In Memoriam 2021: Too Many Lives Lost; Too Many Cases Unsolved

The many unsolved hit-and-runs include (from top) the deaths of Jose Ramos, Imorne Horton and Matthew Jensen. File photo: Gersh Kuntzman
The many unsolved hit-and-runs include (from top) the deaths of Jose Ramos, Imorne Horton and Matthew Jensen. File photo: Gersh Kuntzman
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This year was the worst year for traffic violence since Mayor de Blasio took office in 2014. As of Dec. 28, 266 people were killed on the streets of New York City — the highest number since 2013, when 296 were killed as of the same date, according to the Department of Transportation.

And along with the rise in fatalities was an increase in hit-and-runs, a majority of which never get solved. In 2021, through the end of September, there were already 69 hit-and-runs resulting in death or critical injury — more than there were in all of 2020, 2019, 2018, and 2017, according to city stats.

And the NYPD continues to do a poor job of solving these cases. Through the end of September this year, 20 of the 69 fatal hit-and-runs, or 28 percent, have been either “solved” or have resulted in an arrest. By comparison, over the same period in 2020, 13 of 45 fatal hit-and-runs, or roughly the same 28 percent, were “solved” or closed with an arrest (none of the 19 hit-and-runs in the fourth quarter of 2020 were solved, the NYPD says, meaning that in 2020, the NYPD’s full-year closure rate was 20 percent).

Those numbers are down from previous years. In all of 2019, 21 of the 50 fatal hit-and-runs — or 42 percent — were closed with an arrest. In 2018, 16 of 46 fatal hit-and-runs — or 35 percent — were solved. And in 2017, 26 of 62 fatal hit-and-runs — or 42 percent — were closed to an arrest, according to city stats.

The rise in unsolved hit-and-runs may be tied to the NYPD’s understaffed Collision Investigation Squad, which has repeatedly come under fire for investigating crashes through the lens of the driver, and victim-blaming, as Streetsblog has reported. Still, the de Blasio administration has declined more money to beef up its 26-member team to respond to more than just 5 percent of the 2,000-3,000 fatal and near-fatal crashes every year — a decision that, coupled with the speeding epidemic and rise in bloodshed, has left more families grieving their loved ones, and searching for answers this year.

“Victims and their families deserve answers and meaningful accountability. New York City needs to prioritize investigating traffic violence as they would any other form of violence,” said Marco Conner DiAquoi, Deputy Director of Transportation Alternatives.

But advocates are hopeful that the next administration, under Mayor-elect Adams, will do more to solve fatal crashes and hold reckless drivers accountable. And last March, the City Council passed a landmark that would establish a crash investigation and analysis unit in the Department of Transportation, which would investigate, analyze and report on all vehicle crashes involving death and significant injury. The bill, Intro 2224-A, makes the DOT, and not the NYPD, the lead agency in investigating crashes. Advocates, who have long sought such a change, believe the new DOT oversight will help and improve analyses by the NYPD’s Collision Investigation Squad.

“Mayor-elect Eric Adams has long been an advocate for victims of crashes and we look forward to working with his administration on preventing and solving our epidemic of traffic violence across New York City,” said Conner DiAquoi.

Here’s a look at six fatal hit-and-runs from 2021 that remain unsolved:

Unknown 

One of the very first people killed in traffic violence in 2021 remains to this day an “unidentified adult male.”

On Jan. 2, 2021, just before 11 p.m., police say an unknown vehicle struck an “adult male,” on Bruckner Boulevard at E. 140th Street. The driver fled, cops said, leaving the victim for dead in the middle of the highway. 

Nearly a full year later, police have yet to identify him — his killer driver still on the road, his life not mourned with candles at the intersection, and his name never to be immortalized. 

“There are no updates,”  Sgt. Edward Riley, a spokesperson for the NYPD, told Streetsblog. 

Kamel Mahmoud 

On Feb. 15, 2021, 72-year-old Kamel Mahmoud was left for dead less than a mile from his Bay Ridge home after being struck by a still-unidentified driver at about 8 pm. 

According to the NYPD, Mahmoud, was crossing Bay Ridge Parkway near Sixth Avenue, in the crosswalk with the light in his favor, when the driver, who was making a left, plowed into him. The driver, who police said at the time may have been behind the wheel of a Mercedes Benz, fled the scene. 

Mahmoud, who was a cancer survivor, the Daily News reported, died five days later. 

The NYPD could not provide any updates in the case.

