BY JEFFERSON SIEGEL | All too often, the news is filled with stories of pedestrians and bicyclists killed in accidents with cars. The stories usually conclude with the drivers not being charged followed by the police statement: “No criminality suspected.”
In certain circles, there is even a saying: If you want to kill someone in New York and get away with it, use a car.
Last week a group of volunteers from Time’s Up!, the environmental advocacy organization, set out to question the lack of accountability involving drivers who kill pedestrians and cyclists yet are not held responsible for their actions.
A winter’s night isn’t usually prime time for a group bike ride. But late last Thursday night, several cyclists set out from the Lower East Side, making eight stops throughout the city. At the stops — each where a pedestrian or cyclist was killed over the past year — they stenciled the outline of a body on the street, along with the victim’s name, date of death and the phrase, “No Criminality Suspected.” Below that phrase was a question to the police commissioner: “Why, Ray, Why?”
“The N.Y.P.D. is charged with investigating serious crashes and enforcing traffic laws, including the requirement that motor vehicles be driven with due care. Yet in each of these cases, and in the vast majority of cases in which pedestrians and cyclists are killed by automobile, the N.Y.P.D. declared ‘No criminality suspected’ within hours of the crash,” said traffic analyst Charles Komanoff. He added that accident investigation reports in recent crashes have not been released to the public or to the victims’ families.
The New York City Department of Transportation reports that deaths resulting from traffic accidents increased 23 percent from 2011 to 2012. In 2012 there were almost 300 fatalities; more than 150 of those involved the deaths of bicyclists and pedestrians. “The N.Y.P.D. is whitewashing traffic violence to the public, withholding potentially emotionally healing information from grieving families, and robbing safer-streets activists of the information they need to best advocate for a livable city,” said Keegan Stephan, the Time’s Up! ride organizer.
By 2 a.m. last Friday the cyclists had finished stenciling body images and messages at the locations of the most recent crash scenes. Hours later on Friday morning, the group set out once again on their “Criminality Suspected Ride” — visiting the stenciled sites — to remember the victims and call for tougher enforcement of traffic laws.
Stephan also noted that, in two of the recent cases, police have still not identified the victims. They include a female cyclist killed by a truck on E. 23rd St. in January and a female pedestrian killed by a car that had collided with another car and jumped the curb at Third Ave. and 27th St. in February.
Following a City Council hearing last year, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly announced the department would increase its Accident Investigation Squad from 23 to 33 members. The squad is responsible for investigating all fatal traffic accidents in the city.
In a letter to the City Council earlier this month, Kelly said the squad’s investigators will now be sent to crash scenes that also involve serious injuries, rather than just to the scenes of fatalities. Also the police will now categorize such scenes as “collisions” instead of “accidents.”
Yet on March 11, just one week after Kelly’s letter, Tenzin Drudak, a 16-year-old student, was killed near his Queens school when a van crossed several lanes of traffic and jumped the curb, hitting him on the sidewalk. The driver admitted he lost control of his van while reaching for a milk carton he had dropped. No charges were filed against the driver, despite city laws requiring drivers to exercise extra caution when driving by a school. The police concluded: No criminality suspected.