Forced by a looming Freedom of Information Law deadline, on Friday the New York Police Department finally told the mother of Mathieu Lefevre what it knows about the cycling death of her son last fall.
The documents released directly contradict the initial version of events put out by police, and suggest an investigation so sloppy that the likelihood of getting justice for Lefevre’s death is scant.
Back in October, the first story to emerge about the circumstances of Lefevre’s death, at the intersection of Morgan Avenue and Meserole Street in Brooklyn, painted the cyclist at fault. A police officer told Gothamist shortly afterward that Lefevre had run a red light. The driver of the crane-truck that hit him probably wasn’t even aware he’d hit Lefevre, a police spokesman said. No charges were filed against the driver, and that looked to be the end of it.
But Lefevre’s family wasn’t satisfied. In fact, they were furious that the NYPD was releasing information to the press that it had refused to give to Lefevre’s campaign. They hired a lawyer, Steve Vaccaro, who pressured the police to go back and reinvestigate. At his prodding, the NYPD turned up a video that showed the accident. But even with Vaccaro’s help, it required a Freedom of Information request to get anything more from the police.
Today, we learned what was in the NYPD file. Lefevre’s mother, Erika, released a statement on behalf of the family, explaining that the documents and video released to the family on Friday show that the cyclist didn’t run a red light. While the police fault him for passing the truck on the right, the real issue is that the truck made a right turn — without signalling — across Lefevre’s path, knocking him from his bike and dragging him for 40 feet. The truck continued to drag the bike for another 130 feet before it finally came loose, and the truck drove off.
This sequence of events casts serious doubt on the claims by the driver — since identified as Leonardo Degianni — that he was unaware of striking Lefevre.
Vaccaro and the Lefevres are hopeful that when the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office reviews the NYPD’s findings, if will find enough in the file bring a charge of criminal negligence against Degianni.
But a successful prosecution of the driver is less likely than it might be, because the NYPD seems to have bungled the investigation. While a detective told Vaccaro that there was blood and paint on the truck’s front bumper, the file contains no description of it.
“An investigator told me he saw the blood on the bumper that night, starting to run off in the rain,” Vaccaro said. “But they didn’t take a picture.”
Why didn’t the police take a picture of the bloody bumper, or indeed, any picture at all of the entire accident scene? Well, their camera was broken:
As Erika Lefevre says, “We are appalled by this and other plainly unprofessional aspects of the NYPD investigation. NYPD should take its responsibility to investigate crashes more seriously.”
But while the NYPD didn’t manage to get any pictures of the scene of the accident, they were more diligent in another respect: the Lefevre file does contain pictures — of Vaccaro and Erika Lefevre.
Why was the NYPD collecting photographs of the mother trying to get basic information about the death of her son and her lawyer?
Vaccaro doesn’t know. “That’s not something I’ve encountered before,” he said. “It’s certainly not routine.”
Here’s the NYPD report on the video of the accident: