NYPD Nabs, But Then Undercharges, Hit-and-Run Driver of Bike-Riding Pro Wrestler
Police on Tuesday arrested the hit-and-run driver they say ran over and killed professional wrestler Matt Travis as he biked into Harlem from the Bronx last month — but cops only charged the killer driver with minor counts rather than the far-more-serious crime of fleeing the scene of a crash.
Luc Vu, 48, was collared for the early morning Nov. 9 crash and charged with making an illegal left turn from First Avenue onto E. 125th Street, where he slammed into Travis at the foot of the Willis Avenue Bridge. Vu, who worked for the notorious New Jersey-based trucking company D&A Contracting, was also charged with reckless driving, failure to yield and failure to exercise due care — relatively light charges that come with at most 30 days behind bars.
A charge of leaving the scene of a fatal crash is a felony that carries a maximum charge of seven years in prison.
It’s not surprising that police didn’t charge Vu with a hit-and-run — as Streetsblog reported in September, drivers often tell cops they “didn’t know” they hit anyone, and prosecutors have a difficult time trying to prove before a jury of mostly drivers that the vehicle operator in fact knew something was wrong and intentionally chose not to remain at the scene of his or her own recklessness.
But more shockingly, the killing of Travis represents the second time in roughly two months that a driver from D&A Contracting killed someone. In August, company trucker Miguel Hernandez killed Ronald Nival in the Bronx, and then fled the scene. He was also later arrested — and was charged with leaving the scene.
D&A Contracting co-owner Jim Dezao told Streetsblog that he fired Vu immediately after hearing about the fatal crash. Hernandez’s employment with the company is pending based on the outcome of his case. Dezao described both fatal crashes as “accidents,” but claimed he will do more to prevent another.
“I’m not just looking past it. I can’t take it back, it wasn’t intentional. I feel for them, I really do. I got a kid. I give my condolences,” said Dezao. “Unfortunately, we had two events. If I can be in every truck and drive them myself I would, but the reality of the business is we do our best to hire good guys, good safe drivers.”
Travis was the 28th cyclist to die on New York streets this year, up from 10 cyclists killed all of last year.
The Collision Investigation Squad has tracked down and arrested the reckless dump truck driver who left the scene of a collision involving a bicyclist on 11/9/19 at East 125 St & 1 Avenue @NYPD25Pct which resulted in the bicyclist's death. #NYPD pic.twitter.com/l7v4hTxbih
— NYPD Highway (@NYPDHighway) December 17, 2019
Dezao’s condolences were not well received by Travis’s grieving mom, who is now marking her family’s first Christmas without her son, she said. She did add that she felt a bit of comfort knowing that the person who killed her first-born will face consequences — though not particularly harsh ones.
“I’m shocked, happy and depressed at the same time,” said Yolanda Nieves, who lived with Travis in the South Bronx. “I was so depressed without my son. [Vu] should pay for what he did to my child — if it was a mistake he could have said he was sorry, but I haven’t heard any apologies.”
Nieves also didn’t hear much from cops during the investigation, telling Streetsblog that she felt kept in the dark. She now says she will now advocate to make streets safer for bikers, and make sure that hit-and-run drivers like the one who killed her talented son receive more than just a slap on the wrist.
The NYPD did not respond to a request for comment about why they didn’t charge Vu with more serious crimes like leaving the scene. Police issued Vu a desk appearance ticket and he’s due back in court likely in early January, when the Manhattan DA will charge him then.
The charges against Vu are light compared to the top charge levied against cyclist Dameon Doward for fatally hitting 67-year-old Donna Sturm earlier this year. Manhattan DA Cy Vance charged Doward with reckless endangerment, which carries a maximum of year behind bars. Meanwhile, a Streetsblog investigation revealed that Vance has only charged 15 car drivers even though drivers have killed 21 Manhattanites and injured thousands.
Activists were pleased that the driver had been caught, but the NYPD Highway division’s tweet did rankle a few members of the safe-streets movement.
“Yes, grateful for the collar,” tweeted Charles Komanoff. “But weird @ language: ‘reckless driver who left scene of a collision involving a bicyclist on 11/9/19 at E 125 St & 1 Ave which resulted in the bicyclist’s death.’ Why don’t they straight-up say: ‘driver who struck and killed…’?
The Business Integrity Commission, which oversees trucking companies including D&A Contracting, declined to comment pending the ongoing criminal case.