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When Traffic Deaths Don’t Make the News: Jelani Irving, 22

Jelani Irving. Photo from the Irving family via Ghost Bike Project

Jelani Irving. Photo from the Irving family via Ghost Bike Project

While NYC traffic deaths are down in the first few months of 2014, they are still so frequent that not every fatality gets reported in the news. This is often the case when a victim dies from injuries in the hospital days after a crash. That’s what happened earlier this year to 22-year-old Jelani Irving.

Irving was critically injured just before 6:15 a.m. on February 2 while riding his bike at the intersection of Classon Avenue and Washington Avenue in Crown Heights. Irving’s sister, Imani Irving, said he was riding his bike home from work after his shift as a yellow cab driver.

Police say Irving was struck by a 61-year-old man driving a 1999 Nissan Maxima northbound on Washington. The driver was turning right onto Classon — a turn with a very obtuse angle that motorists can make at speed — and struck Irving as he was cycling south in the northbound lane. NYPD says Irving veered left, crossing the path of the driver. The driver was cited for two equipment violations; press reports at the time said they were for bald rear tires. There were no citations or arrests related to Irving’s death.

Irving, unconscious and in cardiac arrest, was taken to Kings County Hospital and classified by NYPD as likely to die. He died of his injuries four days later.

The crash was covered by the Brooklyn Paper and Gothamist but it was not known that it caused Irving’s death until his name later appeared in WNYC’s “Mean Streets” traffic fatalities tracker.

Irving’s cousin, Daniel Gregoire, works at a Unitarian church in Pennsylvania and wrote about his family’s loss on the church’s website:

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The Weekly Carnage

The Weekly Carnage is a Friday round-up of motor vehicle violence across the five boroughs. For more on the origins and purpose of this column, please read About the Weekly Carnage.

Kelly Gordon was hit by two cab drivers on the Upper East Side. Media reports indicated Gordon was walking against the light but made no mention of driver speed. Photo via ##http://www.nbcnewyork.com/news/local/Upper-East-Side-Pedestrian-Killed-Upper-East-Side-York-Avenue-254854591.html##WNBC##

Kelly Gordon was hit by two cab drivers on the Upper East Side. Media reports indicated Gordon was walking against the light but made no mention of driver speed. Photo via WNBC

Fatal Crashes (9 Killed Since March 28; 52 This Year; 2 Drivers Charged*)

  • Yorkville: Kelly Gordon, 22, Struck by Two Cab Drivers Crossing York Ave. (NewsDNA)
  • Bed-Stuy: Cyclist Angel Torres, 46, Killed in Hit-and-Run (Streetsblog, DNA 1, 2)
  • Riverdale: Ida Rosenblatt, 87, Struck Crossing the Street; No Charges (R’dale Press)
  • East Elmhurst: Fidel Vidal Diaz, 31, Struck by Two Drivers on Grand Central Parkway (DNA, Post)
  • Astoria: Jada Butts, 19; Darius Fletcher, 21; Jaleel Furtado, 20; and Crystal Gravely, 19, Killed After Driver of Car They Were Riding in Struck Curb, Drove Into Creek (DNAPostTL)
  • Canarsie: Nikon Vouyiouklis, 60, Killed in Crash With Drunk Driver Charged With Homicide (PostNews)

A motorist drove onto the sidewalk and hit the News Corp. building in Midtown. Five people were injured, two seriously. Photo: WNBC

A motorist drove onto the sidewalk and hit the News Corp. building in Midtown. Five people were injured, two seriously. Photo: WNBC

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Why Is America Falling Farther Behind Other Nations on Street Safety?

The United States has fallen behind peer nations in reducing traffic fatalities. Image: International Traffic Safety Data and Analysis Group

The United States continues to fall farther behind peer nations in reducing traffic fatalities. Image: International Traffic Safety Data and Analysis Group

Vox, the much-anticipated Ezra Klein/Matt Yglesias reporting venture, launched earlier this week to wide fanfare, and one of the first articles explained that “traffic deaths are way, way down” in the United States.

It was exciting to see Vox show an interest in street safety, but writer Susannah Locke missed the mark with her take on the issue.

Locke called a decades-long reduction in traffic deaths to 33,561 in 2012 “a major public health victory.” What we’re talking about here is that only 11 of every 100,000 Americans were killed in traffic that year, which, she rightly points out, is a dramatic improvement compared to the 1970s, when the fatality rate was 27 per 100,000 people.

But compared to our international peers, the United States is still doing a poor job of reducing traffic deaths. Rather than hailing the decline in traffic deaths in America, we should be asking why we continue to fall behind other countries when it comes to keeping people safe on our streets.

