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NYPD Admits It Wrongly Accused Lauren Davis of Biking Against Traffic

NYPD has amended the crash report that wrongly accused Lauren Davis of biking against traffic when she was struck and killed by a turning driver on Classon Avenue the morning of April 15.

As head of NYPD Highway Patrol, Deputy Inspector Michael Ameri is responsible for police crash investigations.

As head of NYPD Highway Patrol, Deputy Inspector Michael Ameri is responsible for police crash investigations.

Yesterday, Streetsblog published an account from witness Rebecca Ballantine, who was biking on Classon at the same time as Davis and said she was “absolutely sure [Davis] was not biking against traffic.” At the time we ran the story, NYPD’s public information office still said Davis was biking the wrong way when she was struck.

Now NYPD has updated its crash report, according to Nathan Tempey at Gothamist:

A department representative said this morning that investigators have amended their report to indicate that Davis was riding with traffic, and that they are in conversation with the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office about possible charges.

While it’s good that police have corrected their mistake and are moving forward with the investigation, much of the damage has already been done. False information permeated the news cycle following the crash, feeding the perception that cyclists are culpable when they’re struck and killed by motorists.

Now the question is: What will NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton and Highway Patrol chief Michael Ameri, who’s in charge of the Collision Investigation Squad, do to prevent this from happening again?

NYPD’s premature judgment in this case is part of a broader pattern of police bias in crash investigations, which often leads to press accounts that erroneously blame victims.

One reform was suggested by Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams — himself a former police officer — at a memorial ride held for Davis and James Gregg, who was killed last week while biking in Park Slope.

Adams called on police to refrain from publicly discussing details of crashes while investigations are underway, according to the Brooklyn Eagle. “We should not assume that the cyclist was always the person responsible for a crash or had accepted the risk simply by climbing on a bicycle,” he said.

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Witness: Lauren Davis Was Biking With Traffic, Not Against, as NYPD Claimed

A witness who was biking behind Lauren Davis at the time she was struck and killed by a turning driver on the morning of April 15 says she is “absolutely sure [Davis] was not biking against traffic.”

As head of NYPD Highway Patrol, Deputy Inspector Michael Ameri is responsible for police crash investigations.

The eyewitness account directly contradicts the version of events police have propagated since the immediate aftermath of the crash, when NYPD told several news outlets, including Streetsblog, that Davis was biking against traffic.

The discrepancy fits a pattern of police bias, in which NYPD supplies reporters with information exonerating drivers who kill pedestrians or cyclists immediately after a crash, forming the basis of most media coverage. With alarming regularity, those initial NYPD reports and press accounts are proven erroneous when witness testimony or video evidence implicating the driver surfaces later on.

No charges have been filed against the driver who killed Lauren Davis.

Rebecca Ballantine was biking north on Classon Avenue at around 8:30 a.m. that Friday after seeing her son onto a school bus. She first noticed Davis stopped at a red light facing north on Classon at the intersection of Gates Avenue, wearing a helmet. Ballantine proceeded when there was a gap in traffic, before the light turned green, she said, while Davis stayed behind.

Soon after, Davis overtook Ballantine heading north, in the direction of traffic. Davis worked at Pratt, and Classon would have taken her to the campus.

At the time the driver, a 41-year-old woman, struck Davis at Lexington Avenue, two blocks north of Gates, Ballantine says she was behind Davis but less than a block away.

Ballantine said her impression of the lead-up to the collision is not completely clear, but she saw the moment of impact. “I thought [Davis] was going [straight] on Classon as the driver made the turn,” she said, describing a “left-hook” scenario in which the driver failed to yield. (NYPD told reporters that the driver turned left from Classon onto Lexington.)

One thing Ballantine is certain of is that Davis, contrary to NYPD’s account, was not riding the wrong way. “I am absolutely sure she was not biking against traffic,” she said. “I was very aware of her.”

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Pat Lynch Makes the Case for Automated Traffic Enforcement

If there’s one thing to glean from the story of Joseph Spina — the NYPD officer who got caught on tape telling a motorist, “Mayor de Blasio wants us to give out summonses, okay?” — it’s that NYC needs more automated traffic enforcement.

Whatever you think of NYPD’s decision to suspend Spina without pay, the incident has brought to the surface the disdain that officers feel for enforcing traffic laws. If police are so squeamish, maybe the job should be entrusted to a system that doesn’t get embarrassed by the prospect of protecting New Yorkers from speeding and careless driving.

