Nine months after beloved P.S. 110 teacher Matthew Jensen was killed in a hit-and-run on McGuinness Boulevard, police have arrested the driver who took his life.
Officers arrested 30-year-old Tariq Witherspoon on Tuesday morning, charging him with criminally negligent homicide, leaving the scene of an accident, reckless endangerment, reckless driving, and speeding.
Witherspoon was arraigned on Tuesday afternoon. Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Danny Chun ordered him held on bail of $15,000 cash or a $75,000 bond, and Witherspoon will return to court on April 27, according to Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez’s office.
The arrest came after a “lengthy and thorough investigation,” the DA’s office said.
“I am overcome with emotion on hearing the news that a suspect was arrested and charged with the criminally negligent homicide of Matthew Jensen, a beloved neighbor and teacher at P.S. 110,” said local Assemblymember Emily Gallagher, in a statement. “Victims of vehicular homicide rarely see an arrest made in their case. I am grateful to the Highway District Collision Investigation Squad for their patient and persistent work, and to the 94th Precinct for keeping my office regularly updated. I am also certain that the courage, activism, and outrage of the wider P.S. 110 family played a role in this outcome.”
Witherspoon allegedly hit Jensen in a Rolls-Royce as the 58-year-old crossed a five-lane stretch of McGuinness Boulevard at Bayard Street just before 1 am on May 18, 2021. He did not stop after striking Jensen, who was found with severe injuries and pronounced dead at Woodhull Hospital. According to Gallagher’s statement, Witherspoon was the subject of four civil complaints related to serious injuries caused by irresponsible driving before he killed Jensen.
Jensen’s death spurred new calls for a city-funded redesign of the notoriously dangerous McGuinness Boulevard and the creation of the Make McGuinness Safe Coalition, a local group calling for myriad safety and quality of life improvements for the street.
“While nothing can bring Matt back, we hope that this may finally provide some measure of resolution for those who lost and loved him,” the Coalition said in a statement on Tuesday. “What happened to Matt and what has happened to dozens of neighbors killed on McGuinness Boulevard is the consequence of a highway cutting our community in two. One driver may have committed this act, but it is our city that is ultimately responsible.”
Last summer, days after Jensen was killed, then-mayor Bill de Blasio pledged $39 million for a full redesign of McGuinness Boulevard. Construction is expected to begin later this year, though the city’s Department of Transportation has not yet released its plans for the street. Interim safety measures, like shorter traffic light cycles at night and a new crosswalk at Bayard Street, have been installed in the meantime, the department said at an October meeting.
Dozens of cyclists, pedestrians, and drivers have been killed or seriously injured on the 1.5-mile stretch, which connects the Pulaski Bridge and the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, in the last decade. In January, a 75-year-old pedestrian was hit and injured as she crossed a particularly dangerous section of the boulevard between Norman and Meserole avenues.
“We are relying on our city and our leaders to act urgently to Make McGuinness Safe and ensure that Matt Jensen’s is the last death on McGuinness,” the Make McGuinness Safe Coalition said.