About 100 people gathered on Wednesday morning for a rally for traffic justice at One Police Plaza in Lower Manhattan, where Transportation Alternatives delivered a twine-bound stack of more than 2,600 letters from citizens asking NYC Police Commissioner Ray Kelly to hold dangerous drivers accountable.
On the forward line of the assembly were survivors of accidents caused by careless, distracted or reckless drivers of motor vehicles, as well as family and friends of victims. Among these was Erika Lefevre, whose son Mathieu was killed while on his bicycle by a flatbed truck at a Brooklyn intersection on October 18. The driver parked the rig several blocks away and was only identified days later. Shortly thereafter, the NYPD announced that no charges would be filed for leaving the scene of an accident or failing to exercise due care. The Lefevre family learned of this news from the media, and has basically received a cold shoulder in their quest for information from police investigators.
“We want NYPD to take the time it needs to conduct an unbiased, thorough, professional investigation,” Mrs. Lefevre said. “But NYPD has caused us great pain with their mishandling and withholding of information, and their rush to clear the driver of any wrongdoing.”
Contradictions Arise from Accident Report
What is so thoroughly disturbing is that Mrs. Lefevre is barely any further along in gaining a full account of her son’s death than she was six weeks ago. Indeed, she reported yesterday that contradictions have arisen between the NYPD accident report that the family finally received, and earlier statements by the police. Among questions: Why did an unnamed police source tell the media that Mr. Lefevre had run a red light, when there appears to be no evidence of that in the accident report? Why did the NYPD say that Mr. Lefevre was riding next to the truck when it struck him, when the report shows Mr. Lefevre was rear-ended? The family is seeking evidence including the coroner’s report and videotapes that the NYPD says it has.
As she had done at an earlier rally on this same plaza on October 26, only a week after her loss, Mrs. Lefevre called for releasing accurate information in a timely way “so that people can make sense of these terrible crashes, and it will help make the streets safer for everyone.”
A Matter of Decency
The real crime here, from where I stood yesterday as a mother of two grown boys myself, is the lack of basic human decency shown by police officials to a grieving family in search of answers. It is immensely difficult to imagine having lost a child and then being unable to obtain information from investigators pertaining to the circumstances of his death. One news account termed the world in which Ms. Lefevre has existed since the accident as “Kafkaesque.”
As I write this post, a copy of the brief, hand-written police report, distributed along with Mrs. Lefevre’s statement at the rally, sits on my desk: “Opr of veh #1 traveling S/B on Morgan Avenue making right turn onto Meserole St. struck bicyclist also traveling S/B on Morgan Ave. Vehicle #1 after collision did make right turn onto Meserole St. Left scene of acc…..” As I re-read it, I think of Mrs. Lefevre. The questions. The late-night imaginings. The struggle to fill in the blanks of a tragic narrative. My heart breaks for her and for every family who has been subjected to a similar experience.
Probe of Accident Reports Announced
Paul Steely White, executive director of Transportation Alternatives, announced at the rally that the organization will pursue a comprehensive probe into the NYPD’s traffic crash investigations practices. It will examine reports from recent crashes that resulted in serious injuries or deaths among pedestrians and cyclists to determine whether police investigators followed the proper procedures. In addition, advocates are calling on the city administration for strong leadership to encourage more targeted enforcement of the motor vehicle violations that most often injure or kill cyclists and pedestrians, and allocation of additional resources to more fully investigate serious traffic crashes.
“Nothing I can do do will bring [Mathieu] back,” Mrs. Lefevre concluded. “But one thing I can do is speak out about how this case has been handled by the NYPD, about how changes would affect the lives of other future victims, cyclists and pedestrians. Lives can be saved if the laws are enforced, thus making the streets safer for everyone.”
Top: NYPD officers look on as T.A. Executive Director Paul Steely White (center) calls for traffic justice. photos: velojoy