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NYPD Denies FOIL Request for Files on NYPD Crash That Killed Felix Coss

NYPD rejected a Streetsblog freedom of information request for files pertaining to a crash in which an on-duty officer killed a pedestrian in Brooklyn.

Felix Coss. Photo via DNAinfo

Felix Coss, 61, was crossing Broadway at Hooper Street, in a crosswalk with the signal, on the afternoon of July 6, 2013, when Officer Paula Medrano struck him with a marked van from the 90th Precinct while making a left turn, according to reports and photos of the scene.

DNAinfo and the Daily News cited witnesses who said Medrano was seen talking on a cell phone at the time of the collision. “She had a cellphone to her right ear,” a witness told the Daily News. “She hit him. When she hit him, he fell on the floor and cracked his head open.”

The crash was reportedly investigated by the Internal Affairs Bureau, but the results of that investigation were not publicized in the media. Medrano’s name never appeared in an online database of court records.

On May 7, Streetsblog filed a FOIL request for records related to the crash. On May 26, NYPD Lieutenant Richard Mantellino rejected our request, citing “an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy,” the same language Mantellino used to deny our FOIL for records pertaining to the 2012 curb-jump crash that killed Mike Rogalle. As with the Rogalle crash, NYPD could have redacted whatever personal information the department deemed necessary, but again chose to withhold all files.

NYPD shields information pertaining to traffic crash investigations from the public — and victims’ families — as a matter of course. NYPD is especially secretive concerning crashes involving police personnel, withholding data even from other city departments.

Streetsblog is appealing NYPD’s rejection of our request for information on the crash that killed Felix Coss.

Read more…

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NYPD Denies Request for Files Related to Fatal Manhattan Curb-Jump Crash

Mike Rogalle appeared in a promotional video with Neil deGrasse Tyson, who noted his death on Facebook. Image: NOVA/YouTube via Facebook

Mike Rogalle appeared in a promotional video with Neil deGrasse Tyson before Rogalle was killed by a curb-jumping motorist in 2012. The driver was not charged. Image: NOVA/YouTube via Facebook

NYPD rejected a Streetsblog freedom of information request for files related to a curb-jump crash that killed a Manhattan pedestrian in the Financial District three years ago.

UPS man Mike Rogalle was working his regular route on the afternoon of April 17, 2012, when an SUV driver ran him over on the sidewalk outside 15 Beekman Street. Witnesses described an unthinkably gruesome scene, with Rogalle trapped under the vehicle before he was taken to the hospital in critical condition. Rogalle, 58, was removed from life support a few days after the crash.

Reports said there were two adults and two small children in the SUV at the time of the crash. The adult passenger, a man, was identified in the press as an FDNY inspector, and the driver was reportedly a woman. The names of the people in the SUV were not reported by the media.

NYPD and Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance filed no charges against the driver who killed Mike Rogalle.

On May 7, Streetsblog filed a FOIL request for records pertaining to the crash that killed Rogalle. On May 19, NYPD Lieutenant Richard Mantellino rejected the request, citing “an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.” NYPD could have released the records with personal information redacted, but instead denied our request outright. Mantellino’s letter is embedded after the jump.

Streetsblog is appealing NYPD’s rejection of our request. On Tuesday we filed a separate FOIL request for relevant records from DA Vance’s office.

Last month a hit-and-run driver ran over a woman on the sidewalk near the spot where Rogalle was hit. Vance filed felony charges in that case. Both crashes occurred near Spruce Street School, where, according to parents who have kids there, motorists regularly use the sidewalk to drive around traffic. Spruce Street parents and administrators asked DOT for improvements to Beekman before Rogalle was killed. DOT installed a stop light and street markings at Beekman and William streets but has not implemented measures, such as bollards, to keep drivers off the sidewalk.

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Cy Vance Files Felony Charges for Beekman Street Sidewalk Hit-and-Run

Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance has filed felony charges against a woman accused of driving onto a downtown sidewalk, striking a pedestrian, and leaving the scene.

Heather Hensl was walking on Beekman Street near William Street on April 13 when a motorist struck her, knocking her to the ground, lacerating her head and fracturing her leg. The driver did not stop.

Cy Vance. Photo: Manhattan DA

Video showed the driver “backing up several times in order to be able to make the turn onto the sidewalk and head west past a traffic jam” prior to the collision, according to Downtown Express. DNAinfo reported that the driver barely missed hitting other people, including children, who were able to get out of her path. The crash occurred near Spruce Street School, where, according to parents who have kids there, it’s not unusual for motorists to use the sidewalk to drive around traffic.

