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Cops Say They’ve Arrested the Hit-and-Run Driver Who Killed a Beloved Teacher on McGuinness Blvd

Beloved PS 110 teacher Matthew Jensen was killed by a driver on McGuinness Boulevard in May, 2021. File photo: Gersh Kuntzman

Cops say they have arrested the speeding Rolls-Royce driver who ran down and killed a beloved Greenpoint teacher in a hit-and-run last May. The suspect is a city EMT who hit and seriously injured a cyclist in 2017 and was involved in another crash two years earlier.

On Tuesday, police arrested Tariq Witherspoon, 30, and charged him with criminally negligent homicide, leaving the scene of a crash, reckless driving and speeding — the combination of which led to the death of Matthew Jensen as he crossed McGuinness Boulevard just after midnight on May 18. Witherspoon was arraigned on the charges on Tuesday afternoon, and pleaded not guilty. He was held on $75,000 bond or $15,000 cash bail, amounts set by Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Danny Chun, who cited Witherspoon leaving the scene as evidence that he is a flight risk.

The death so horrified the community that McGuinness cleaves that then-Mayor de Blasio immediately announced that the roadway would undergo a $40-million facelift, which remains in the planning stage.

Beloved teacher Matthew Jensen.
Beloved teacher Matthew Jensen.
Beloved teacher Matthew Jensen.

According to police, Witherspoon was speeding in the Rolls-Royce luxury car sounthbound on McGuinness when he struck Jensen at the intersection of Bayard Street. He fled in the fancy car as Jensen, 58, died.

It was immediately unclear if Witherspoon, who is an EMT with the FDNY making $50,000 a year, is the owner of the Rolls-Royce or whether he had rented it. A government source who requested anonymity said the cops said Witherspoon rented the Rolls for a "joyride."

Tariq Witherspoon's name is familiar to lawyers who specialize in crash cases. In late 2015, Witherspoon allowed an unlicensed driver to use his 2011 Porsche, which she then drove carelessly and at an "excessive rate of speed," according to court papers. The driver, Taj Mixson, then rammed the Porsche into another car at the corner of Glenwood Road and Schenectady Avenue, causing one of the passengers in that car to suffer permanent injuries.

"Witherspoon was liable in that he negligently and carelessly entrusted his Porsche to Mixson, who Witherspoon knew or should have known to be an inexperienced and unlicensed driver." It is likely that Mixson was Witherspoon's girlfriend or relative, given that they were both served with court papers at the same address and that the Porsche had the license plate, TAJ-12.

Witherspoon showed up again in court again stemming from an August, 2017 crash in which he struck a bicyclist near Woodhull Hospital in Brooklyn as Witherspoon was driving a city ambulance. The cyclist suffered severe injuries in the crash, and the city paid the victim a settlement. It is unclear if Witherspoon was disciplined for his negligence. (The city Law Department declined to comment. The FDNY said Witherspoon served in Brooklyn as an FDNY EMT for 11 years and "will be suspended without pay.”)

The death of Matthew Jensen prompted an outpouring of grief in the neighborhood, as well as at PS 110, on Monitor Street, where Jensen taught. The elementary school is just a few blocks from the crash site. Parents and teachers at the school had a huge rally in the days after Jensen's death to demand that the city finally redesign McGuinness Boulevard for safety — a request that dates back more than a decade.

In 2010, after Neil Chamberlain and Solange Raulston were killed months apart on McGuinness, Transportation Alternatives went to the intersection of Nassau Avenue, where cyclist Raulston was killed in late 2009, and found that drivers violate traffic laws every 17 seconds — and fail to yield to pedestrians every two minutes.

Two years later, the McGuinness Boulevard Working Group put out a new study that showed that two out of three motorists speed on McGuinness (when the speed limit was 30 miles per hour).

“Speeding along McGuinness Boulevard has been a problem for as long as I can remember and it’s getting worse,” then-Council Member Steve Levin said at the time. “We have to get speeding under control for the safety of bicyclists, pedestrians and other drivers.”

The speed limit was dropped to 25 miles per hour in 2014, but little else was done to make the roadway — a four-lane speedway shortcut between the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway and the Pulaski Bridge — safer. At the time of the speed limit reduction, 10 pedestrians and two cyclists had been killed on McGuinness between 1995 and 2013. Since then, one more pedestrian and one more cyclist have been killed.

Mayor de Blasio had promised to fix McGuinness Boulevard when he attended a vigil for Matthew Jensen. File photo: Gersh Kuntzman
Then-Mayor de Blasio promised to fix McGuinness Boulevard after he attended a vigil for Matthew Jensen. File photo: Gersh Kuntzman
Mayor de Blasio had promised to fix McGuinness Boulevard when he attended a vigil for Matthew Jensen. File photo: Gersh Kuntzman

The former mayor's $40-million package remains in the earliest stages of planning after a series of community workshops, but the city remains "committed to implementing a safer redesign of McGuiness Boulevard," said DOT spokesman Vin Barone.

"[We] will have more to share on our proposal in the coming months.”

The arrest of Witherspoon engendered "no good feelings" from Assembly Member Emily Gallagher, who has been leading the fight for a safer McGuinness for a decade — but has also been a supporter of criminal justice reform.

"I'm glad they found this person because at least we know this person will be off the road, but we as a society and a culture don't even have a very good success rate at fixing this problem," she said. "We need a real system of accountability that isn't just sending someone to prison, where you get treated like garbage and then you come out and you have a harder time finding housing and work and your relationships are damaged. I don't wish that on anyone.

"I want justice that comes from something else," she added. "We must reform the way we use the roads and how we design them so that when drivers make mistakes — and we all make mistakes — they don't kill people."

Witherspoon's lawyer, Joseph Corozzo, did not immediately return a call from Streetsblog.

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