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No Charges for Truck Driver Who Killed Cyclist Despite Being on a No-Truck Route and Failing to Yield

Memorial candles burnt in the entrance of the Bridge Street building where Kala Santiago lived with her mother before she was killed by a truck driver on Wednesday. Photos: Gersh Kuntzman and Dave Colon (inset)

The driver who killed a 25-year-old cyclist on Wednesday has still not been charged in the death by the NYPD.

Police confirmed that truck driver Saeed Ahmed was neither summonsed nor arrested, despite admitting that he saw cyclist Kala Santiago in front of him on narrow Parkside Avenue, but passed her anyway, triggering a series of events that caused her death.

Parkside Avenue is not a truck route, yet Ahmed was driving an 18-wheeler with New Jersey plates on the roadway, which is between two parks. A video obtained by reporter Liam Quigley suggests he was driving above the posted speed limit.

"She got nervous," Ahmed told Streetsblog, blaming the victim for falling as he drove past. But another photo from the scene shows a deep scar on the side of a parked truck, evidence that Ahmed's truck pushed Santiago's handlebars at great force:

If the driver indeed fell off her bike, this scar on a parked truck — at exact handlebar level — would not likely have happened. Photo: Liam Quigley
If the driver indeed fell off her bike, this scar on a parked truck — at exact handlebar level — would not likely have happened. Photo: Liam Quigley
If the driver indeed fell off her bike, this scar on a parked truck — at exact handlebar level — would not likely have happened. Photo: Liam Quigley

In such cases, NYPD charges are rare, but do happen. In 2017, bus driver Dave Lewis was charged with failure to yield after hitting and killing cyclist Dan Hanegby in Manhattan — but the charges only came after video showed Lewis passing Hanegby on narrow W. 26th Street even though there was very little room.

State law requires the operators of all vehicles to pass bicyclists "at a safe distance until safely clear" of the cyclist. Drivers are also required to yield to cyclists and pedestrians and are required to operate their vehicles with "due care."

Kala Santiago in a Facebook photo
Kala Santiago in a Facebook photo
Kala Santiago in a Facebook photo

Yet Ahmed was not charged. One legal expert who frequently defends victims of vehicular crimes was stunned.

"At a bare minimum, a violation of the right-of-way law could be sustained," said Daniel Flanzig, referring to the city's own failure-to-yield law, known as administrative code 19-190.

That law clearly states that "any driver of a motor vehicle who fails to yield to a pedestrian or person riding a bicycle when such pedestrian or person has the right of way shall be guilty of a traffic infraction" and that "any driver ... whose motor vehicle causes contact with a pedestrian or person riding a bicycle and thereby causes physical injury, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor."

"He obviously saw Kala but failed to pass at a safe distance," Flanzig said.

Lawyer Steve Vaccaro, who also works with crash victims, posted his legal opinion to Twitter:

The NYPD did say that the investigation in the fatal Santiago crash "remains ongoing," and such investigations do sometimes lead to charges, but only when multiple crimes beyond merely failing to exercise due care.

For example, the NYPD on Thursday announced two arrests from months-old cases involving reckless drivers who killed and injured pedestrians and cyclists:

    • Tyler Green, 22, was charged with murder, manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide and several other counts stemming from a June 25 crash that killed 67-year-old Lynn Christopher at Ralph Avenue and Macon Street in Brooklyn. In that crash, cops say Green had been stopped by police for having mismatching license plates, but then sped away the wrong way down the street, hit a bicyclist, then a parked car, then Christoper and her 8-year-old grandson before fleeing.
    • Roosevelt Rose, 56, was charged with murder, manslaughter and other counts stemming from a bizarre May 8 incident that had been caught on video allegedly showing Rose, who had stolen a truck, slowly and repeatedly crashing into a parked car. When residents of the block confronted him, he raced away, hitting another parked car that slammed into three people, killing Florence Ngwu, 49.

Regarding cyclist safety on roadways, then-Council Member (now DOT Commissioner) Ydanis Rodriguez proposed a bill in 2019 that "would require drivers of motor vehicles to maintain a minimum distance of three feet when overtaking a bicycle, and provide for a traffic violation for a driver that makes contact with a bicyclist while failing to exercise due care and failing to maintain the three foot distance." That bill, despite the support of the NYPD and the DOT, did not get a vote before Rodriguez's term ended.

The bill has not been reassigned to a member of the new Council in the manner of other bills. Flanzig said such a bill is a must.

"New York State and New York City do not have what the majority of the country has: a three-foot passing law," he said. "Right now, we only have [a law that requires] a 'reasonably' safe distance. A defined safe passing law is need to prevent a tragedy like this creating a safe buffer between a passing vehicle and a cyclist."

Santiago's family members declined to talk to a Streetsblog reporter on Thursday night.

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