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No Word on Whether Trucker Who Killed Mathieu Lefevre Will Keep License

More than three years after the crash, the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles held a hearing today to determine whether to take action against the truck driver who killed cyclist Mathieu Lefevre. But Lefevre’s family will have to wait on a DMV decision.

Mathieu Lefevre. Photo by Chieu-Anh Le Van via Support Justice for Mathieu Lefevre

Lefevre, 30, was killed just after midnight on October 19, 2011, while riding his bike on Morgan Avenue in Brooklyn. As Lefevre approached the intersection of Morgan and Meserole Street, Leonardo Degianni, who was driving a 28-ton crane truck and traveling in the same direction as Lefevre, ran over Lefevre while turning right. Degianni did not stop at the scene, and was identified as the driver after police found the truck parked a block away.

It took a lawsuit and a lot of well-earned negative publicity for NYPD to share information about the crash with Lefevre’s family. NYPD concluded Degianni was unaware he struck Lefevre based on video of the crash. Detective Gerard Sheehan, the crash investigator assigned to the case, also apportioned some blame to Lefevre in his report. Though Degianni did not signal before turning and Lefevre was riding legally, Sheehan said Lefevre “should not have been passing on the right side.”

Lefevre’s family asked Charles Hynes, then the Brooklyn district attorney, to review the case, but Hynes declined to press charges. Degianni was eventually ticketed for failing to signal and careless driving, but the DMV threw out the tickets.

At this morning’s “safety hearing,” DMV administrative law judge Marc Berger heard testimony from Sheehan, who basically repeated the conclusions contained in the NYPD crash report. Berger also reviewed video of the crash, and accepted photos of the scene as evidence.

Berger questioned Sheehan on key details, such as the number and position of the mirrors on the truck, and whether in Sheehan’s opinion Degianni should have known he hit a person on a bicycle. Sheehan at one point indicated he believed Degianni should have seen Lefevre, had he used his mirrors properly, but said police could not determine if Degianni had passed Lefevre prior to the collision. Though the investigation found Degianni made contact with Lefevre on the driver’s side of the truck, Sheehan said drivers of large vehicles often say they didn’t detect running someone over.

Berger did not render a decision today.

Today’s proceeding was a vast improvement over the 2014 hearing when Berger asked the driver who killed Brooklyn pedestrian Clara Heyworth for his analysis of the crash scene. But the DMV adjudication process is still biased to favor motorists who kill people.

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TA: Inconsistency Between Precincts Undermines NYPD Traffic Enforcement

TA maps

Which precincts stepped up speeding enforcement the most, and which ones lagged behind? Transportation Alternatives breaks down the numbers by borough command.

In the year since Mayor Bill de Blasio promised stepped-up traffic enforcement under Vision Zero, NYPD has moved in the right direction, according to a new report from Transportation Alternatives [PDF]. At the same time, enforcement varies dramatically from precinct to precinct, weakening overall deterrence.

TA looked at data from last year and 2013, comparing each precinct’s change in speeding and failure-to-yield tickets with the change in injuries to cyclists and pedestrians.

Some precincts rose to the top:

  • The 70th Precinct, covering parts of Kensington, Ditmas Park, and Midwood, increased speeding and failure-to-yield enforcement by 243 percent — that’s 310 additional speeding summonses and 832 more failure-to-yield tickets more than 2013. At the same time, there were 33 fewer cyclist and pedestrian injuries within its borders.
  • Manhattan South, which covers all precincts below 59th Street, remains a laggard on speeding enforcement. But it did issue 747 more speeding tickets and 2,312 more failure-to-yield tickets last year than in 2013 — and had 233 fewer bicyclist and pedestrian injuries.

Other precincts had lackluster enforcement and poor safety results:

  • The 94th Precinct, covering Greenpoint and Williamsburg’s north side, actually issued fewer speeding tickets last year than it did in 2013, while bicycle and pedestrian injuries rose five percent.
  • In the Rockaways, the 100th Precinct wrote fewer than one failure-to-yield summons per week last year, as cyclist and pedestrian injuries increased 11 percent over 2013.

The report follows TA’s 2013 traffic enforcement report and its check-in on the first six months of 2014.