Police said the same car was involved in a second hit-and-run crash, involving a pedestrian in Brooklyn, shortly after Hensl was hit.

Earlier this month, Hensl said NYPD was prepared to close the case without filing charges because the woman identified as the vehicle’s owner lives in New Jersey. Police also said they were unable to find a witness who saw the driver through the vehicle’s tinted windows.

But on Wednesday the alleged driver, Tiffany Murdaugh, appeared in New York Criminal Court on multiple charges, according to Downtown Express and court records. Vance charged Murdaugh with assault, reckless endangerment, and leaving the scene of an accident, court records say. Assault and reckless endangerment are both class D felonies, with penalties ranging from probation to seven years in prison.

From Downtown Express:

According to the complaint, on Tuesday evening at the First Precinct, Murdaugh was shown video of the incident and identified the 2013 white Dodge Challenger in it as her vehicle. She also told police that “she had taken the Holland Tunnel into Manhattan that morning and that no one else had driven her vehicle that day,” according to the complaint.

“I’m very relieved,” said Hensl in a phone interview. “I’m glad that she is in jail right now and not on the street.”

Hensl said the assistant district attorney who called her felt confident in the case and she will testify before the grand jury.

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Will NYPD Charge Driver Who Rammed Woman on Sidewalk and Left Scene?

Beekman Street, with Spruce Street School and New York Presbyterian Lower Manhattan Hospital at right, where a driver hit Heather Hensl on the sidewalk and left the scene. Parents say motorists routinely drive on the sidewalk in front of the school to get around traffic. Image: Google Maps

Beekman Street, with Spruce Street School and New York Presbyterian Lower Manhattan Hospital at right, where a driver hit Heather Hensl on the sidewalk and left the scene. Parents say motorists routinely drive on the sidewalk in front of the school to get around traffic. Image: Google Maps

A motorist who deliberately drove down a Manhattan sidewalk, rammed a pedestrian, left the scene and reportedly hit a second person in Brooklyn might not be charged with a crime, according to one of the victims.

Heather Hensl was walking on Beekman Street near William Street on April 13 when a motorist struck her, knocking her to the ground, lacerating her head and fracturing her leg. The driver did not stop. In an email to Downtown Express, Hensl, a 37-year-old physician assistant, said she is on crutches and may require knee surgery, in addition to physical therapy.

The crash occurred near Spruce Street School. Parents of kids who attend the school say it’s not unusual for motorists to use the sidewalk to drive around traffic.

From Downtown Express:

Video viewed by Downtown Express shows the driver backing up several times in order to be able to make the turn onto the sidewalk and head west past a traffic jam.

Captain Mark Iocco, the First Precinct’s commanding officer, said the same car was involved in an accident in Brooklyn about 30 minutes after that incident. The car was pulling into a parking spot and hit an elderly lady, he said at last week’s meeting of the First Precinct Community Council. The elderly woman couldn’t identify her, and could only confirm that the driver was a female, he said.

The suspect has filed an insurance claim. The police are working with the insurance company and they are “investigating her up and down,” said Iocco.

The driver barely missed striking other people on Beekman, including children, who were able to get out of her path, DNAinfo reported. “[The driver] drove on the sidewalk as if it was a lane,” one witness said. “So fast that I turned my head and I didn’t see the car.”

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No Felony Charge From Queens DA for Repeat Reckless Driver Who Hit Senior

Queens District Attorney Richard Brown agreed to drop felony charges against an unlicensed and allegedly impaired driver who ran over a senior and tried to flee the scene. Brown allowed the motorist to plead to a misdemeanor.

richardbrown

Queens DA Richard Brown

On October 21, 2014, William Stafford “plowed his 2005 BMW into an 89-year-old man” at the intersection of 25th Avenue and 44th Street in Astoria, the Daily News reported.

He stopped and tried to drive away, but horrified witnesses said they stopped him from speeding off.

“It’s like the whole neighborhood got together and followed him,” witness Lili Skorpanic, 54, said.

At least three motorists held him for police, who took him into custody without incident.

The senior, known in the neighborhood as Benny, was bleeding from the ears.

NYPD recorded the incident as an injury crash in the department’s October collision data report.

According to the Daily News, “Stafford was arrested two times before, once for driving on a suspended license in 2008 and once for drunk driving in 2009.” After the October crash, Brown charged Stafford with felony assault, felony leaving the scene, operating a motor vehicle while impaired by drugs, aggravated unlicensed operation, and other offenses, according to court records.