Americans are killed by traffic at an appalling rate compared to residents of peer nations, as shown in a review of dozens of countries by the International Traffic Safety Data and Analysis Group [PDF]. In Japan, the traffic fatality rate is much lower — 4.3 deaths per 100,000 people in 2011. In Germany, the rate is 4.9 per 100,000. In Sweden, 3.4 per 100,000. And in the United Kingdom, just 3.1. If the United States had a comparable street safety record, tens of thousands of lives would be saved each year.

What’s shocking is not only that those countries have much lower rates of traffic deaths — it’s that they’ve also reduced those rates at a much more effective clip than the United States. The streets of our peer countries are becoming safer, faster.

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Driver Fatally Strikes Bushwick Cyclist, Hits Cars, Leaves Scene [Updated]

Broadway at Halsey Street in Bushwick. Image: Google Maps

Broadway at Halsey Street in Bushwick. Image: Google Maps

Update: The cyclist has been identified by WNBC as Angel Torres. The driver remained at large Thursday morning.

A driver killed a cyclist in Brooklyn this morning and injured another motorist before fleeing the scene on foot.

The crash occurred at around 8 a.m., when a man driving a BMW sedan hit a man on a bike at the intersection of Broadway and Halsey Street in Bushwick, according to the Post.

“It happened so fast. We saw the man on top of the car and we were like wow,” said a witness, Shante Washington, 24, who works at Dunkin Donuts nearby.

“I was going to throw up. I’ve never seen anything like that, it’s not something that happens every day,” she explained.

“I went outside I seen the guy laying in front of Rite Aid his head was all messed up and they [emergency responders] already started working on him,” she said.

After striking the cyclist, the driver hit a parked car, drove the wrong way down a one-way street and crashed into an SUV, injuring the driver of the second vehicle, the Post and WNBC reported. “He got out of the car walked away, went across the street, then went back to the car grabbed two bags and left,” witness Ray McCall told the Post.

The cyclist, 46, died at Woodhull Hospital. NYPD had not released his name as of this writing, and no arrests had been made.

This fatal crash occurred on the border of the 73rd and 83rd Precincts, and in the City Council district represented by Rafael Espinal.

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Bronx DWI Pedestrian Killer Gets 90 Days and Six-Month License Suspension

A judge sentenced a convicted drunk driver to just 90 days in jail and a six-month license suspension for killing a pedestrian in the Bronx.

Thomas Riley, 23, was crossing East Fordham Road near Bathgate Avenue at around 4:20 a.m. on March 20, 2011, when 48-year-old Seth Johnson struck and killed him with a minivan, according to a Post story published the day after the crash.

Victim Thomas Riley and his son Julien. Photo via Daily News

Victim Thomas Riley and his son Julien. Photo via Daily News

Riley worked as a barber and had a young son. “My family is now torn apart because a drunk driver took his life away,” Riley’s sister told the Post.

Johnson was charged by Bronx District Attorney Robert Johnson with manslaughter, homicide, speeding, reckless driving, leaving the scene, and separate counts of driving while under the influence of alcohol and drugs. Last December a jury acquitted Johnson of manslaughter, homicide, and leaving the scene, finding him guilty on one count of driving drunk and one count of driving while impaired by drugs and alcohol.

“As a prosecutor, I accept the verdict of the jury,” Bronx vehicular crime chief Joe McCormack told Streetsblog after the trial. “We brought what we felt were appropriate charges, and we did the best we could trying the case.”

Johnson faced a year in jail, but on March 28, Judge Nicholas J. Iacovetta sentenced him to 90 days, three years probation, and $870 in fines, according to court records. His license was suspended for six months. So unless the New York State DMV takes action to keep him off the road, Johnson could driving again before long.

From the Daily News:

“He will be in jail for less than three months and I have to live with a life sentence,” the victim’s mother, Aurea Rivera, said after Bronx Supreme Court Justice Nicholas Iacovetta read the decision. “I want the laws changed so that no one else has to suffer like us.”

Rivera, joined in the courtroom by nearly a dozen friends and relatives, read a statement before the court and called on Mayor de Blasio and other elected officials to toughen vehicular manslaughter and drunk driving laws.

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The Weekly Carnage

The Weekly Carnage is a Friday round-up of motor vehicle violence across the five boroughs. For more on the origins and purpose of this column, please read About the Weekly Carnage.

A livery cab driver struck and seriously injured a 27-year-old pedestrian in Astoria. Photo: ##http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/queens/man-27-critical-struck-livery-cab-astoria-article-1.1731551##Daily News##

A livery cab driver struck and critically injured a 27-year-old pedestrian in Astoria. Photo: Daily News

Fatal Crashes (3 Killed This Week; 43 This Year; 1 Driver Charged*)

  • East Village: Lisa Julian, 47, Struck by SUV Driver Near Cooper Square (Streetsblog)
  • Crown Heights: Dylan Perry, 11, Dies from Injuries of Stepfather’s DWI Crash (NewsNYT, DNA)
  • Belmont: 25-Year-Old Dirt Biker Killed in Crash With Driver; Runaway Bike Injures Two Pedestrians (Post)

The ##http://nypost.com/2014/03/22/scare-allel-parking-in-bronx-as-cars-smash/##Post## had some fun with this crash in a Bronx precinct where local officers write around ##http://nypd.openscrape.com/data/2014/02/052sum.pdf##two speeding tickets a day##.

