Video Raises Questions About DA’s Decision to Clear Driver Who Killed Delivery Man, Attorneys Say
The line of defense used by Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz to exonerate the driver who killed a delivery worker in Queens in April is exceptionally flawed, according to new video obtained by Streetsblog of the moments leading up to the fatal crash, attorneys familiar with the case say.
Both the top prosecutor and the driver herself, Maro Andrianou, claimed that she was “struck” from behind — a jolt that sent her Mercedes-Benz flying down the narrow residential street at a “high rate of speed,” and into 37-year-old Xing Long Lin before plowing into an outdoor dining structure on 35th Street near Ditmars Boulevard, injuring another person standing at the corner.
But the video — which shows a light tap on Andrianou’s car by another driver — does not convey the kind of impact that the DA claims caused the “sudden acceleration of the vehicle and subsequent loss of control,” which Katz’s office said was either due to a “mechanical defect” or “driver error.” And even if it was driver error, Katz has still declined to bring any criminal charges in the case. A surviving victim, Nahar Anin-Aminof, has a separate civil suit against Andrianou.
Anin-Aminof’s lawyer told Streetsblog this week after watching the video that the light tap was unlikely to have caused the chain of events that left a husband and father dead, and another woman injured, because most drivers don’t hit the gas full speed ahead after a little nudge from behind.
“What I see in that video doesn’t provide any sufficient defense, at least civilly,” said Anin-Aminof’s lawyer Jeffrey Weiskopf, who filed the court papers in June. “Light bumper taps happen all the time in the City of New York, and what ended up happening is not something we [often] see in the city of New York.” Weiskopf is scheduled to depose Andrianou on Dec. 8.
The 15-second clip — which was shared with Streetsblog by Andrianou’s attorney Robert Arena — shows a crucial moment in the sequence of events that began at about 7:45 p.m. on April 29. It opens with a view of the roadway opposite 23-17 35th St., which is jammed with traffic, typical for a Thursday evening in Astoria. Cars are seeking to advance northbound towards 23rd Avenue, where there’s a traffic light and a massive train trestle overhead. At this point, Andrianou’s black car, partially hidden behind some shrubbery, is about 170 feet, or roughly seven building lengths, from the intersection of 23rd Avenue.
In the first few seconds of the grainy surveillance footage, Andrianou’s car can be seen with its brake lights on. It is sandwiched between two other cars, also with their brake lights on.
At 10 seconds, a silver SUV does indeed lightly tap the back of Andrianou’s car. But what happens next is certainly not routine: Andrianou’s car speeds up dramatically — from a dead stop — before leaving the frame en route to the intersection with 23rd Avenue. (Unseen in the video is the ghost bike memorial to cyclist Xellea Samonte, who was killed at the corner in 2018, an indication that this busy intersection, which is dominated by the train trestle overhead, is a known hazard for cyclists.)
What happened after Andrianou’s car started hurtling northbound on 35th Street is not entirely clear. At some point after crossing 23rd Avenue, she struck and killed Lin, who was riding a 2019 Yamaha Chappy motorcycle in the bike lane. She also struck two vehicles — a 2017 Dodge Challenger and a 2020 Subaru WRX — which police had said were both parked and unoccupied on the east side of 35th Street, though it’s unclear if she hit them before or after crossing 23rd Avenue.
It’s also unclear if Andrianou had the light at the intersection — a key fact in whether that tap from behind propelled her all the way through, and then the full length of a long, 1,000-foot avenue block to Ditmars Boulevard and into the outdoor dining structure of Rosatoro Restaurant where her car finally came to rest.
It is simply unclear — and Katz’s office has not responded — how a light tap on her back bumper sent Andrianou on a wild, high-speed, nearly-1,200-foot ride to that dining structure. Her attorney says his client was “panicking.”
“She said the car took off, no control of it,” Arena said.
After watching the video, another attorney said it seems completely unbelievable that what looks like a light tap from behind would have sent Andrianou speeding off with enough force to strike Lin nearly a quarter-mile away, on the other side of an intersection — especially since there were other cars on the road in front of her.
