Breakdown in Collection of Evidence Means Deadly Drivers Go Free

| 21 Nov 2014 | 10:04

New Yorkers have an excuse to feel a little less safe on the streets as NYPD officers are failing to meet their investigative duties. (by Alissa Fleck) In the middle of a July night last year, Clara Hayworth was crossing the street in Fort Greene with her husband, when she was fatally struck by a car. The driver was 43-year-old Anthony Webb, who held only a learner's permit, making his solo drive illegal. Officers on the scene administered a breathalyzer an hour after the crash, which proved Webb was likely drunk at the time of the accident. From there unfolded a breakdown in the chain of evidence collection. The breathalyzer results were not admissible as evidence because the device had not been properly calibrated in over four years. The NYPD Accident Investigation Squad (AIS), the only department authorized to investigate fatal crashes, took three days to investigate the case. At that time, a plethora of evidence, including skid marks, surveillance footage and potential witnesses were no longer available. This past February, the Brooklyn District Attorney's Office announced Webb would not be charged in Hayworth's death. Two days following this announcement, the City Council held a hearing about the NYPD's response to serious and fatal crashes. 2,500 people signed a petition asking the police commissioner to change NYPD policies so victims of traffic violence in New York City would receive justice. Unfortunately there have been many similar incidents in the past year leading up to this hearing. Last October, 30-year-old Brooklyn artist Mathieu Lefevre, was fatally struck in a hit-and-run while biking. Police ultimately made no charges in the case. In the February hearing, Transportation Alternatives Executive Director Paul Steely White condemned the AIS for taking photos of the scene on broken cameras and ultimately losing evidence. Lefevre's mother told Gothamist the NYPD was not forthcoming with information, and she learned through the media there would be no charges in her son's case. There have also been no charges filed in the case of Michelle Matson, another Brooklyn cyclist struck recently in a hit-and-run. Matson survived the accident but sustained numerous debilitating injuries, including a broken neck. White reported there was little investigation whatsoever into Matson's case either, which was ultimately treated as a "fender bender." The examples of similar investigative shortcomings in serious NYC crashes seem endless. White calls the failure to properly investigate these cases a disturbing trend. Transportation Alternatives will hold a rally at City Hall on June 11th to raise awareness about the city's failure to properly examine serious traffic crashes.