Ignored by NYPD, Crash Victim Launches Effort to Hold AIS Accountable

Cassandra Faustini took a job as a bike messenger to help make ends meet. After getting rear-ended by a hit-and-run driver last year, she tried to report the crash to a police officer, who refused to take her statement. One year later, she’s joining other New Yorkers to demand reforms to the way NYPD and its Accident Investigation Squad handle crashes – and she’s asking for people to take part in a day of online action on September 17.

Cassandra Faustini and her coworkers are launching a day of action to change the way NYPD investigates crashes. Photo: Bicycle Roots

In September 2011, Faustini was making a delivery, riding north on Church Street. The light ahead at Worth Street had just turned yellow, so Faustini braked to slow down. In a post last week on the website for the Bicycle Roots bike shop, where she now works, Faustini recounted the crash:

All of a sudden, I heard the engine of a car behind me, deafeningly loud like someone forgetting to whisper and instead shouting right into your ear. The next thing I knew, I was airborne […] Although I did not realize this until later, I hit my head upon impact. Thankfully, I was wearing my helmet. It did not crack, but there were clear impact marks on the right side. I blacked out, probably for only a second or two, but it was only later when I began to piece events together that I realized I’d hit the ground hard enough to go under.

The driver didn’t stop. Faustini, injured and shaken, walked the remaining few blocks to complete the delivery and then approached an officer to report the crash. She did not have witnesses or a license plate for the driver who fled the scene. The officer told Faustini that there was no way for him to know that she wasn’t the one behaving irresponsibly. He refused to take a report.

I couldn’t even get mad; I was in shock. Here I was, obviously injured — bleeding and concussed, although I wouldn’t realize that until later — and the cop had the audacity to blame me without even taking a statement? He would brush me off without even attempting to investigate what had happened?

In the year since, Faustini has undergone a slow recovery from her injuries and discovered that she is not alone. “In a lot of cases, individuals don’t realize how severely they may have been affected until after the accident,” she said. “It may be difficult to realize what happened to you.”

This is why, Faustini explained, filing a police report to provide documentation is critical. But as she experienced, the NYPD often makes this process difficult.

“A lot of people I know have been dissuaded from filing a report, or they have gotten back an incomplete report that prevents them from pursuing the case,” Faustini explained in an interview. ”I am not the only one to have been told by the NYPD that there is no criminality suspected – or worse, that I am the criminal – in a situation where my life could have been on the line,” she wrote.

Faustini and her coworkers at Bicycle Roots are asking people to send tweets at noon on Monday, September 17, to their council members, the mayor, other elected officials, the NYPD and the media in a demonstration of grassroots support for crash investigation reform. Participants will use the #HoldAISAccountable hashtag.

The campaign is using Twitter because it “is an easy way for people to get involved” and “have a direct link to a lot of these individuals who are in a position to put pressure on the NYPD,” Faustini said.

On the Bicycle Roots website, Faustini and her coworkers outline a series of demands, including a call for more NYPD investigations of crashes.

Although the specifics of the #HoldAISAccountable campaign differ from those of a package of bills and resolutions introduced by City Council members in July, Faustini said that they are both aiming for the same ultimate goal of justice for people affected by traffic violence.

Transportation Alternatives spokesperson Michael Murphy said that the #HoldAISAccountable campaign, while not affiliated with TA, is another indicator that New Yorkers are demanding justice from the NYPD. “It’s a sign that people recognize the severity of this issue,” he said, “that so many citizens are engaged to reform crash investigations.”

Faustini urged New Yorkers to do more than just send a tweet. She encouraged people call and write to Mayor Bloomberg, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and their council members, and to leave comments on the Bicycle Roots website with their own NYPD stories.

“What we’re hoping to do,” Faustini said, ”is show that there’s enough support for reform of AIS that these bills will be considered necessary by our elected officials.”