The Post had some fun with this crash in a Bronx precinct where officers write around two speeding tickets a day.

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NYPD and the Press Parrot Driver’s Account of Crash That Killed Lisa Julian

Yesterday’s fatal East Village crash is another example of how NYPD and the press blame deceased pedestrians and cyclists based mostly on the word of the drivers who killed them.

“Woman, 47, crossing against light in NoHo struck by car, killed on Thursday,” read the Daily News headline. But the only evidence presented that Lisa Julian was crossing against the light came from Oliver Parris, who hit her with an SUV as she crossed Third Avenue at St. Marks Place at around 6:30 a.m.

Lisa Julian. Photo via New York Post

Lisa Julian. Photo via New York Post

Here’s Parris, as quoted by the Daily News:

“I was trying to swerve from her and I couldn’t do it in time,” said Parris, who said that Julian was crossing against the light. Parris was on his way home from his job as a newspaper deliveryman at the time of the accident.

“She was walking,” he said. “I don’t think she was paying attention.”

And the Post:

“She was crossing against the light. I had a green light,” he said sadly.

“I tried to avoid her. I swerved.”

Julian was pronounced dead at Beth Israel hospital. ”She was a loving, upbeat, and interesting person,” Alexander Rubinstein, the victim’s boyfriend, told the Post. “She was very happy. It’s tough to talk about her right now.”

Reporters for the Daily News, the Post, and DNAinfo take care to note that Parris was upset, and that he did not flee the scene. These details cast Parris in a sympathetic light, and are offered in lieu of critical analysis. Not only do reporters accept Parris’s word that it was Julian who disregarded the signal, they don’t question whether Parris himself was “paying attention,” though state law requires motorists to exercise due care to avoid running people over.

Assuming that Julian did cross against the signal raises other issues. If reports are correct that Parris was driving straight ahead, why didn’t he see Julian in the street in front of him? How close did he get before he saw her? Why did he have to swerve in the first place? This information is critical to determining how the crash occurred. While it may be too early to expect answers to all these questions, it’s also premature to accept the driver’s account as definitive.

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The Weekly Carnage

The Weekly Carnage is a Friday round-up of motor vehicle violence across the five boroughs. For more on the origins and purpose of this column, please read About the Weekly Carnage.

Roshard Charles, 5, (right) was walking with his mother when a driver backed over him and fled the scene. Photo: ##http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/18/nyregion/child.html?ref=todayspaper&_r=1##NY Times##

Roshard Charles, 5, right, was walking with his mother when a driver backed over him and fled. The driver later returned to the scene and was arrested for hit-and-run and reckless driving. Photo: NY Times

Fatal Crashes (7 Killed Since March 8; 40 This Year; 1 Driver Charged*)

  • Crown Heights: Roshard Charles, 5, Backed Over by Hit-and-Run Driver While Walking With Mother (Streetsblog)
  • Sheepshead Bay: Pei Yao Wu, 82, Struck at Intersection With Marked Crosswalks; Driver Ticketed for Careless Driving and Failure to Yield (BNC)
  • Sheepshead Bay: Marlene Baharlias, 77, Backed Over by in Sidewalk by Driver Attempting to Park (Streetsblog 1, 2)**
  • Long Island City: Kumar Ragunath, 64, Killed by Hit-and-Run Driver on Northern Boulevard (Streetsblog)
  • Maspeth: Man Killed by Van Driver Backing Out of Driveway; Driver Issued Summons (TL, DNA)
  • Long Island City: Cab Driver Vadro Kone, 50, Crashes Into Wall, Other Cab on Queensboro Bridge Off-Ramp After Suffering Seizure (DNA, PostAMNY)
  • Greenpoint: Jorge Rios, 47, Crashes Motorcycle Into Car on Manhattan Avenue (DNA)

An SUV driver attempted to flee after crashing through a fence and landing on a moving Q train. Photo: ##http://nypost.com/2014/03/19/driver-flees-after-suv-lands-on-train-in-bizarre-crash/##NY Post##

An SUV driver attempted to flee after crashing through a fence and landing on a moving Q train. Photo: NY Post

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Witness: Crash That Killed Marlene Baharlias Likely Caught on Video

A man who says he saw the Tuesday crash that killed Marlene Baharlias echoes the story told by others: The driver backed into the senior on a Sheepshead Bay sidewalk. The witness believes a security camera in his building recorded the crash, but NYPD does not share details of crash investigations unless compelled by freedom of information requests.