One officer told the Post he blames the mayor “all the time” when issuing traffic citations. And PBA President Pat Lynch, the man NYPD rank-and-file elected to represent them, complained that Vision Zero “boils down to police officers enforcing traffic laws” (right, can you believe it?) and “subjecting New Yorkers to expensive summonses that many cannot afford to pay.”

For the record, NYPD traffic summons activity in 2014 and 2015 did not measurably increase compared to the previous three years under Mayor Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly. What shifted was the proportion of tickets issued for the most dangerous violations — speeding and failure to yield.

More to the point, Lynch doesn’t seem to care in the least about saving New Yorkers from the anguish and pain caused by dangerous driving.

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Another Person Killed by Turning Motorist in the 109th Precinct

Council Member Peter Koo, Representative Grace Meng, Deputy Inspector Thomas Conforti, Assembly Member Mike Simanowitz, and Assembly Member Ron Kim. Motorists have killed at least three people walking in the 109th Precinct since these officials held a press event last November to blame victims of traffic violence.

Council Member Peter Koo, Representative Grace Meng, Deputy Inspector Thomas Conforti, Assembly Member Mike Simanowitz, and Assembly Member Ron Kim. Motorists have killed at least three people walking in the 109th Precinct since these officials held a press event last November to blame victims of traffic violence.

An ambulette driver was charged under the Right of Way Law for striking and killing a pedestrian in Flushing.

The crash happened Tuesday at around 8:57 a.m. The victim — a 57-year-old man whose name has not been released by police, pending family notification — was crossing 35th Avenue in the crosswalk when Ramon Ortiz, 55, struck him with an SUV while turning left onto the avenue from Prince Street, according to NYPD and reports from the Daily News and QNS.com.

The victim died at New York Presbyterian Hospital. Ortiz was arrested and charged with violating the victim’s right of way, a police spokesperson told Streetsblog.

The victim was at least the third pedestrian killed by a motorist in the 109th Precinct this year, according to crash data compiled by Streetsblog. In at least one other case the victim was struck by a driver making a turn. The precinct is where a driver who failed to yield killed 3-year-old Allison Liao in 2013.

Officers in the 109th Precinct ticketed 867 drivers for failing to yield and 738 drivers for speeding in 2015, according to NYPD summons data. In response to a series of pedestrian fatalities last year, the precinct and local electeds made a show of blaming people for their own deaths.

Prince Street and 35th Avenue in Flushing, where a pedestrian was struck and killed by a driver who police say failed to yield. Image: Google Maps

Prince Street and 35th Avenue in Flushing, where a pedestrian was struck and killed by a driver who police say failed to yield. Image: Google Maps

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NYPD on Parking Perks for Press: Do as We Say, Not as We Do

The City Council’s attempt to return parking privileges to the New York press corps faces opposition, ironically enough, from the New York City Police Department.

Intro. 779, sponsored by transportation committee chair Ydanis Rodriguez and 34 of his colleagues, would allow people with press-designated license plates from New York, New Jersey, or Connecticut to “park where parking or standing is otherwise prohibited except where standing or stopping is prohibited to all motor vehicles” without any time limit or payment, so long as the driver is “engaged in the covering of a news event or matter of public concern.”

A car with state-issued press license plates parked illegally on Jay Street in Downtown Brooklyn. Photo: David Meyer

A car with state-issued press license plates parked illegally on Jay Street in Downtown Brooklyn. Photo: David Meyer

While the bill would not provide physical parking placards for press vehicles, the effect would essentially be the same. There are supposed to be limits on the parking privileges conferred by placards, but in practice, placards are routinely abused as a blanket exemption from all parking laws.

“Let me make it clear, our members are not looking for some sort of perk. This is about allowing working journalists to more efficiently relay information to the people of New York City,” said Steve Scott of the New York Press Club. “We can’t do that if we’re circling the block looking for a place to park.”

The press was explicitly given a similar privilege until 2009, when Mayor Michael Bloomberg stripped it as part of a general cutback on placard distribution. Currently, vehicles with state-issued “New York Press” license plates may park in certain press-designated parking zones. Members of the media at today’s hearing conceded they already count on lenient traffic enforcement agents to give them a pass when they park illegally.

The agency with the most placards is NYPD, whose officers have made a laughingstock of the current system by parking their personal vehicles anywhere with impunity, with or without official placards. So it was more than a little ironic that NYPD Inspector Dennis Fulton opposed the expansion of parking perks at today’s City Council transportation committee meeting.

