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Truck Driver Who Killed Queens Teen Can Remain on the Road

1:51 PM EST on January 6, 2021

The moment before a truck driver killed teenaged cyclist Mario Valenzuela.

Mario Valenzuela
Mario Valenzuela

The truck driver whose erratic steering contributed to, and may have even caused, the death of a Queens teenager in 2019, will not have his license suspended or revoked, even for a short period, a state Department of Motor Vehicles judge ruled in a decision being blasted by the victim's lawyer.

Tyron Leon, who was captured on video veering left before abruptly making a high-speed right turn directly into Mario Valenzuela, will remain on the road without any limitations, administrative law judge Daniel Dillon ruled in late December, a decision has only recently received by Valenzuela's lawyer, Steve Vaccaro.

"[Dillon] plainly never watched the crash video despite our urging that he do so, which clearly showed the multiple negligent acts by the driver that caused the crash," Vaccaro told Streetsblog. "Instead, [he] simply took the NYPD's detective's conclusory blame-victim word for it that Mario was at fault."

Dillon did indeed lean heavily on the NYPD's final report absolving Leon of responsibility for the Sept. 21, 2019 crash on Borden Avenue in Long Island City. But preliminary and subsequent reports show that Leon did in fact turn into Valezuela, which then-Transportation Alternatives’ Deputy Director Ellen McDermott called a “blatant criminal violation of the Right of Way law.”

A subsequent report by the NYPD's Collision Investigation Squad exonerated Leon and blamed Valenzuela, but, as Streetsblog reported, the report, written from a driver's perspective, ignored key facts, such as that Leon could not have signaled for his right turn as Valenzuela approached from behind because his turn signal was defective (indeed, the driver got a ticket for the broken light).

Leon also first angled his truck left, as if he was about to use the entrance ramp to the Long Island Expressway, rather than about to turn right onto 11th Street in the industrial portion of the neighborhood beneath the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge. As the video shows, Leon was likely veering left because he wanted to maintain his speed as he turned right, a move that likely convinced Valenzeula that Leon was preparing to turn left, which is why he cycled to the right of the truck, Vaccaro said.

But Dillon disagreed. "The bicyclist did not stop before colliding with the right side of the truck," he ruled. He concluded that Valenzuela was attempting to illegally pass Leon on the right, ignoring that the truck driver had started to turn left as a possible explanation for why Valenzuela felt he could continue straight on Borden Avenue.

Dillon also concluded that Leon was "operating his vehicle with due care," which Vaccaro has said shows a complete disregard for the video that shows Leon veering left and speeding before abruptly turning right — directly into Valenzuela.

"This decision is Exhibit A for why we need the state legislature to dramatically revamp and expand the DMV's broken accountability programs for negligent drivers," Vaccaro said.

The state DMV conducts hearings to consider license suspensions or full revocations after all fatal crashes. It is unclear how many driver's licenses are suspended or revoked by the DMV, however (the agency has not provided that number to Streetsblog). If a license is revoked, a driver must reapply to be granted driving privileges.

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