclist crossing,” said Natasha Martinez, the daughter. “He is responsible for the safety of his patients, pedestrians and cyclists of all his surroundings. We are thankful this reckless driver spared our father, but we know in our hearts if the designs of these roads are not reconsidered, they will continue killing people and people will continue dying.”
And this is not the first time police have tried to blame a cyclist for his or her own death while absolving the driver — the false narrative about Martinez follows a similar pattern with the latest instance just last month when cops quietly amended a report that had initially blamed an electric bike rider for his own death so that the official record now points out that the rider was doing nothing wrong before he was hit and killed by the driver of a massive truck.
Police issued no tickets to the driver nor have made any arrests, but said the investigation remains ongoing.
Neither the Department of Transportation or NYPD responded to requests for comment. Sinai Van Service also declined to comment.