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Matthew Van Ohlen Hit-And-Run Driver Rejects 15-Year Plea Offer

By Gwynne Hogan | March 9, 2017 3:53pm
 Matthew Von Ohlen, 35, was killed in July 2016 on Grand Street by a driver who fled the scene. 
Matthew Von Ohlen, 35, was killed in July 2016 on Grand Street by a driver who fled the scene. 
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DOWNTOWN BROOKLYN — The lawyer for the hit-and-run driver charged with fatally striking cyclist and entrepreneur Matthew Van Ohlen in a Williamsburg bike lane rejected a 15-year plea offer from prosecutors.

The offer would entail Juan Maldonado, 56, pleads guilty to the top count of second-degree manslaughter in exchange for the prison term with the possibility of parole after five years, the maximum sentence for that crime, defense lawyer Howard Kirsch said.

The deal floated by Assistant District Attorney Douglas Marquez made Kirsch laugh, he said.

"That's not a plea offer, that's a sentence," Krisch said. "They're offering ice in winter."

Kirsch said he thought the offer reflected political pressures surrounding Maldonado's case.

"Vision Zero, the bicyclist lobby, the advocates," he said.

A spokesman for the Brooklyn District Attorney's office declined to comment on the pending case.

Maldonado also faces charges of criminally negligent homicide and leaving the scene of an accident, among others, for the death of Von Ohlen, 35, a cycling enthusiast, small business owner and bartender, on July 2. 

Van Ohlen was riding in the Grand Street bike lane when Maldonado sped through a red light at Manhattan Avenue and veered into the lane, striking the cyclist from behind before fleeing in his car, according to the Brooklyn District Attorney's office.

In the months after Voh Ohlen's death, friends, family members and advocates called for safety improvements on Grand Street to help better protect cyclists and pedestriansTwo other pedestrians have been killed on the street in the last year.

A day before the fatal crash, Maldonado was fired from his job at Williamsburg's Certified Lumber, where he worked as a delivery driver.  His former employer said that they were forced to fire him because Maldonado frequently did not show up or arrived late and under the influence.

At a Thursday hearing, Maldonado, wearing tan jail scrubs, stood before Judge Michael Gary to ask that his $100,000 bail be lowered.

"Mr. Maldonado, who has no prior record and has been a lifelong citizen of Brooklyn and most of all lives with his mother, who he takes care of, is being held at 1000,000 bail," Kirsch said during the hearing.

Gary denied the request and Maldonado is due back in court on March 28.