But on Monday, Stafford pled guilty to one count of misdemeanor leaving the scene, court records say. The felony assault charge was dismissed. For hitting an 89-year-old man with a car and attempting to flee the scene, Stafford faces a maximum penalty of a year in jail. The sentence will likely be lighter.

Brown has a long history of failing to impose serious consequences on motorists who injure, maim, and kill people. Brown filed no charges against a man who drove onto a sidewalk and ran down five children outside a school in Maspeth. When a motorist ran over 3-year-old Allison Liao in a Flushing crosswalk, Brown’s office defended him and wrote off the crash as an “accident.”

William Stafford is scheduled to be sentenced in June. Richard Brown is up for reelection later this year.

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Parents of Lucian Merryweather: Our Son’s Killer Should Never Drive Again

Vigil for Lucian Merryweather, November 5, 2013. Photo: Fort Greene Focus/Ben Brody/Flickr

Vigil for Lucian Merryweather, November 5, 2013. Photo: Fort Greene Focus/Ben Brody/Flickr

This week, Anthony Byrd was formally sentenced for fatally striking 9-year-old Lucian Merryweather on a Brooklyn sidewalk.

On November 2, 2013, Byrd drove a Ford SUV into two cars and a building after swerving to avoid two people in a crosswalk at DeKalb and Clermont Avenues. He then made a U-turn and drove against traffic on DeKalb, struck a woman in a crosswalk, hit a parked vehicle, and drove onto the sidewalk a second time, striking Lucian and his younger brother.

Byrd was charged by former DA Charles Hynes with second degree assault — a class D felony — criminally negligent homicide, and other charges and traffic infractions. However, Byrd was indicted on a top charge of homicide — a class E felony, the least severe felony category — and the class D second degree assault charge was reduced to misdemeanor assault, according to court records.

In March, District Attorney Ken Thompson and Byrd agreed to a plea arrangement of five years probation, 20 days of community service, and a five-year license revocation.

Lucian’s parents, Anna Kovel and Greg Merryweather, sent us a statement on Byrd’s plea deal, printed below in its entirety.

We, the parents of Lucian Merryweather, who was killed by a reckless driver on November 2, 2013, in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, worked closely with the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office to construct a plea bargain deal for the driver, Anthony Byrd, so that we could be certain that the killer of our bright and beautiful 9-year-old boy pleaded guilty to the highest charge he received: Criminally Negligent Homicide.

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New Families For Safe Streets Campaign Defends Right of Way Law

fss1Families For Safe Streets released videos and posters this morning defending the Right of Way Law, in response to a campaign by Transport Workers Union Local 100, which wants MTA bus drivers exempted from the law.

The Right of Way Law, passed unanimously by the City Council and signed by Mayor Bill de Blasio last June, allows for low-level misdemeanor charges against drivers who injure or kill people who are walking or biking with the right of way. If found guilty, the driver can be punished with a fine or jail time, though in practice, unclassified misdemeanors are often pled down to a traffic violation.

A bill from Council Member I. Daneek Miller to amend the law and exempt MTA bus operators has support from 25 of the City Council’s 51 members. There is also a bill in Albany that would prevent police from detaining bus operators, though other drivers could still be arrested.

Before the Right of Way Law, with a tiny number of exceptions, drivers who were sober and stayed on the scene did not receive as much as a careless driving ticket for injuring or killing someone. When drivers were cited, the state Department of Motor Vehicles sometimes dismissed the tickets.

The Right of Way Law addresses this problem by allowing police to file charges against drivers who break the law and run people over. MTA bus drivers struck and killed nine pedestrians last year. In eight of those cases, the pedestrian had the right of way.

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Vance Upgrades Charges, Secures Manslaughter Indictment for LES Crash

Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance secured a manslaughter indictment against a driver accused of killing a pedestrian in a high-speed crash on the Lower East Side.

Cy Vance. Photo: Manhattan DA

A Vance press release says that on the evening of November 24, 2014, Danny Lin was allegedly speeding northbound on the Bowery in a BMW when he drove into 57-year-old Robert Perry near the Rivington Street intersection, hitting Perry with such force that he was thrown a distance of more than 140 feet. “After striking Mr. Perry,” the press release says, “Lin continued a block before driving onto the sidewalk and crashing into a fire hydrant near several pedestrians.”

Perry died soon after he was taken to the hospital.

Lin, 24, was initially charged with homicide and leaving the scene. Earlier this month, Vance issued a more severe charge of manslaughter, according to court records. Vance announced Lin’s indictment today.