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NYPD and DOT Back Bill to Expand Right of Way for Pedestrians

Legislation proposed by Public Advocate Letitia James would ensure that pedestrians who enter during the "Pedestrian Change Interval" have the right of way against turning vehicles. Image: DOT

Intro 997 would ensure that pedestrians who enter a crosswalk during the flashing “Pedestrian Change Interval” have the right of way under New York City law. Image: DOT

NYPD and DOT both support a bill to give pedestrians more legal protection under the city’s Right of Way Law.

The Right of Way Law took effect in August 2014 and made it a misdemeanor to hit a pedestrian or cyclist who has the right of way. But district attorneys and the police department often decline to bring charges under the law, citing a traffic rule that pedestrians who enter the crosswalk once the “Don’t Walk” warning begins to flash do not have the right of way. Compounding the problem, the flashing phase has become longer and the steady “Walk” phase has become shorter at many intersections where the city has installed countdown clocks.

Last fall, Public Advocate Letitia James sponsored Intro 997 to remedy the situation by extending the right of way to everyone in the crosswalk during both the steady “Walk” phase and the flashing phase.

In testimony today to the City Council transportation committee, James called the current rules a “fatal flaw” and “counterintuitive.” She argued that Intro 997 would bring the law in line with the standard practice of most New Yorkers. “At a time when our city is so rightfully concerned about addressing these avoidable deaths and injuries, fixing this problem seems like an obvious and important way to make meaningful progress,” James said.

DOT Deputy Commissioner Ryan Russo and Inspector Dennis Fulton of the NYPD Transportation Bureau expressed support for the bill, which Fulton said has “been the subject of robust discussions” between the James’s office, the City Council and the relevant city agencies. Russo told the committee that the bill would “align the law with the acknowledged reality on our streets and our concern for pedestrians’ safety.”

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No Charges for UES Motorist Who Killed Senior While Backing Up to Park

Mary Jo Myszelow was killed by a driver backing up to get a parking spot on Madison Avenue near E. 95th Street. No charges were filed. Image: Google Maps

Mary Jo Myszelow was killed by a driver backing up to get a parking spot on Madison Avenue near E. 95th Street. No charges were filed. Image: Google Maps

Another New York City pedestrian has been killed by a motorist backing up in pursuit of a parking space.

At around 5:50 p.m. on March 26, Mary Jo Myszelow, 76, was crossing Madison Avenue near E. 95th Street, east to west, when she was hit with a 2013 Lincoln sedan. The Post reported that the driver, headed north on Madison, “spotted an available spot” and was backing toward it as Myszelow began to cross the street.

WNBC said Myszelow, who suffered a head injury, was “conscious and alert” at the scene. Reports conflict as to whether she died last Thursday or Friday.

Myszelow lived in Cornwall, in Orange County. An obituary published by the Middletown Times Herald-Record, which gives the date of death as March 31, says she once worked at RCA and the United Nations. “Besides being fluent in Italian, she taught English to children while living in Germany,” the obituary says. “As a world traveler Mary Jo visited China, Tibet, Australia, Turkey, Peru, Italy, France, Spain, Morocco, Mexico and the Galapagos Islands.”

The driver who killed Mary Jo Myszelow, whose name was shielded by police, was not charged criminally or issued a traffic ticket. NYPD said Myszelow was crossing in the middle of the block, but state law says “[t]he driver of a vehicle shall not back the same unless such movement can be made with safety.” An NYPD spokesperson told Streetsblog the investigation into the crash was ongoing as of this morning.

Myszelow was the second NYC pedestrian known to have been fatally struck by a driver backing up for a parking spot in the last four weeks. Motorists have killed six pedestrians while driving in reverse on New York City streets since May 2015, according to crash data compiled by Streetsblog.

Mary Jo Myszelow was one of at least two pedestrians killed by motorists in the 19th Precinct in March. The crash occurred in Community District 8 — where NIMBYs scream bloody murder at the prospect of minor street safety improvements — and in the City Council district represented by Dan Garodnick.

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Streetsblog FOILs NYPD for Data on Crashes Involving Police

Streetsblog has filed a freedom of information request for NYPD data on traffic crashes involving NYPD personnel.

Photo: ddartley/Flickr

NYPD is the only city agency that does not contribute to a database intended to quantify and reduce fleet vehicle crashes. Photo: ddartley/Flickr

NYPD doesn’t tell the public — or other city agencies — how many crashes police officers and other department staff get into, or what the costs are in terms of injuries, deaths, and property damage.

When the Department of Citywide Administrative Services last year released an analysis of collisions involving city fleet vehicles, data on NYPD collisions was not included. That’s because NYPD is the only agency that does not contribute to the city database tracking those crashes.

