DOWNTOWN BROOKLYN — It took police just four days to stitch together nearly two dozen surveillance videos and other clues to track down the driver of the Chevy Camaro that fled to Connecticut after fatally running down cyclist Matthew von Ohlen, an accident investigation detective testified in court on Tuesday.
Von Ohlen, 35, bartender and co-owner of Bike Stock who was riding home after work last July, was struck and killed in the Grand Street bike lane by Juan Maldonado, 57, who has two prior drunk driving arrests, prosecutors and police said.
While cycling and pedestrian advocates blasted police for taking four months to arrest Maldonado for the crime, Collision Investigation Squad Detective Edward Behringer detailed at the Tuesday hearing a painstaking investigation that began the morning after the crash.
Maldonado also gave his account of what happened that night a hearing to determine whether or not evidence collected from the car could be presented at trial. Judge Michael Gary said he found the account "incredible."
The morning of the July 2 crash, Behringer began the investigation with a recording of a 911 caller describing the getaway car as a black Camaro driven by a man with a tan complexion in his 50s, he said on the witness stand.
"I began to canvass the area for signs of cameras and video evidence," Behringer said.
Within days of the crash, Behringer and his partners pieced together about 24 videos including one of the collision itself, which eventually lead them to South 1st Street footage showed the Chevy Camaro had parked. A video showed a man who matched the 911 caller's description getting out of the car and walking into a building on that block.
By door-knocking that address, Behringer confirmed that a man named Juan Maldonado, who matched the 911 caller's description, lived in the building and owned a 2015 Chevy Camaro, Behringer said. They confirmed that with the Department of Motor Vehicles, he said.
"We tried to locate Mr. Maldonado and question him," Behringer said, but by the time investigators arrived, the Tuesday three days after the crash, Maldonado wasn't there.
They headed to Certified Lumber on Kent Avenue where Maldonado worked. Employees there told Behringer that Maldonado had called in to say he wouldn't make it work because he was having car troubles and was stuck in Connecticut.
Certified Lumber gave them the number where Maldonado had called from, a Quality Inn in Waterbury, Connecticut.
Behringer then called Waterbury police and asked them to scope out the Quality Inn to see if they spotted a Chevy Camaro with frontal damage in the parking lot. When Waterbury police told them they'd found a car matching their description, Behringer asked them to keep tabs on the it while they hightailed it to Connecticut.
They arrived at 3 a.m. on Wednesday, four days after the fatal collision, and found Maldonado in the hotel with his ex-wife and daughter, who live nearby in Connecticut.
Behringer said Maldonado signed a consent form to let them hold his car and they drove him back to Brooklyn where they started questioning him at the 63rd Precinct. Almost immediately Maldonado asked for a lawyer and Behringer let him walk free.
He said during his testimony that he was out driving the morning of July 2 at around 2:30 a.m. because he'd gone to get a pool stick he'd lent to a friend who lived nearby. They met in a park near the man's house and then he'd driven home parking on South 1st Street.
Maldonado said he had not been drinking that night, though prosecutors said the driver of the car that killed von Ohlen had sped through a red light and swerved into the bike lane.
Prosecutors also revealed Tuesday that Maldonado had twice before been arrested in Florida for driving while intoxicated and had three open warrants there for violating probation.
The morning after the crash at 9 a.m. Maldonado and his 14-year-old daughter drove to Camelback, Pennsylvania where they went swimming and horseback riding, he testified.
After spending the weekend in Pennsylvania, they drove to Connecticut Sunday night so he could drop his daughter off with her mother. He stayed there through Tuesday, calling work that morning to tell them he was having car problems.
Maldonado said he didn't know anything about the damage to the front of his Camaro until investigators showed up a day later on Wednesday morning at around 3 a.m. and started inspecting it, he said.
"It had to be somebody backed into me," he testified, though he admitted that since he'd arrived at the hotel it was parked facing a curb in a way that no other cars could have hit him from the front. "It had white paint on it."
The judge was not convinced.
"I don’t find the defendant's descriptions of events at all credible," Gary said.
Following the hearing, the judge ruled that the evidence collected from the car would be allowed at trial.
Maldonado is being held on Rikers Island at $200,000 bail and is due back in court on June 27.