02

Blog

NY Civil Judge Takes Driver’s License (after police wrongly found deceased cyclist at fault)

Distracted, Speeding, and you kill a cyclist? Arrested? Ticketed? Nope.  Welcome to New York. Well, Dan Flanzig changed the ending to this story.

In the summer of 2014 Matthew Brenner was struck and killed by a motorist on Sands Street underneath the Manhattan Bridge in Brooklyn. From the moment of the crash there was more questions than answers. At the scene of the crash, the driver was not arrested or even issued a summons under NYC’s Right of Way Law. The NYPD seemed to perform the bare minimum of investigation which only helped to keep Matt’s family in the dark. 

It quickly became apparent that the details of Matt’s crash, as cited by the NYPD, didn’t make sense. Yes, he was riding against the flow of traffic. We also knew there was an available buffered bike lane in the area that Matt failed to use. But even if Matt made these mistakes, why that night did he have to die? Matt was a former bike messenger and an experienced rider. He knew how to handle himself in traffic.

Shortly after the crash, Matt’s mom Franci retained our office. We began our own investigation while the NYPD conducted theirs. We interviewed witnesses, took photos and retained a traffic expert to see if the road configuration and lack of signage in the area may have contributed to the crash.

Several months later we were granted access to the NYPD Collision Investigation Squads (C.I.S.) file relating to the crash. Within the file was a video taken from a NYPD security camera which depicted the event. The video showed what we expected. An unanticipated and sudden move by the driver of the car. While attempting this move, she struck and killed Matt.  Here is a still photo from the NYPD video cam:

Bike Crash Location in NY

Still from NYPD Video Camera of Crash Location

One would think that this manner of driving would be clear and convincing evidence for the NYPD that the driver held some culpability in causing the crash. But this was not the opinion of the NYPD. The matter still was not referred to the District Attorney’s office for criminal charges. The NYPD stood fast in their opinion that the fault of the crash rest solely with Matt. The driver’s insurance company aligned with the police and refused to settle the claim.   

We commenced a lawsuit against the driver. Several months later, she appeared for her deposition. At that time we discovered things that the NYPD failed to explore. She testified that on the night of the crash she was late to pick up her friend up at the airport. Being unfamiliar with the area, she was relying on google maps to get her to JFK. During the deposition, we spent a great deal of time discussing her route, road, and lane position immediately prior to the crash, an area the police totally failed to explore.  Being lost, we learned that she shifted suddenly from the middle lane of the roadway and onto the entrance ramp of the BQE as a result of being prompted by google. This required her to cross over two lanes of traffic to get to the entrance ramp where she ran head on into Matt. We further learned that right before she made this sudden lane change, she was tailgating the vehicle in front of her. Given the manner in which she was driving, she had no chance to see Matt and Matt to see her. In fact, the first time she saw Matt at all was after the impact. All of these factors were never addressed by the NYPD in coming to their conclusions.  

Here’s the daytime aerial photo of the scene:

daytime-arial

Daytime Arial Photo of Scene

Following the drivers deposition, her insurance company settled the case. Her testimony was too damming to survive a trial. However, our fight was still not over. We wanted her held accountable for Matt’s death. Matt’s mom and I had one more stop. A New York State, Department of Motor Vehicles, Fatality Hearing.

In New York State, any driver who is involved in a crash which results in a death is required to attend a statutory Fatality Hearing to determine whether they should be fined or driver privileges suspended.  These hearings are supposed to be mandatory. Matt’s mom and members of Family for Safe Streets, a New York City Advocacy group hounded the DMV until it a hearing was scheduled. The hearing, by statute is too held within 60-90 days of the crash. Matt’s was not scheduled for almost two years. Again, welcome to New York.

On a cold March day at a hearing office in lower Manhattan I appeared with matt’s mom Franci. A few members of Family for Safe Streets joined us as well.  Not surprising, the driver who was subpoenaed failed show. In lieu she submitted a self-serving affidavit prepared by her lawyers. The NYPD investigating officer also failed to show. Thanks again NYPD. It looked like it would be up to us to present the evidence to the Administrative Law Judge presiding over the hearing.

We provided the Judge with a copy of the crash video and the driver’s deposition. We argued that the evidence collected showed that the driver made a sudden lane change onto to the BQE ramp without signaling, that she was driving too fast under the circumstance, and crossed over the safety island in order to enter the BQE. We further argued that driver inattention and distraction by way of being lost and distracted by looking at google maps was the cause of the crash.  The Administrative Law Judge took it all in and was incredibly sympathetic to Franci. We left the hearing feeling like she heard us but we were unaware whether she would take any action against the driver given the Police findings. At best, we hope for a slight fine. 

