In Case of Fallen Cyclist, Questions of Who’s at Fault

March 14, 2012 Brooklyn Eagle Staff
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By Zach Campbell

Brooklyn Daily Eagle

BUSHWICK — It’s a fate no parent should have to endure. Five months after their son was struck and killed by a crane truck driver while cycling through Bushwick, the parents of Mathieu Lefevre are still embroiled in a lawsuit against the NYPD to obtain information relating to his death.

The family’s lawyer argues that the Police Department has not provided the Lefevres with the entire file from the investigation, and also contends that the documents, video and photos that have been disclosed do not match the department’s description of the events. The NYPD maintains that the case was closed in January, that a full investigation was conducted, and that they have since provided everything they have.

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According to the police report, Lefevre was struck on Morgan Avenue by a truck making a right turn onto Meserole Street. Later police investigations concluded that the truck driver had not signaled to turn, and that Lefevre had tried to pass the truck on the right. The decision to close the investigation into Lefevre’s death was based on these two factors and puts the blame entirely on the cyclist.

“[The] mechanical directional signal may have warned the bicyclist that the vehicle would be turning towards his direction and to proceed with caution,” reads the document, originally published on Streetsblog. “The bicyclist is subjected to the vehicle traffic law when there is no marked bicycle lane and should not have been passing on the right.”

Steve Vaccaro, the Lefevres’ lawyer, argues that this is an incorrect interpretation of  New York state traffic law.

“If there is enough room for a line of vehicles and a line of bicycles, the bicycle can overtake on the right,” Vaccaro said. “We’ve seen the video [of the crash] — the truck was so far in the center of the street that a car could have passed on the right.”

New York state traffic law provides a hazy definition of where cyclists should ride, especially on streets without dedicated bike lanes.

“Bicycles must follow the rules of the road, except where an exception has been delineated. Two of these exceptions are the right to travel on a bike lane or road shoulder,” explained a spokesperson for the legal department of the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles, who added that the statute cited in Lefevre’s accident report intends for cyclists to pass cars either in a dedicated lane or near the curb. “If [a cyclist is] in a bike lane or on a shoulder, he can pass on the right.”

In the weeks following the crash, Erika and Alain Lefevre took multiple trips to New York from their home in Canada to try to glean information from the NYPD about the circumstances surrounding their son’s death. Difficulties getting a response led them to file a request under the state Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) for the police file. After an initial denial, the Lefevres began receiving documents earlier this year that painted an incomplete picture of the crash.

The NYPD originally told the Lefevres that no photos had been taken of the crash site due to a broken camera. After persisting, Vaccaro explained, the family was provided with police photos taken at the scene of the crash and was told that the responsible officer had earlier made a mistake in copying the files.

“We don’t believe that all of the photos were given to us,” Vaccaro said, explaining that the Lefevres had similar problems obtaining copies of the surveillance video of the crash. He added that the family hopes to set a precedent for more thorough investigations of traffic fatalities and for timely disclosure of information to victims’ families.

The NYPD has not responded to the Eagle’s requests for comment.

The Kings County District Attorney’s office is now conducting a separate investigation into Lefevre’s death, as is standard for traffic fatalities in Brooklyn. Mathieu Lefevre’s family is lobbying for criminal charges to be filed against the truck driver, who did not remain at the scene of the crash and claims not to have known that his vehicle struck anybody.

“We and the families of the other hundreds of people who die in New York City traffic each year deserve competent and unbiased investigation by the police,” Erika Lefevre said in a statement. “Or put another way: courtesy, professionalism and respect.”

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