Beep, activists to police: Quit blaming cyclists in fatal crashes!

Beep, activists to police: Quit blaming cyclists in fatal crashes!
Photo by Jason Speakman

Police must stop blaming cyclists for their own demise after deadly collisions with the drivers, bike advocates and pols demanded in the wake of two fatal Brooklyn crashes last month.

Authorities pointed the finger at a dead bike rider in Clinton Hill on April 15 and another in Park Slope on April 20, only to later change their tune after further investigations, and one former cop says the department must learn to bite its tongue until it has the full story.

“We should not assume that the cyclist was always the person responsible for a crash or had accepted the risk simply by climbing on a bicycle,” said Borough President Adams, a former police captain, at a memorial for both riders last weekend. “There must be a blue wall of silence until the investigation is completed and we know the facts.”

Several Slopers grilled police at a 78th Precinct Community Council meeting on April 26, claiming a local officer told them neighborhood cyclist James Gregg was spotted trying to hold on to the side of an 18-wheeler tractor trailer before it ran over and killed him on April 20, according to those present.

The precinct’s captain responded that it was up to the Highway Patrol to investigate fatal crashes, and asked for the name of the offending officer, though no one was able to give it, according to council president Wayne Bailey.

The unit’s Collision Investigation Squad is in charge of the investigations, a rep for New York’s Finest said, though local precincts typically look into them in the immediate aftermath.

The department’s public information office also issues a media release shortly after fatal crashes with details based on the early inquiries, and critics say they often erroneously blame bike riders.

“There’s a repeated pattern of blaming innocent people for their own deaths,” said Windsor Terrace resident Paul Steely White, who is the director of pro-bike group Transportation Alternatives.

The department sent out a release hours after Gregg’s death saying he “collided into [the] rear tire of the tractor trailer,” but did not mention that the truck driver was on a residential street and not an approved truck route at the time.

Two hours later, a New York Times reporter quoted a spokesman as telling him that the large truck created a “wind force” that sucked up Gregg and his bike — then the following day that Gregg had fallen to the ground for “unknown reasons” and the big rig then ran over him.

And the day after that, Gothamist quoted a spokesman saying investigators believe Gregg fell while trying to overtake the truck in a narrow passage alongside parked cars.

The incident came just days after a police release stated that Crown Heights cyclist Lauren Davis was riding the wrong way on a one-way street in Clinton Hill when the driver of a car ran over her while turning onto the street on April 15.

Officials eventually revised the report after a witness came forward to say that Davis was in fact riding with traffic, but news outlets — including this one — had already run reports on the reckless cycling and Steely White says the damage is done.

“It really perpetuates a cycle of road crime where reckless drivers are given a pass and the people who they happen to mow down are acceptable collateral damage,” he said.

The District Attorney’s office is now looking into pressing charges against the driver who mowed down Davis.

Police have issued the truck driver who ran over Gregg with five summonses for driving off route and maintenance violations. A spokeswoman said the investigation is still ongoing.

The 78th Precinct refused to comment, and the 88th Precinct, which covers Clinton Hill, did not return requests for comment.

Reach reporter Lauren Gill at lgill@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–2511. Follow her on Twitter @laurenk_gill
In memory: The memorial features photos of Davis.
Photo by Jason Speakman