On July 10, 2011, Clara Heyworth was walking to meet her husband when she was fatally struck by motorist Anthony Webb, who was driving with a learner’s permit, not a license. He also might have been drunk and speeding at the time of the incident. Webb was arrested at that time.
The New York Police Department waited four days after Heyworth’s death before investigating the accident. Her widower, Jacob Stevens, claims that NYPD investigators dragged their feet because she wasn’t killed instantly. By the time they went to gather key evidence, he says, it had already been destroyed, meaning Webb got off the hook for Heyworth’s death.
Stevens is filing a lawsuit against the NYPD today, alleging the department’s policies prevented adequate investigation of this and similar cases.
Stevens and his lawyer, Steve Vaccaro, claim that the NYPD’s “Dead or Likely to Die” policy — under which Accident Investigation Squad investigators get dispatched to a crash only when a victim has died or is likely do die — directly caused this situation.
This Squad is made up of 19 investigators. They are the only ones who are allowed to say whether a driver broke the law. They dealt with 304 cases last year.
However, the Squad does not investigate crashes that don’t involve actual or likely death — those just get a one-page report.
Today’s filing just doesn’t call out the NYPD over its handling of the Heyworth case: Rather, it alleges that the Department’s policies are systemically flawed.
Some numbers from the court docs, which have been furnished to the Voice: 241 of the AIS-investigated cases did not involve deaths, “meaning that only 63 cases involving non-fatal serious injury were investigated.”
Because some 3,000 New Yorkers suffer non-fatal injuries from vehicles annually, this means that only 2 percent get investigated.
Some other key cases include Stefanos Tsigrimanis. In September 2010, Tsigrimanis got hit by a motorist on Brooklyn’s Grand Avenue. He had a traumatic brain injury and died despite emergency surgery, transportation advocates tell the Voice. Because he was not called “likely to die,” at the time of the incident, the NYPD wound up looking into his death “over forty days after the crash occurred.”
In October 2010, also, a hit-and-run driver slammed into Michelle Matson. As a result, she endured a fractured skull, left leg, and cervical vertebrae. Because she was alive, transportation advocates claim, cops didn’t take her case seriously and never tried to ID the driver. So, nobody was charged.
And don’t forget the Mathieu Lefevre case, where the NYPD’s transparency toward accident investigations has also come under intense scrutiny.
We reached out to the NYPD for comment. We’ll update if we hear back.