“The greatest deterrent to the NYPD’s success in reaching Vision Zero is citywide inconsistency,” the report says. Precincts right next to each other often have wildly different levels of enforcement, giving drivers the impression that any ticket they receive is just “bad luck” and not a consistent crackdown on dangerous behavior. “Inconsistency undermines any positive deterrent effects of enforcement,” TA says. “Every violation that goes unenforced is implicit encouragement for drivers to commit the violation again.”

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De Blasio Defends Right-of-Way Law to Dimwits in Albany [Updated]

Update [February 26]: The quote from the mayor has been updated to include his full response.

At a hearing in Albany this morning, Mayor Bill de Blasio defended the new city law that enables police to file misdemeanor charges against drivers who injure or kill people with the right of way. He also shed some light on how officers determine whether to file charges.

Mayor Bill de Blasio testifies in Albany this morning. Image: NY Assembly

Mayor de Blasio in Albany this morning. Image: NY Assembly

State Senator Marty Golden, who represents Bay Ridge, focused on the high-profile arrests of bus drivers who have killed or injured pedestrians in crosswalks. Golden asked if the Right-of-Way Law is even necessary. “If it’s an accident, it’s an accident. Do we need to arrest these people, and is that necessary?” Golden asked. “Should we be locking up bus drivers?”

Here is the heart of the mayor’s response:

Senator, the law that was passed by the City Council, which I signed, makes clear that when an individual fails to yield to pedestrians where they should — the pedestrian has the walk sign and they’re crossing the street and there’s still a crash… what the law dictates is that if there is serious injury or fatality, and if the officers on the scene determine that it was an avoidable injury or fatality, they are obligated to pursue an arrest. If the officers determine that it was unavoidable, meaning something happened that no driver could have possibly foreseen or responded to in time, they have the option of giving a summons. So this is a new law with a clear standard. It is a stricter standard than that which existed previously, and that’s for a reason, because people were being killed and grievously hurt in all sorts of instances and there wasn’t a clear enough legal consequence. So the law, I think, has been a step forward. It should be applied respectfully and sensitively, especially — I agree with you — our public service workers always deserve respect in every situation, and I appreciate the work they do. But again, the officer on the scene has to make a determination… If the officer believes it was 100 percent avoidable, that is an arrest situation.

At an MTA press conference minutes later, Daily News reporter Pete Donohue asked MTA Chair Tom Prendergast whether he thought bus drivers who injure or kill pedestrians in crosswalks should be subject to the Right-of-Way Law. Prendergast’s response avoided answering questions about the law itself.

“For whatever reason, the legislation was written the way it was. I’m not going to get into details of it,” Prendergast said, stressing that bus driver unions, the city, and the MTA alike are working to reduce crashes. “I drove a bus for 30 days,” Prendergast said. “The two hazards that you’re most faced with are right turns and left turns, and so I can totally appreciate the difficulties bus drivers have.”

While Prendergast did not address how the law is enforced or whether bus drivers should receive the special exemption that the TWU is seeking, he did say the MTA may adjust bus routes to limit turns through crowded crosswalks and may ask DOT to offset pedestrian crossings to minimize conflicts. (In the 1990s, the Giuliani administration moved some Midtown crosswalks to mid-block locations and installed pedestrian barriers at corners, which remain in place today.)

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NYC Speed Cameras Are Making Streets Safer — Time to Stop Holding Back

Speed camera activity at Queens Boulevard and 36th Street. After a marked decline, speed cameras were turned off for the summer, when state law doesn’t allow NYC to use them, and the rate of violations bounced back in the fall. Graph: WNYC

Speed cameras are reducing traffic injuries and lowering the rate of speeding on New York City streets, according to an analysis by WNYC.

WNYC used speeding citation data to identify present and past locations of DOT’s 51 active speed cameras, which now issue more citations than NYPD. Pairing that information with crash data, WNYC found that crashes resulting in injury fell 13 percent within 500 feet of fixed camera locations in the last four months of 2014, compared to the same period in 2013 — significantly more than the citywide drop. The number of drivers speeding in the vicinity of cameras declined as well.

Speeding is the leading cause of fatal traffic crashes in New York City, but restrictions imposed by Albany mandate that the city’s speed cameras operate only near schools during school hours. Tickets are only issued if a driver exceeds the posted speed by 11 mph or more, and fines are limited to $50 with no license or insurance points. In general, severe crashes tend to happen at night when the cameras are off.

WNYC put together graphs that indicate turning off the cameras when school is out of session for the summer weakens the effectiveness of the speed camera program. Not only do the cameras cease operating for several weeks, but drivers quickly begin speeding again, and the rate of violations returns to previous levels before the cameras reassert a deterrent effect.

Studies of speed cameras elsewhere offer more evidence that New York’s program could be more effective without these restrictions. A 2010 review of dozens of speed camera programs found that the typical decrease in crashes causing fatal or severe injury is 30 to 40 percent.

NYC DOT also has yet to make full use of the speed cameras at its disposal. The law enables the city to operate 140 cameras, but only 51 are in use so far. Former DOT policy director Jon Orcutt tweeted that the WNYC analysis is all the more reason for the agency to deploy all of its 140 cameras now, rather than over the course of 2015.

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NYPD: No Charges for Driver Who Killed Man in Brooklyn Crosswalk

NYPD filed no charges against the driver who killed Martin Hernandez Tufino as he crossed the street in a crosswalk. The red arrow represents the movement of the driver and the white arrow the movement of the victim, according to information released by NYPD. Image: Google Maps

NYPD filed no charges against the driver who killed Martin Hernandez Tufino as he crossed the street in a crosswalk. The red arrow represents the movement of the driver and the white arrow the movement of the victim, according to information released by NYPD. Image: Google Maps

NYPD said charges probably won’t be filed against the driver of a private bus who ran over and killed a man in a Brooklyn crosswalk, though it appears the victim was crossing with the right of way.

Police said Martin Hernandez Tufino, 64, was crossing Avenue M north to south at around 2:11 p.m. Friday when the driver struck him with a Freightliner bus while turning right from Coney Island Avenue, according to Gothamist.

From the Daily News:

The man was in the crosswalk and was caught under the bus’s front wheels. He suffered a massive head injury, horrified witnesses told police.

He died at the scene.

Though Tufino was in a marked crosswalk and would presumably have had the right of way, anonymous police sources told the Daily News “no charges were expected.”

It would not be unusual for the driver in this case to avoid penalty. Since the Right of Way Law took effect last August, motorists have injured and killed thousands of New York City pedestrians, yet as of this month NYPD had applied the law just 17 times.

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In Brooklyn, Another Alleged Unlicensed Driver Faces Wrist Tap for Killing

An allegedly unlicensed driver who killed a pedestrian in a Brooklyn crosswalk last month was not charged with criminal negligence by NYPD or District Attorney Ken Thompson. Meanwhile, legislation to increase the penalty for causing a death while driving without a valid license continues to languish in Albany.

The motorist who killed Raul Leone-Vasquez was charged with unlicensed driving and careless driving, but was not charged by Brooklyn DA Ken Thompson with criminal negligence under the “rule of two.”

The motorist who killed Raul Leone-Vasquez was charged with unlicensed driving, a misdemeanor, and careless driving, a traffic infraction, but was not charged by Brooklyn DA Ken Thompson with criminal negligence.

Raul Leone-Vasquez was crossing Bay Parkway at Bath Avenue at around 6:35 a.m. on December 28 when Simcha Rosenblatt hit him with a Toyota Camry, according to the Bensonhurst Bean and the Daily News. Leone-Vasquez, 27, suffered head trauma and died at Lutheran Hospital. His death was reported by several outlets Wednesday, following an NYPD media release.

Rosenblatt, 60, of Lakewood, New Jersey, was charged with aggravated unlicensed operation and failure to exercise due care. The Bensonhurst Bean and WNBC reported that, according to police, Leone-Vasquez was crossing Bay Parkway east to west, in the crosswalk, and Rosenblatt was southbound on Bay Parkway. If that account is accurate, and Leone-Vasquez had a walk signal, it appears Rosenblatt would either have been turning from Bath Avenue onto Bay Parkway or he drove south through the intersection against the light.