Imorne Horton

Candles mark the site of the death of Imorne Horton. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman
Candles mark the site of the death of Imorne Horton. File photo: Gersh Kuntzman

About two weeks later, on Feb. 24, 2021, at 6:39 pm, police said a driver struck and killed 31-year-old Imorne Horton at the notoriously dangerous intersection of Hamilton Avenue and Court Street. 

Police had said at the time that the driver was heading west on Hamilton when he hit Horton. The driver fled.

Ten months later, Horton’s mother is still searching for answers about her son’s death, the person who killed him, and whether they will ever be held accountable. But neither the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office or NYPD have been helpful, she said. 

She says the first officer on the case retired, but one even called to to tell her. 

“Just a lot of heartache and pain. I haven’t been getting a lot of information from people at all,” said Tasha Horton. “I did not know that he had retired, they gave the case to someone else. No one ever told me someone was taking over my son’s case. I know my son is not the only person to get killed, but show me something — give me a phone call, give me something. I’ve just been on my own.” 

Neither the NYPD or Brooklyn DA said it had updates on the case, but a source did tell Streetsblog months ago that cops have at least identified a suspect. But he or she has not been arrested.

Matthew Jensen

Beloved teacher Matthew Jensen.
Matthew Jensen

On May 18, 2021, a still-unidentified driver hit and killed 58-year-old Matthew Jensen, a beloved Greenpoint teacher, on the infamously fatal corridor of McGuinness Boulevard. 

Police said at the time that the driver was behind the wheel of a Rolls Royce when he ran over Jensen, who was crossing the road near Bayard Street just after midnight. Even Mayor de Blasio promised that his cops would “find the driver,” during a vigil for Jensen in McGolrick Park, which included mostly parents and children from the school, PS 110, where he taught. 

But more than six months later, the case remains open. One parent whose kids went to PS 110, said it’s odd that the cops know it was a $300,000 luxury car, but have yet to find it or its driver.

“It’s incredibly frustrating to not have been able to close that chapter and bring some justice to this, and get whoever that was off the road,” said Bronwyn Breitner.

What’s also dubious, Breitner said, is how the police claim to have known that Jensen was allegedly crossing against the light, but don’t know the car’s license plate. 

“I’ve never gotten a factual answer how they knew that, and didn’t seem to have the license plate. I still believe they don’t know whether he was crossing against the light or not — not that it matters, because if the car wasn’t speeding, he would still be alive,” she said.

But without an arrest or other way to hold the driver accountable, advocates took justice into their own hands by fighting for a full redesign of McGuinness Boulevard to make it safer. In June, de Blasio announced a $40-million investment for a redesign of the deadly roadway, where 11 pedestrians and three cyclists have been killed since 1995.

“We’re using this death to spur long-overdue comprehensive change on that street so his death is the last death on McGuinness,” said Breitner. 

Neither the NYPD or Brooklyn DA’s office could provide updates on the case.

Babacar Dia

On Sept. 25, 2021, a hit-and-run driver fatally struck 44-year-old Babacar Dia, a Senegalese delivery worker, who was riding his electric bike on Linden Boulevard near Snediker Avenue.

Police said at the time that Dia, who lived in the Bronx, was riding eastbound on Linden at around 10:30 p.m. when he was struck by the driver of a dark sedan traveling northbound on Snediker. Many details remain unclear, but one thing is clear: the still-unidentified driver fled, leaving Dia for dead.

Dia is one of at least 14 delivery workers who died so far this year in New York City. The most recent was on Christmas Eve, when 37-year-old Taurino Rosendo Morales was killed by the driver of a truck on the Upper East Side, along with pedestrian Delfino Maceda.

Jose Ramos 

Jose and Martha Ramos and their daughter in 2019. Photo: Ramos family
Jose and Martha Ramos and their daughter in 2020. Photo: Ramos family

On Oct. 15, 2021, 56-year-old Jose Ramos was killed by a hit-and-run driver on a notoriously dangerous stretch of Atlantic Avenue and Essex Street in East New York.

Ramos, who was unable to hear, his family said, was walking home on Essex Street after finishing work at a nearby store around 10:10 p.m. when a still-unidentified driver traveling westbound on Atlantic Avenue slammed into him, cops said. 

Police said the driver was behind the wheel of a white or light-colored sedan when he struck Ramos, who was crossing in the marked crosswalk with his bike. 

Ramos’s niece, Lisbeth Ramos, told Streetsblog last week that police had said they found the car, but not the driver. Still, months later, she and her family are waiting for answers, and for someone to be held accountable, she said.

“We want to find the person who did this to my uncle, and be accountable for what he did,” said Ramos. 

The NYPD declined to provide any updates on the case.

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