From the Vance press release:

“Less than three weeks before this fatal collision, New York City lowered its speed limit, recognizing that pedestrians struck by vehicles traveling at 30 miles per hour are twice as likely to die as those struck at 25 miles per hour,” said District Attorney Vance. “This defendant is charged with speeding down the Bowery at more than twice the new speed limit, allegedly striking and killing a 57-year-old man. Miraculously, no one else was hurt when the car he was driving crashed into a hydrant on a sidewalk filled with other pedestrians. City streets are no place for this kind of reckless driving and dangerous speed.”

In New York State, criminally negligent homicide is a class E felony, the lowest level felony category, with a maximum penalty of four years in jail. Manslaughter is a class C felony, and carries penalties ranging from probation to 15 years in prison.

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A Bus Design Flaw Is No Reason to Gut the Right of Way Law

As part of its campaign to make it legal for bus drivers to injure and kill people, the Transport Workers Union says flawed bus design is to blame for bus drivers hitting pedestrians while turning.

Ella Bandes was killed by a bus driver turning right in 2013.

According to WABC, the TWU claims “half of all recent bus accidents” in NYC and nationwide occurred because drivers were prevented from seeing pedestrians while turning left. TWU and the Amalgamated Transit Union say the issue is that driver visibility is obstructed by the left-hand windshield pillar and the driver’s side rear view mirror.

“There’s a blind spot that’s 14 inches wide that obscures not only one pedestrian but as many as 15,” ATU International President Larry Hanley told WCBS. The unions say “newly-designed” buses are the problem.

Of the nine crashes in 2014 where an MTA bus driver killed a pedestrian, three drivers were reportedly turning left and five were turning right. I looked back through media reports on those eight crashes. Most didn’t have photos from the scene, but of the three that did, each bus was a different model.

In a statement, the MTA said bus drivers are trained to see pedestrians by “leaning into and out of their mirrors while seated to ensure that their line of sight is not obstructed.”

Mayor de Blasio said Wednesday that if it poses a threat to safety, bus design should be looked at. “But in the here and now,” de Blasio said, “our message to everyone in this city, whether they work for the city, or they work for the MTA, or a private individual, is you have to drive safely. You have to yield to pedestrians. You have to respect that there’s new laws now that clearly penalize those who do not yield to pedestrians.”

If it turns out that MTA buses were built in such a way that endangers people, by all means, fix the buses. But as the mayor indicated, everyone who drives in NYC must yield to people walking. A bus design flaw is no reason to gut the Right of Way Law.

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NYPD Tickets Driver After Blaming Staten Island Teen for Her Own Death

After initially blaming the victim in the press, NYPD issued a careless driving summons to the monster truck driver who killed 15-year-old Jenna Daniels as she jogged along a Staten Island street last winter. The department refused to release the driver’s name or disclose how he was penalized, the Staten Island Advance reports.

After blaming Jenna Daniels for her own death, NYPD found the motorist who hit her failed to exercise due care.  Photo via Staten Island Advance

After blaming Jenna Daniels for her own death, NYPD found the motorist who hit her failed to exercise due care. Photo via Staten Island Advance

The driver hit Daniels with a pickup truck as he made a left turn from Hylan Boulevard onto Bayview Avenue in Prince’s Bay on the afternoon of November 15, according to the Advance. Police said Daniels was on Hylan, crossing Bayview from west to east, when she was struck. She suffered severe head trauma and was declared dead on arrival at the hospital.

Photos taken at the scene showed a black Ford F-150 with a raised chassis, oversized aftermarket wheels, a blacked-out grille and front bumper, and tinted headlights. In the photos, the truck is sitting in the street a few yards from the crosswalk.

In November, before completing an investigation, NYPD issued a “preliminary” finding that Daniels was jogging “outside the crosswalk … with headphones in her ears.” Jogging with headphones is legal, and according to attorney Steve Vaccaro, mid-block crossings are permitted on the street where the crash occurred.

While NYPD emphasized Daniels’s actions, the driver’s speed at the time of the collision “was not recorded as part of the CIS report.” The driver was ticketed for tinted windows, but police said they “did not contribute to the crash.”

In November NYPD told the Advance the driver “had the right of way” and that “pedestrian error: crossing outside marked crosswalk” caused the crash. But in March, with a “months-long investigation” complete, the Advance reported that police summonsed the driver for failure to exercise due care.

Despite NYPD’s determination that the motorist was driving carelessly, and the absence of evidence that the victim was breaking traffic rules, an NYPD spokesperson said Daniels “contributed to the collision.”

NYPD continued to shield the driver’s identity and “declined to divulge the driver’s punishment,” the Advance reported.