A federal judge threw out a $10-million lawsuit against the federal agent who struck and killed a woman in a July, 2010 crash, ruling that evidence shows the Vespa-riding mother of three was at fault.
The decision likely ends the legal battle waged by Michael Dalton over the death of his wife Aileen McKay-Dalton, the 40-year-old Scotland native and Fort Greene resident who died when Treasury Department agent Joel Murphy drove his Ford sport-utility vehicle into her scooter at DeKalb and Clinton avenues. Two witnesses said he ran a red light, and another said he was speeding, as The Brooklyn Paper previously reported, but of the three witnesses who testified at a civil trial, two said that Murphy entered the intersection when the light facing him would have been yellow, and federal Judge Nicholas Garaufis deemed a third not credible, concluding that McKay-Dalton started into the intersection when her light was still red.
“The court finds that … the Dekalb Avenue traffic light was red at the time McKay-Dalton entered the intersection,” Garaufis wrote in his 47-page decision. “And the accident would not have occurred if McKay-Dalton had waited for the DeKalb Avenue traffic light to turn to green.”
Among the reasons Garaufis articulated for tossing the case were:
• A person standing on the Bedford-Stuyvesant side of the intersection looking into the sun on a summer evening would not have been able to see the color of the traffic lights facing Clinton Avenue, as one witness claimed to.
• Dalton gave away his late wife’s iPhone, which she had on her at the time of the crash, in 2011, making it impossible to perform a forensics analysis that could have shown whether she was using it immediately before the crash, and provided other information about her position.
• The accident-reconstruction expert hired by Dalton backed up many of his claims with conjecture, and prepared a report outlining the crash before visiting the scene.
• The testifying witness who said Murphy ran the light was agitated about a financial-aid problem at the time, she “incredibly suggested that she had been able to see everything, everywhere, all at once,” including Murphy, who would have been behind her, and that she showed sympathy for the Dalton family in the courtroom, including telling a government lawyer representing Murphy, “You’re not the good guy.”
• The other two testifying witnesses’ narratives corroborated Murphy’s account.
• Murphy could not have been on his phone at the time of the crash, as phone records showed that a call he received just beforehand went unanswered.
Murphy told the court he had taken a break from a drug-related Internal Revenue Service surveillance operation nearby, and that he was on his way to a Barnes and Noble to use a bathroom when the crash occurred, although he denied being in any kind of hurry, court documents show. He claimed that the light turned yellow as he entered the intersection, and the judge concluded based on witness accounts and light timing that there is no plausible scenario that it had turned red when the crash occurred. Murphy was working with the El Dorado Task Force, a 55-agency law enforcement consortium focused on money laundering, according to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement website.
In the days following the crash, witnesses, friends, and relatives of McKay-Dalton rallied to demand Murphy be prosecuted, and then-councilwoman Letitia James said unequivocally that he had run a red light. Then-district attorney Charles Hynes declined to prosecute Murphy, but the NYPD did hit him with a traffic summons.
Following the crash, Dalton quit his job at Barclays to take care of the couple’s daughter and two sons.
Garaufis concluded that he feels for the family, but that he can’t find Murphy at fault.
“This was without question a tragic accident, and the court has a great deal of sympathy for Aileen McKay-Dalton and her family,” he wrote. “However, after full consideration of the record, and for the reasons discussed above, the court concludes that [Dalton] did not establish by a preponderance of evidence that Agent Murphy was negligent.”