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City Council to Grill NYPD Over Accident Investigations

By Jill Colvin | February 15, 2012 9:32am
A ghost bike ceremony for Mathieu Lefevre, who was killed while riding his bike on October 18, 2011.
A ghost bike ceremony for Mathieu Lefevre, who was killed while riding his bike on October 18, 2011.
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Flickr/Phillip Stearns

CITY HALL — Four months after cyclist Mathieu Lefevre was struck and killed by a flatbed truck in Brooklyn, the City Council will hold a hearing Wednesday on whether police are doing enough to investigate and punish reckless driving.

Lefevre’s family and advocates have accused the NYPD of not bothering to conduct a thorough investigation into the accident. They argue that it's part of a deeper pattern of a reluctance, especially when no one has been killed, to pursue leads on drivers who hit pedestrians and cyclists.

“There have been far too few investigations of these accidents,” said City Councilman Peter Vallone Jr., chair of the council’s public safety committee, which will host the hearing along with the transportation committee.

Cyclist Mathieu Lefevre was struck and killed by a truck driver in Brooklyn in October.
Cyclist Mathieu Lefevre was struck and killed by a truck driver in Brooklyn in October.
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“Clearly there are times when motorists have acted recklessly and it does not appear the police have done anything but give them tickets.”

In addition to other pedestrian advocates, the cycling group Times Up! is planning to testify, and has organized a group ride to the hearing near City Hall from the Brooklyn intersection where Lefevre was killed.

“We want there to be stricter legislation that holds drivers who do not ‘exercise due care' and kill pedestrians and cyclists accountable for their actions,” Geoff Zink, a volunteer for the group, said in a statement.

The NYPD did not immediately respond to a request seeking comment.

The hearing is scheduled for 10 a.m.

State lawmakers tried to crack down on reckless driving in 2010 when they passed new legislation that increased the punishment for drivers whose failure “to exercise due care” resulted in the death or injury of pedestrians or cyclists, with up to a $750 fine, 15 days in prison, and enrollment in an accident prevention course.

Known as "Hayley and Diego's Law," the legislation was introduced after the tragic deaths of preschoolers Hayley Ng and Diego Martinez, who were mowed down in Chinatown in 2009 when an unoccupied delivery van accidentally left in reverse plowed into a crowded sidewalk.

Part of the problem, however, is that officers often feel reluctant to issue violations when they haven't personally witnessed potentially reckless or negligent behavior, Vallone said.

To help, Sen. Daniel Squadron and Assemblyman Brian Kavanagh have drafted new legislation they hope to pass this spring that would strengthen the law by stating explicitly that police officers may issue violations even if they haven't witnessed a crash, so long as they have “reasonable cause" to suspect wrongdoing.

Kavanagh said he hopes the bill will help victims and their families "get some level of justice from the police and the people that prosecute these things."

"We’re not here to criticize the Police Department as much as to make sure the appropriate tools are in place," he said.

Wednesday's hearing will also take a look at the NYPD’s enforcement of truck regulations, including prohibitions on idling and obeying designated truck routes which, for instance, can prevent trucks from running into overpasses. NYPD Deputy Chief John Cassidy of the transportation bureau is scheduled to testify.

From 2000 to 2009, more New Yorkers died because of reckless or speeding drivers than guns, the council said.