More than four months after a hit-and-run driver recklessly slammed into cyclist Matthew von Ohlen on a Williamsburg street, police have made an arrest in the case.
Juan Maldonado, 56, was arrested early this morning and charged with second-degree manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide, and other, lesser counts.
The criminal complaint alleges that in the early hours of July 2, Maldonado swerved into the bike lane on Grand Street, sped through a red light, and then hit von Ohlen and dragged him ten to twenty feet before speeding away.
Von Ohlen, a 35-year-old cycling advocate and co-founder of the company Bikestock, died from his injuries. The NYPD recovered the vehicle a few days later in Connecticut, but failed to make an arrest for months, as family members and cycling advocates watched a familiar trend play out: the NYPD being unable or unwilling to apprehend and charge dangerous drivers.
“A young man who was an active member of Brooklyn’s biking community lost his life because a speeding driver struck him in a designated bike lane and sped away,” acting Kings County District Attorney Eric Gonzalez said in a statement. “This was not an accident, but rather a reckless act for which we intend to hold this defendant accountable.”
If convicted of the top count, Maldonado faces up to fifteen years in prison. His bail was set at $100,000.
Many advocates had lost faith in the NYPD’s commitment to tracking down hit-and-run drivers. According to stats released last month, the NYPD made only 13 arrests after 38 deadly hit-and-runs in the 2016 financial year. Even when a driver remains on the scene after a deadly accident, families often have to push the DA to file charges.
Victoria Nicodemus was killed last December after a driver rammed into her on a Brooklyn sidewalk. The NYPD originally let the driver walk away with a misdemeanor, before Nicodemus’s family persistently pushed the District Attorney to look into more serious charges. The driver was finally charged with manslaughter more than six months later.
“I want to commend the NYPD for doing a thorough investigation. At times, we did have our doubts that were doing it assiduously, but we’re heartened to see this arrest be made,” Paul Steely White, executive director of Transportation Alternatives, said of Maldonado’s arrest.
“I see this as a big step in the right direction for Vision Zero, as we begin to regain trust in the NYPD’s commitment to it,” White added. Transportation Alternatives has chastised City Hall for failing to keep up momentum for Vision Zero by getting the NYPD to make drivers accountable. Following the death of von Ohlen, the NYPD responded by handing out tickets to cyclists on the street where he died.
“The mayor must recommit to Vision Zero. We still have a long way to go. In the past few weeks, we’ve seen cyclists cut down innocently, and officers immediately assuming they had it coming,” White told the Voice. The number of cycling deaths so far this year has already far surpassed 2015’s death toll.
Just this morning, two people were injured, one critically, on the Upper West Side by a box truck. The driver fled the scene.