Several weeks later we received the results of the hearing. For one of the first times in New York State, absent criminality, alcohol or drugs, the Judge REVOKED her driving privileges in the State of New York.  The Judge agreed with our presentation that driver, who was lost, distracted by the use of google maps, was traveling at an unsafe speed, did not signal her turn, and crossed over the solid white lines of the safety triangle contributed to the crash. 

The Judge went onto to hold “had the [driver] been traveling at a safe speed in the proper entrance ramp lane it is probable that the Decedent would have seen her and not cross the street. In addition, had she been in the proper lane and traveling at a safe speed it is probable that she would have seen the Decedent and been able to make attempts to avoid hitting him”.

The Judge further found the driver violated 4 sections of New York State Vehicle and Traffic law and for each of the violations, revoked the driver’s license and/or driving privileges in the State of New York.

While the NYPD, the District Attorney’s Office, and the Insurance Company all got it wrong, we were able to prove what we always knew, Matt was not the cause of his own death.

Nothing will ever heal the pain of a mother losing a child, but knowing that the driver has been held responsible and that Matt was not to blame, has provided some solace in this sad and tragic event.

Comments

Ash Our Streets
Daniel Brazil Jan 13, 2021

As a Minneapolis-based attorney, I live, work, play and bike in the city. Although my city might be known for its lakes and our infamous Juicy Lucy, Minneapolis’ dedication to having safer streets for all should be included in that list. To reach the safe streets goal, numerous non-profit organizations and groups are working tirelessly […]

Read More
Ambassador
Rachael Maney Jan 11, 2021

Applications for the Bike Law Foundation Ambassador Program are now live. CLICK HERE FOR THE APPLICATION. The deadline to apply is Sunday, January 24th. Those selected will be notified on or before February 1. Thanks for your support and willingness to work together to make bicycling safer for all. We are committed to you, to one another, and […]

Read More
3-foot passing close call
Charlie Thomas Jan 11, 2021

It happens all the time: Someone emails me video footage, clearly showing they were biking along when a car buzzes past, coming within inches of a horrible crash — and there’s nothing I can do about it because we don’t have the laws in place to do something to help. Luckily, that might be about […]

Read More
killing cyclist bike law
Rachael Maney Dec 22, 2020

BIKE LAW ANNOUNCES THE INDICTMENT OF CARL BEHLER FOR KILLING CYCLIST AND INJURING OTHERS   Today, Carl Behler appeared in court for the first time for killing cyclist Arthur Carter and injuring others. He was indicted on Friday (12/18) by the Anne Arundel County Grand Jury and promptly arrested and detained for 7 crimes related […]

Read More
Bicycle Mayor
Bruce Hagen Dec 03, 2020

When I (Maria of Bike Law Georgia) called Pattie Baker, the first Metro Atlanta Bicycle Mayor, she was trudging through marshland on her bicycle on Alpharetta’s Big Creek Greenway. I pictured her in my mind with her bike, wearing her signature skirts, and mud on her sandals. Always on the go, the newly minted Metro […]

Read More
Alabama Bike Advocacy
Danny Feldman Dec 02, 2020

When Alabama bike advocate Jamie Miernik was growing up in Minneapolis, Minnesota, she dreamed of being an astronaut.  And today, although she is not an astronaut, as a chemical engineer who worked for Boeing on the NASA space station project, she put her knowledge and talents to use keeping the astronauts safe and sound in […]

Read More
Local bike shop Atlanta Bike Shop Mechanic
Bruce Hagen Nov 06, 2020

We have so many amazing local bike shops in the Atlanta Metro Area and in Georgia that it’s hard to single out any for the service that they provide, but here’s a short list of some of the shops from various parts of town and throughout the state. Eight Great Local Bike Shops in Georgia […]

Read More
Justice Ginsberg Bike Law
Lauri Boxer-Macomber Nov 03, 2020

Last month after Justice Ginsberg passed away, I went on one of those long solo rides to pedal things out.  I was hoping that time in the saddle would help settle the emotional torrent within me.  On one hand, I was feeling driven, empowered, and more motivated than ever to step things up a notch […]

Read More
Women on Bikes Rachael
Peter Wilborn Oct 11, 2020

Rachael Maney is the Director of the Bike Law Network and of the non-profit Bike Law Foundation. As most of you know, she has spent the last two weeks on these pages profiling 16 Women on Bikes leading up to yesterday’s inaugural Women’s Cycling Day. If you haven’t yet, read her profiles of and conversations with […]

Read More
Load More