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Driver Who Was Fleeing Cops is Charged for Killing Delivery Worker Borkot Ullah

5:00 PM EST on December 16, 2021

E-biker Borkot Ullah (inset) was killed last year on E. Houston Street. The protected bike lane the city is installing must encompass the entire length of the street, says a resident of the area. Image: Streetsblog

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The hit-and-run driver who killed a delivery worker in Manhattan in July is facing 15 years in prison for the fatal crash — one caused partly as a result of police chase, prosecutors announced on Thursday.

Kenrick Cowan, 23, of The Bronx, was actually arrested last month on an unrelated shooting in The Bronx, but was later charged with the killing of delivery worker Borkot Ullah on E. Houston Street. On Thursday, Cowan was arraigned on the charges stemming from the crash: felony charges of second degree manslaughter, second degree assault, and leaving the scene, and misdemeanor counts of reckless endangerment, unlicensed driving, and reckless driving. The top charge carries a maximum sentence of 15 years.

Cowan pleaded not guilty.

District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr.'s indictment of Cowan confirms reporting by Streetsblog that a police chase proceeded the crash, reporting on which the NYPD refused to comment at the time. According to Vance, "NYPD officers attempted to pull Cowan over for speeding and committing other traffic violations as he drove his Subaru Outback eastbound on East Houston Street" at around 10 p.m. on July 8.

Cowan, Vance said "led the police officers on a high-speed chase, weaved through traffic, and drove through a red light at the corner of East Houston and Clinton Streets, where he struck Mr. Ullah ... and then fled the scene."

It is unclear from the court papers when Cowan lost his driving privileges.

After initial publication of this story, the NYPD provided information about Cowan's alleged Bronx shooting, which occurred on April 14. According to cops, Cowan shot at another man in front of a building on E. 180th Street at around noon, and then fled. He was arrested on Nov. 16 inside of a building at 450 Cross Bronx Expressway and charged with attempted murder, assault and weapons possession.

It is unclear how cops connected Cowan from that alleged shooting to the hit-and-run that killed Ullah.

The police involvement in the chase will likely form at least part of Cowan's defense, but Cowan's lawyer, Arthur Mendola, told Streetsblog that he's "not making any comments right now."

Attorney General Letitia James's office had initially reviewed the police involvement in the Ullah case, as the AG does in all cases when cops may have been involved in a death, but quickly ended that review without determining that the police had caused the death.

Nonetheless, the police pursuit of Cowan may have violated NYPD rules. According to the patrol guide, "Department policy requires that a vehicle pursuit be terminated whenever the risks to uniformed members of the service and the public outweigh the danger to the community if suspect is not immediately apprehended."

At the time, Houston Street was bustling with cars, cyclists and pedestrians, all of whom might be considered at risk during a high-speed chase.

Ullah is one of 13 delivery workers who have died this year, at least 10 in crashes while on the job. Vance reflected on the dangerous nature of delivery work.

“Today we remember Borkot Ullah, a young immigrant and workers’ rights advocate who worked tirelessly to support his family here in New York City and in Bangladesh,” Vance said in a statement. “Food delivery workers have one of the most dangerous jobs in the city, thanks to reckless drivers who tear through our streets."

Ullah was a member of Desis Rising Up and Moving, a social justice organization of working class South Asians and Indo-Caribbeans. The organization posted about his death on Instagram and questioned the NYPD’s involvement, saying, “We currently don’t know why the NYPD was pursuing the speeding car.”

Meanwhile, grieving friends of Ullah raised thousands of dollars to send his body back to his native Bangladesh. A GoFundMe page generated more than $30,000 in donations to aid his family.

Hildalyn Colón-Hernandez of the Worker's Justice Project said Vance's indictment was bittersweet.

"Today's arraignment will not bring back Borkot, but it a first step to make this person accountable and the family whole," she said. "This arraignment show that a person that injured or killed a deliverista in New York will have consequences. We still have other deliveristas’ families that are still waiting to obtain justice and New York cannot forget about them.

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