On October 27, 2012, 20-year-old Ronald Herrera died when his dirt bike crashed in the Bronx. His 17-year-old passenger, Leonel Cuevas, was left paralyzed from the neck down.
An NYPD car was involved in the crash. The cruiser’s role in the accident, however, has remained a mystery. The officers claimed Herrera lost control because he attempted a reckless maneuver in front of the vehicle. But one witness claimed that Herrera lost control because the police car hit his bike.
Herrera’s family believes the latter account. On Thursday, Herrera’s mother, Isabel, filed a lawsuit against city, the police department, and the officers involved in the crash.
“I have seen statements,” Herrera’s lawyer, Philip Newman, tells the Voice, “that say that when the driver of the police vehicle got out of the car, she said ‘Oh my God, I killed him.'”
The suit names Officer Sabrina Alicea as the car’s driver and Officer Walkiria Velez as a passenger.
The NYPD’s official version of events has so far maintained that Herrera bumped into the police car while trying to overtake it on Watson Avenue. Police said that Herrera then careened into a double-parked car, while the cruiser crashed into another vehicle along the street.
Even though the police car’s flashers were on, it had not been pursuing the bike, the NYPD said.
Herrera died from his injuries a week later. In addition to paralysis, Cuevas suffered brain damage.
More than a month after the accident, an anonymous witness, who was riding a dirt bike near the scene, told the Daily News that the NYPD’s version was wrong.
“They hit the dirt bike from behind, the bike twisted and Leonel flew off,” the 18-year-old witness told the paper. “[The bike] went down and Ronald was still holding on. It started throwing sparks. The police car completely ran over him. They really didn’t have to crash him off the bike.”
NYPD announced that its Internal Affairs Bureau was investigating the incident. Meanwhile, Cuevas and his family filed a lawsuit against the city, seeking $105 million in damages.
Herrera’s suit makes the same claims as Cuevas’s: that Alicea’s cruiser “struck” the bike, a “careless and negligent” action that caused the death.
NYPD policy prohibits officers from “ramming” a vehicle in an effort to stop it or slow it down.
Beyond the anonymous witness statement, Herrera’s family might have good reason to be suspicious of the cruiser’s role in the crash. Just two months before, 28-year-old Eddie Fernandez was killed when a police car smashed into his dirt bike in the Bronx. Video footage captured the carnage: the bike slowing down at an intersection, the cruiser accelerating into it from behind, the two men on the bike flying into a light post.
The passenger, Adalberto Gonzalez, sustained minor injuries and is suing the city.
Next: read the Herrera complain in full.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on October 18, 2013