“The apparent collision is barely perceptible, if in fact it occurs. The idea that somehow she had a clear runway to strike the cyclist a quarter mile away is just completely implausible,” said personal injury attorney Steve Vaccaro, who is also a Streetsblog contributor.
What’s more likely, Vaccaro says, is that Andrianou became agitated by the tap from behind, and gunned it at some point soon after, perhaps in apparent road rage, or sheer panic. Her ex-husband had previously told Streetsblog that Andrianou was on her way to church when another car rammed her from behind, sending her into panic mode, and her car careening down the street. She was unable to stop it, he claimed. Both the DA’s office and Andrianou’s attorney parroted that defense.
But Vaccaro says Katz could — and should — have charged Andrianou with reckless endangerment. Perhaps she “acted irrationally, acted out of emotions,” he said.
The video comes a week after Katz revealed that she will not prosecute the driver, a move that shocked victims’ advocates. And others advocates for victims have long argued — and the state’s highest court has affirmed — that a driver need not have criminal intent in order to be found guilty of such vehicular crimes as failure to yield.
“Xing Long Lin and his family deserve justice,” Laura Shepard, the Queens Organizer for Transportation Alternatives wrote on Twitter. “Extremely disturbed to hear that Melinda Katz is letting his killer get away with this. Our streets are not safe when drivers who harm vulnerable road users are not held accountable and do not face consequences for their behavior.”
— Workers Justice ?? (@workersjusticep) November 23, 2021
Back when Katz — then Queens Borough President — was running for district attorney, she pledged to increase accountability for reckless drivers, like the one who killed her mother when she was a child. She vowed to protect the type of vulnerable road users like Lin, and make streets safer.
“My life has been shaped by the death of my mother, who was killed by a drunk driver when I was just 3 years old,” she said in a statement to Streetsblog in 2019. “I grew up knowing the impact that one mistake on the road can have on someone’s life and the lives of those close to them. My lived experience has always made street safety a top priority of mine. As our next District Attorney, I will absolutely prioritize creating safer streets and prosecuting traffic violence.”
Both Mercedes-Benz and the District Attorney’s office have repeatedly declined to comment further.
Katz’s decision to not charge Andrianou follows an investigation that appears flawed and conflicted in myriad ways.
Katz’s office previously said that Andrianou’s “vehicle was impounded and inspected,” but that the examination was “hampered” because of damage to the car. Indeed, Streetsblog spotted the badly damaged black luxury car in front of the 114th Precinct station house days after the crash; the extensive damage to its front and back, including a detached rear bumper, suggested a high-speed crash.
It’s unclear how much of an inspection the DA’s office could have done, given the damage. The crash black box system, which records speed, acceleration, and other auto functions, was never recovered or analyzed, according to Andrianou’s attorney.
As they have in many fatal crashes, cops tried to absolve the driver, claiming that Andrianou may have had a “medical episode” when she veered into the bike lane, killing the husband and father, who worked for a nearby sushi restaurant on Ditmars Boulevard.
But the ex-husband previously told Streetsblog that his ex-wife’s health was perfectly fine, though he corroborated the DA’s decision, saying Andrianou was on her way to church when another car rammed her from behind, sending her into panic mode. She was unable to stop the car from careening down the street into Lin and the restaurant dining shed.
And Katz’s office did not mention that speeding seems to be a constant with Andrianou’s Mercedes. Moving violation tickets associated with the car’s plate show it’s been nabbed four times for speeding in a school zone, all of which took place in August and September, 2019, according to How’s My Driving.
It is unclear if Andrianou’s connections to law enforcement helped her avoid charges. Sleuthing by cycling activist C.J. Wojtkowski revealed that Andrianou owns a detective agency, and it is common for such firms to be staffed by former police officers.
Wojtkowski also discovered that three weeks after the crash, Andrianou transferred her house to a “qualified personal residence trust,” which allows the owner to “remove the property from the estate,” according to Fidelity Investments. A QPRT may have implications on any assessment of Andrianou’s wealth that might be undertaken as part of Anin-Aminof’s suit.