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Hit-and-Run Killer Blames Cyclist's Drinking for Fatal Crash

By  Gwynne Hogan and Trevor Kapp | October 18, 2017 1:57pm 

 Juan Maldonado, 57, was charged with the hit-and-run death of cyclist Matthew von Ohlen.
Juan Maldonado, 57, was charged with the hit-and-run death of cyclist Matthew von Ohlen.
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DNAinfo/Gwynne Hogan

DOWNTOWN BROOKLYN — The convicted hit-and-run killer of bartender Matthew von Ohlen in Williamsburg last year rattled off a string of excuses for the fatal crash at his Wednesday morning sentencing — including blaming the cyclist's drinking for the crash.

Juan Maldonado, 57, claimed he had no idea he'd run down von Ohlen in the bike lane on July 2 of that year, dragging him 28 feet down Grand Street in East Williamsburg, as he was sentenced to up to 15 years in prison on manslaughter charges Wednesday.

"I don’t want to bad-rap your son because this is bad enough. But he’s come in contact with a lot of things. The toxicology report wasn't a good thing," said Maldonado, 57, before a crowded courtroom lined with von Ohlen's friends and family members.

 Matthew von Ohlen, 35, was cycling on Grand Street when Juan Maldonado fatally struck him.
Matthew von Ohlen, 35, was cycling on Grand Street when Juan Maldonado fatally struck him.
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"I wasn't aware I had struck your son. It was a dark night. I by no means meant to kill or hit him. I didn't flee anywhere.

"It makes me feel like I'm the bad one," he added of all the evidence presented at trial.

During the course of the trial it came out that von Ohlen, an avid cyclist and bartender, had been drinking before he was hit, which prosecutors pointed out is not against the law. They showed multiple videos leading up to the crash capturing von Ohlen riding steady and straight ahead in the bike lane before Maldonado ran him over.

Judge Suzanne Mondo firmly disagreed with Maldonado's statements, saying that the evidence presented by prosecutors at trial was, "nothing short of overwhelming” and “absolutely chilling," while sentencing him to five to 15 years in prison on the manslaughter charges.

The judge cited a security camera video from the day later that showed Maldonado laughing with friends before he drove out of state in his battered car.

"It said everything about your complete lack of remorse and total disregard for human life,” she said.

The crash happened at 2:37 a.m. on July 2, 2016, when Maldonado sped around two stopped cars through a red light. He swerved into the bike lane as he passed Manhattan Avenue and crashed into von Ohlen, dragging him about 28 feet before fleeing the scene.

Maldonado chased "him down like a predator,” Mondo said. 

"This court cannot express the enormity of the loss that resulted here," she said. "You should never be able to get behind the wheel of a car in this city again."

Investigators tracked Maldonado down within four days of the crash in a hotel in Waterbury, Connecticut, and impounded his Chevy Camaro, though he wasn't arrested for four months when he was indicted by a grand jury.

Maldonado was convicted on Sept. 25 of manslaughter, leaving the scene of a crash and reckless driving.

Following Maldonado's sentencing, Von Ohlen's parents renewed earlier cries for a protected bike lane on Grand Street.

The city promised to bring a "safety action plan" for Grand Street following von Ohlen's death and the deaths of two other pedestrians last spring, but months have passed and it has failed to deliver. Another cyclist was critically injured there on the corner of Bushwick Avenue on Oct. 3. 

Department of Transportation spokeswoman Gloria Chin declined to say when the city would come up with a plan when asked for comment on it.

"We are currently reviewing options and considering community input as we finalize plans for this project," she said. 

Von Ohlen's mother, Joan von Ohlen, fought back tears as she told the courtroom that her son's loss has been profound in the year and half since his death.

"I’ve lost my future, my status as a mother, the possibility that I become a grandmother," von Ohlen said. "Regardless of the sentence you impose on Mr. Maldonado my sentence is forever."