Photo: ##http://media.ny1.com/media/2014/3/18/images/bkpedstruck77d56c6c-4ade-42b5-8284-8f761861d6c9.jpg##NY1##

Photo: NY1

Witnesses told Brooklyn Daily and News 12 that Baharlias, 77, and her husband were walking together near 2060 E. 19th Street when a woman driving a Mercedes SUV, reportedly attempting to park, accelerated in reverse, jumped the curb and struck her.

Colin Edwards sent us a corroborating account via email:

I was at my living room in the building when I heard the commotion. I looked from my window and saw the SUV backing very fast in reverse on the sidewalk. At this point the woman (Mrs. Baharlias) was already ran over by the car and laying in between the wheelbase of the car. Then the driver, in her panic, put the car in drive and ran the victim [over]  a second time, while the husband and two other guys were yelling at her to stop.

Baharlias was pronounced dead at Coney Island Hospital. No charges were immediately filed against the driver.

“It was absolutely criminal the speed and reckless manner [with] which the SUV driver reversed,” Edwards said. “She completely lost control over the car.”

As we wrote yesterday, anonymous NYPD sources told the Post Baharlias was jaywalking. The Post reported the claim without question. Many pedestrians and cyclists killed by motorists in recent years were initially blamed by NYPD and the press and were vindicated later, after the media lost interest in their stories.

Edwards said a security camera in his building probably recorded the crash, but NYPD makes it exceedingly difficult to determine if investigators tried to collect video evidence. As Streetsblog has reported for years, NYPD crash investigations are kept hidden, even from victims’ loved ones. WNYC reported today that the families of Alison Liao and Sammy Cohen Eckstein, children killed by motorists within the last five months, were forced to file freedom of information requests to get crash reports from NYPD.

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Marlene Baharlias, 77, Killed by Motorist, Blamed by NYPD and the Post

A senior was killed Tuesday in Sheepshead Bay by a driver who witnesses say backed onto a sidewalk — contrary to anonymous NYPD sources who told the Post the victim was jaywalking. No charges were filed.

Marlene Baharlias, 77, was walking home from the doctor with her husband when the driver of a Mercedes SUV backed onto the curb in front of 2060 E. 19th Street, according to witnesses who spoke with News 12 and Brooklyn Daily.

Photo: New York Post

Photo: New York Post

“She was walking on the sidewalk with her husband, the poor woman,” said Shlomo Hava, a neighbor who saw the accident unfold.

Hava said he wanted to help, but seeing her injuries, he knew there was little he could do.

“All her face was smashed — I was shocked,” he said.

Baharlias was pronounced dead at Coney Island Hospital.

In a five-sentence story, Post reporter Dana Sauchelli blamed Baharlias for her own death, citing police sources who said she “was jaywalking when she stepped off an East 19th street curb mid-block.” The Post is the only media outlet we found that claimed Baharlias was attempting to cross the street outside a crosswalk. The story was accompanied by a photo of the SUV parked almost perpendicular to the sidewalk, with the back end over the curb, and the description embedded with the photo said the victim ”was run over by SUV on the sidewalk.” Regardless, for all Post readers know, Baharlias put herself in harm’s way.

In the immediate aftermath of traffic crashes, anonymous NYPD sources are notorious for leaking information that assigns responsibility to deceased pedestrians and cyclists. When Allision Liao was killed last October, police told the media the 4 year old “broke free from her grandmother while they were crossing the street.” To the contrary, video of the crash revealed Allison was holding her grandmother’s hand when Ahmad Abu-Zayedeha drove into both of them in a Queens crosswalk. Pedestrian Seth Kahn and cyclists Mathieu Lefevre and Rasha Shamoon are also among those who in recent years were initially blamed by NYPD for the crashes that killed them and were later exonerated, either after further investigation or in civil court.

Data consistently show drivers are usually at fault in crashes that hurt and kill NYC pedestrians. NYC DOT’s landmark 2010 pedestrian safety study found that motorist behavior was the main factor in 78.5 percent of serious pedestrian injuries and fatalities. A 2012 Transportation Alternatives report found that, according to data from the state DOT, 60 percent of fatal New York City pedestrian and cyclist crashes with known causes between 1995 and 2009 were the result of motorists breaking traffic laws. And NYC DOT data from 2011 revealed that half of pedestrians killed in city crosswalks were crossing with the signal.

Meanwhile, Brooklyn Daily reported that motorists picking up kids from a school close to where Baharlias was hit pose a danger to pedestrians.

Locals said the end of the school day may have contributed to the fatal accident. Parents jockey for the position when picking up their kids, sometimes double- or triple- parking, one neighbor said.

“If you see a spot, its like a race to see who can get that spot,” said William Perry, who lives on the block. “Its just an accident waiting to happen.”

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