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NYPD Car That Fatally Struck Student Didn't Have Lights On, Officer Admits

 Darren Ilardi, the officer who struck Ryo Oyamada two years ago, testified at a DMV hearing Monday.
DMV Hearing on Ryo Oyamada Crash
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LONG ISLAND CITY — The NYPD officer behind the wheel of a patrol car that struck and killed Japanese student Ryo Oyamada in Queens two years ago testified at a DMV hearing Monday that the car's emergency lights were not on at the time of the crash.

The statement appears to contradict what a lawyer for Oyamada's family said the victim's relatives were initially told by the NYPD — that the car that struck Oyamada had its turret lights on top of the car activated.

Officer Darren Ilardi told DMV Administrative Law Judge Kathleen Whelan that he and a fellow officer were responding to a call of an assault in progress with a knife on Feb. 21, 2013, when his patrol car fatally hit 24-year-old Oyamada on 40th Avenue in Queensbridge.

The hearing was part of a process to determine whether Ilardi should lose his driver's license. The hearing was requested by Oyamada's lawyer last month.

Ilardi testified that he turned off the patrol car's emergency lights shortly before the crash occurred to avoid giving away their position to a potential suspect.

"The next thing I know there's somebody in front of my car. I tried to swerve out of the way," he told the judge. "I hit the brakes and tried to swerve out of the way."

But Oyamada's lawyer said that was different from what they were initially told by NYPD officials.

"NYPD's initial position in the days following Ryo's death was that the lights were on the vehicle," said Steve Vaccaro of the law firm Vaccaro and White, who previously obtained video footage that he said shows the patrol car with its emergency lights off

Police have said Oyamada was crossing in the middle of the block on 40th Avenue between 10th and 11th streets when he was struck.

Both Ilardi and the officer who was in the passenger seat at the time of the crash testified Monday that they could not recall how fast they were driving.

A lawyer for Ilardi called the crash a "tragedy" and an accident, but said there was no evidence that the officer acted in "gross negligence," which is what he said the DMV hearing sought to determine.

"There is no evidence in this record that suggests that the officer acted in such a manner," lawyer Mitchell Garber told the judge.

He said the Queens District Attorney's office investigated the incident and found no criminality, and that an NYPD investigation determined that Ilardi "did not violate any rule, regulation or procedure" of the department, and he remains on full duty.

The attorney for Oyamada's family questioned why the NYPD's Internal Affairs Bureau did not testify at the hearing. He also said they have concerns about how the NYPD investigated the case, including why investigators were unable to interview any witnesses.

The NYPD did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

Oyamada's family attended the hearing, having come to New York from Japan this week to hold a memorial to mark the second anniversary of his death on Saturday, Vaccaro said.

"There is a tremendous effort underway by parents who’ve lost children, and other crash victims and survivors, to push the DMV to fulfill its statutory mission of accountability," he said.

A decision should be made in the case in the next month or so, Vaccaro said.