Driver charged with manslaughter, homicide in cyclist’s death

August 21, 2019 Noah Goldberg
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A Queens man was charged Wednesday with manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide, among other charges, for allegedly causing a car crash Aug. 12 that killed a cyclist on Coney Island Avenue in Midwood.

Jose Alzorriz, 52, had just pulled up to a red light on Coney Island Avenue and Avenue L on his bicycle when 18-year-old Mirza Baig sped at more than 60 miles per hour through the steady red light in his 2019 Dodge Charger, according to prosecutors. Baig had been heading in the opposite direction down Coney Island Avenue when he smashed into an eastbound Honda Pilot that had a green light. The Honda collided with Alzorriz, who was pinned between the car and a brick wall, and died, according to prosecutors. A pedestrian also suffered injuries to the leg.

The driver of the Honda suffered internal bleeding and spine trauma, according to the DA.

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Baig was booked with a 17-count indictment Wednesday by the Brooklyn District Attorney for manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide, vehicular assault, reckless driving, speeding and a host of other charges.

“This tragic case illustrates the dangers faced by cyclists and pedestrians when drivers choose to recklessly ignore the rules of the road,” said Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez in a statement. “I urge all motorists to obey the speed limit, follow all traffic laws and yield the right of way to those who share our streets. If they don’t, they might take a life in an instant – and face serious criminal charges.”

Baig was originally taken into custody after the crash Aug. 12, but was not charged with any crime that day, leaving family members and the cyclist community outraged.

Graphic dash cam footage of the crash shows the moments leading up to it and the split-second Alzorriz has to react before he is hit. Other surveillance footage posted to Twitter shows the car crash, though Alzorriz is not in the frame.

Making the charges against Baig stick in court could be an uphill battle though, one lawyer noted.

“When someone is charged criminally with a misdemeanor or felony related to a traffic crash where someone is killed or seriously injured, in the rare instance they are charged it usually ends in some kind of plea deal,” said Marco Conner, co-deputy director of pedestrian and cyclist advocacy group Transportation Alternatives. Conner is also a lawyer with expertise in traffic safety.

He cited a Manhattan case where DA Cy Vance declined to even bring criminal charges in a 2014 crash that killed a 9-year-old boy crossing a crosswalk on the Upper West Side. The driver in that case got a $580 fine and a six-month license suspension, according to Streetsblog.

“Very often, some charges are dropped by the prosecution, by the DA’s office, and there’s a plea deal entered into usually resulting in no criminal conviction. The manslaughter and homicide charges, I don’t see them going anywhere,” Conner told the Brooklyn Eagle, adding that it’s a legal challenge to prove intent on the driver’s part. Still, Conner said there is value in bringing the charges to show drivers that there will be consequences for reckless driving.

Alzorriz was the 13th Brooklyn cyclist to lose his life on the borough’s streets this year. He was the 19th rider killed in New York City so far this year, after only 10 were killed citywide in all of 2018. After his death, politicians gathered at the scene to call for an expedited study by DOT of Coney Island Avenue, where another cyclist, María del Carmen Porras Hernández, was also killed earlier this year.

The sharp rise in cyclist deaths in 2019 led Mayor Bill de Blasio and Department of Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg to announce a new “Green Wave” plan, which will increase the pace of construction of protected bike lanes per year by 50 percent. The plan will also get rid of thousands of parking spaces citywide, according to Trottenberg.

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