Proposed bike law would force cops to investigate all serious crashes

A Williamsburg lawmaker is pushing a bill that would force police to investigate all serious car-on-bike crashes — not just ones in which cyclists lose their lives.

The legislation, put forward by Councilman Steve Levin (D–Williamsburg), requires the NYPD to follow state law, forcing to cops to investigate collisions that result in serious physical injury, rather than just ones in which “death is likely.” It could also add hundreds of trained traffic experts to the force.

Levin said several crashes followed by botched and stalled investigations in Greenpoint, Fort Greene, and East Williamsburg prompted the proposed legislation.

“It’s vital that police investigate these cases more thoroughly,” Levin said. “Reckless drivers should know there are consequences.”

The bill comes after several high-profile car-on-bike collisions in which cycling boosters claim cops made serious mistakes, including:

• The case of Michelle Matson, a Greenpoint artist who was stuck by a hit-and-run driver and suffered a broken back in October 2011. Public records indicate cops let the case go cold and did not properly investigate because there was no fatality.

• The case of Stefanos Tsigrimanis, a musician who was killed by a truck driver in Fort Greene in September 2010. Cops didn’t pursue the case until 10 days after his death because they incorrectly believed he there was no risk he would lose his life.

• The case of Clara Heyworth, a marketing director killed by a drunk driver in Fort Greene in July 2011. The District Attorney could not pursue the case, because police did not go arrive at the scene until at least three days after the crash

, limiting the amount of evidence obtained.

• The case of Mathieu Lefevre, an artist killed by a truck driver in October 2011. Cops made errors in the police report, failed to collect evidence at the scene, and are now facing a lawsuit from the victim’s family for allegedly withholding videos and documents from their investigation.

Levin’s bill comes after a recent city Council hearing proved the department’s policies are not in line with state law.

State law requires police to investigate crashes between vehicles — both car-on-car and car-on-bike accidents — when “serious physical injury” occurs.

But the NYPD’s patrolman’s handbook is not consistent with that law, noting that cops must investigate only when “death is likely.”

Levin’s bill would change that. It calls for the agency to have at least five so-called Accident Investigation Squad officers trained at each precinct, bumping up the number from 19 to 380 citywide. One such officer would be on call at all times in each precinct.

That increase in training and perhaps manpower is a step in the right direction, said Steve Vaccaro, a lawyer for Lefevre’s parents.

“It’s a wonderful idea,” he said. “Life-changing crashes deserve a meaningful assessment.”

A spokeswoman from the Police Department did not respond to requests for comment by press time, and the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association says it could add unnecessary strain on an already overburdened police force.

“It’s a matter of shifting priorities and I can tell you we’re already stretched thin,” said spokesman Al O’Leary. “There are a lot of questions legislation doesn’t take into account.”

But bicycle advocates cheered the bill, which Levin must now bring before his peers in a yet-to-be scheduled Council hearing.

“Horrifying, life-changing crashes shouldn’t go unresolved,” said Michael Murphy of Transportation Alternatives.

Reach reporter Natalie O'Neill at [email protected] or by calling her at (718) 260-4505.