Aggravated unlicensed operation is a low-level misdemeanor that stipulates that Rosenblatt drove without a license when he knew or should have known he didn’t have one. It is common for NYPD and city prosecutors to file a top charge of aggravated unlicensed operation when an accused unlicensed driver kills a pedestrian. It’s the same charge applied by police and prosecutors when an unlicensed driver commits a traffic infraction.

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Has Your NYPD Precinct Ramped Up Enforcement Under Vision Zero?

Which police precincts are devoting greater attention to traffic enforcement under Vision Zero? Streetsblog crunched the numbers from NYPD to find out how different precincts stacked up in 2014 compared to previous years. The stats show that police are, in general, devoting more resources to enforcing the most dangerous traffic violations on surface streets. But the baseline level of enforcement was so low that many precincts are still issuing fewer than one speeding or failure-to-yield ticket per day.

Since August 2011, NYPD has released monthly totals of moving violations, broken down by unit, precinct, and type of summons issued. Two types of violations are of particular relevance to street safety: Speeding is the leading cause of traffic deaths in New York City, and failure to yield is the leading contributor to crashes resulting in injury. For those reasons, we’ve singled out these two statistics — and not, say, tinted windows or defective headlights — to measure each precinct’s performance [XLS, CSV]. (One caveat about the numbers: It’s not clear how many of these tickets were issued to cyclists as opposed to motorists, though it is probably a very small number in most precincts.)

Tickets for speeding and failure to yield last year were up 54 percent over the year before, and up 82 percent over 2012′s numbers. Importantly, the focus of NYPD’s speeding enforcement is shifting somewhat from highways to surface streets, but the pace of change was still very slow in 2014.

In 2012, the department’s transportation bureau, which usually works on highways, handed out 73 percent of all speeding tickets, while just 27 percent were issued by precincts. In 2013, that balance shifted slightly to 71-29 and last year, the ratio moved to 64-36 — an accelerated shift, but a stat that still leaves lots of room for improvement.

The first full year of the city’s speed camera program offers some interesting context. Officers handed out 117,767 speeding tickets last year, of which 42,627 were issued by local precincts. The city’s speed cameras – restricted to school hours on surface streets with a school entrance within a quarter-mile — issued 445,000 violations over the same period. DOT has been slowly expanding the number of speed cameras, currently at 19 fixed and 40 mobile locations. State law allows the city to put 91 more cameras on the streets to slow down speeding motorists.

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NYPD: 1,399 Pedestrians and Cyclists Injured, 10 Killed in December

Image: NYPD

Image: NYPD

Twelve people died in New York City traffic in December, and 4,116 were injured, according to the latest NYPD crash data report [PDF].

Unofficial numbers from DOT indicate that 132 pedestrians and 20 cyclists were killed by city motorists in 2014. Drivers injured 14,922 pedestrians and cyclists last year, according to NYPD.

Citywide, at least 10 pedestrians were fatally struck by drivers in December: two in Manhattan, one in the Bronx, five in Brooklyn, and two in Queens. Among the victims were Blima Friedman, Gloria Ramiro, Ignascio Andal, Joan Hale, Denise Lippin, Jean Bonne-Année, Guler Ugur-Yaacobi, an unnamed female pedestrian in Queens, and an unnamed male pedestrian in Brooklyn. The victims included at least one child and four seniors.

NYPD reported no cyclist deaths in December.

Across the city, 1,210 pedestrians and 189 cyclists were reported hurt in collisions with motor vehicles. Per NYPD policy, few of these crashes were investigated by trained officers.

Based on NYPD data provided to Streetsblog, police applied the city’s Right of Way law in one fatal crash in December. No other motorist was known to have been charged for causing a death. Historically, nearly half of motorists who kill a New York City pedestrian or cyclist do not receive so much as a citation for careless driving.

In three cases, immediately after a pedestrian was killed, police exonerated the driver by telling the press the victim was not in a crosswalk. NYPD publicly blamed a child and two seniors struck by motorists for their own deaths.

One motorist and one passenger died in the city in December; 1,292 and 1,426 were injured, respectively.

There were 17,281 motor vehicle crashes in the city last month, including 3,118 that resulted in injury or death.

Download December NYPD summons data here. NYPD posts geocoded crash data here. Crash and summons data from prior months is available in multiple formats here.