The city’s CRASH database tracks collisions that result in injuries, and specifies how many victims were walking and riding bikes. DCAS called the database “one of our major commitments as part of Vision Zero for the city fleet,” but Mayor de Blasio has not compelled NYPD to participate.

As NYPD stonewalls, the annual comptroller’s report on claims against the city, including those stemming from vehicle crashes, may be instructive. In FY 2014, NYPD had “the highest settlement and judgment costs” of all city agencies, according to Comptroller Scott Stringer’s office. The FY 14 total of $216.9 million in NYPD-related payouts marked a significant increase from the $138 million the department cost the city in FY 2013.

On-duty NYPD officers have struck and killed at least three pedestrians since 2012, according to crash data tracked by Streetsblog, and NYPD chases have resulted in the deaths of several others. The crash that killed Brooklyn teacher Felix Coss, and the pending lawsuit filed by the victim’s family, made national news recently when Streetsblog posted video that showed the officer who hit Coss failed to yield. The problem of vehicle crashes that involve police is significant enough that former comptroller John Liu recommended “on-going training regarding police vehicle chases that balance both law enforcement goals and liability concerns.”

In our freedom of information request, we asked NYPD for the most recent five years of department data on collisions involving NYPD vehicles, on-duty personnel, and vehicles and drivers contracted by the department. We’ll keep you posted.

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NYPD Clears Hit-and-Run Driver and Blames Deceased Victim in the Press

NYPD says a man struck by a hit-and-run driver in East Harlem killed himself by lying in the street. While psychologizing the deceased victim to the press, police defended the driver, and filed no charges against him for leaving the scene of a fatal crash.

Christopher Costa was hit on Madison Avenue at E. 115th Street between 9:30 and 10 p.m. Tuesday. Yesterday the Daily News reported that after Costa was struck, “several motorists drove around his body without even stopping.”

Christopher Costa was killed in East Harlem by a hit-and-run driver who was not charged. Photo via Daily News

Christopher Costa was killed in East Harlem by a hit-and-run driver who was not charged. Photo via Daily News

“He was face up, but his skull was open,” witness Vivian Rolon told the News. “The cars didn’t stop. They just kept driving around him.”

Costa was pronounced dead at Mount Sinai Hospital.

Today the News and the Post reported that, according to anonymous police sources, Costa laid down in the street before he was run over. According to the News, in one video of the crash Costa “suddenly [shows] up lying motionless in the roadway behind a speeding car.” That video was posted by DNAinfo and is embedded above.

The News reported that a second video, which NYPD has not released to the press, “shows Costa walking into the street and lying down in a prone position before he was struck.” It’s unclear why NYPD released one video but not the one that depicts the police account of the crash.

The Post said Costa “committed suicide.” Two unnamed people, cited as “a police source and a witness,” told the News “Costa had a serious drug problem and had been drinking.” Police also noted that Costa was “wearing all black.”

While speculating to the media on the motives and actions of a victim who can’t speak for himself, with a helping of juicy gossip concerning his personal life, unnamed police sources absolved the driver, whose identity was shielded.

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NYPD: Teacher Killed by Cop in Crosswalk “Assumed Risk” by Crossing Street


NYPD and the city Law Department are fighting a lawsuit filed by the family of a Brooklyn man who was killed in a crosswalk by an on-duty officer, on the grounds that the victim behaved recklessly by crossing the street.

Felix Coss was crossing Broadway at Hooper Street in Williamsburg, in a crosswalk with the signal, on the afternoon of July 6, 2013, when Officer Paula Medrano of the 90th Precinct struck him with a marked police van while turning left. Coss, a 61-year-old veteran Spanish teacher, suffered severe head injuries and died that night at Bellevue Hospital.

Felix Coss. Photo via DNAinfo

Video of the crash shows Medrano stopped at the Hooper Street crosswalk on the north side of the intersection as Coss, approaching from the south, stops for the signal. When the light changes, Coss enters the Broadway crosswalk, still facing Medrano, as Medrano accelerates into the intersection and turns left, driving directly into Coss and knocking him to the asphalt.

The NYPD crash report says Medrano “had the green light,” but does not indicate Coss was crossing with the walk signal and had the right of way.

Following up on a witness statement that Medrano was on her cell phone at the time of the crash, the Internal Affairs Bureau subpoenaed her phone records, according to the Daily NewsBut just two days after Coss was killed the Post reported that Medrano probably wouldn’t be summonsed or charged by NYPD. Though Coss “had the pedestrian signal,” the Post reported, “No criminality and no traffic-law violations are suspected.”

“It was a tragic, unfortunate accident,” an anonymous NYPD source said.

NYPD denied a Streetsblog freedom of information request for files related to the crash.

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