After the jump: contributing factors for crashes resulting in injury and death.

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NYPD Work Slowdown Shows How Much Rank-and-File Care About Vision Zero

For at least two weeks, the number of summonses issued and arrests made by police officers across the city has dropped precipitously. For victimless offenses like drinking alcohol in public, the decline in ticketing may serve as an interesting natural experiment in whether “broken windows” policing is really effective. But for motor vehicle violations like speeding and failure-to-yield, the drop in enforcement is putting people’s lives at risk.

When's the last time you saw this? Photo: Mark Davis/Flickr

When’s the last time you saw this? Photo: Mark Davis/Flickr

While neither the mayor nor the police unions will yet call the drop in enforcement a work slowdown, the stats are clear. And it turns out that moving violations against dangerous drivers are falling more than other types of enforcement activity. The past couple weeks have shown — if it wasn’t already apparent — how little priority most rank-and-file officers give to street safety.

Traffic tickets are down 92 percent compared to a year ago, with some precincts failing to issue a single moving violation last week. In contrast, arrests over the same period declined by 56 percent.

It’s too early to know for sure what effect the slowdown is having on vehicular violence, but the signal the police are sending is clear: They really don’t care if you drive dangerously, so go ahead and do it.

This attitude isn’t just surfacing the last two weeks. NYPD’s police academy does not include traffic enforcement as part of its curriculum, and most officers seem uninterested in street safety. When an MTA bus driver was arrested last month for failure to yield after he killed an elderly pedestrian while turning through an East Flatbush crosswalk, the Post reported that officers told the bus driver “this is ridiculous, but we have orders and we have to follow them.”

The Right of Way Law, which officers grumbled about enforcing, is one of the most important Vision Zero laws passed last year. Despite a promise to train all of the department’s patrol officers to arrest drivers who violate the law, enforcement remains spotty, even in cases where all known evidence points to driver culpability.

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DMV Judge Delays Action Against License of Driver Who Killed Allison Liao

Amy Tam and Hsi-Pei Liao speak to reporters after the New York State DMV failed to take action against the driver’s license of the man who killed their daughter Allison. Photo: Brad Aaron

Amy Tam and Hsi-Pei Liao speak to reporters after the New York State DMV failed to take action against the driver’s license of the man who killed their daughter Allison. Photos: Brad Aaron

An administrative law judge for the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles today deferred a decision concerning the driver’s license of the motorist who killed 3-year-old Allison Liao.

In a packed hearing room at a DMV office in Jamaica, Sidney Fuchs watched video that showed an SUV driven by Ahmad Abu-Zayedeh run over Allison as she and her grandmother, Chin Hua Liao, crossed Main Street in Flushing, in a crosswalk with a walk signal. And he heard from police investigators, including the officer who summonsed Abu-Zayedeh for failure to yield and careless driving.

“My entire family has been suffering heartbreaking pain,” said Chin Hua, who stopped several times to compose herself as she described the crash via a translator. “It’s better to revoke the driver’s driver’s license.”

Fuchs twice asked Abu-Zayedeh if he wished to testify on his own behalf and, through his attorney, Abu-Zayedeh twice declined to speak. Fuchs rejected a request from Abu-Zayedeh’s attorney to dismiss the video, which Abu-Zayedeh has refused to watch, on the grounds that the person who gave it to police was not at the hearing to vouch for its authenticity.

Fuchs refused to consider documentation offered by the Liao’s attorney, Steve Vaccaro, that Abu-Zayedeh had alcohol in his system an hour after the crash. According to a civil suit filed by Allison’s family, Abu-Zayedeh told police he had consumed two glasses of wine before the collision. He tested positive for alcohol in his bloodstream, the suit says, but his BAC was below the .08 legal limit for driving. ”That would be an issue for some other forum,” said Fuchs. “I prefer not to go into that.”

Fuchs also refused to allow the admission of Abu-Zayedeh’s New Jersey driving record, which Vaccaro said “demonstrates numerous violations,” and indicates that Abu-Zayedeh once surrendered his driver’s license.

“I do have my exhibits and evidence,” said Fuchs at the conclusion of the hour-long hearing. “I’ve heard the testimony. I will reserve decision.”

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