NYPD Reportedly Lost Evidence Related to Crash That Killed Mathieu Lefevre

The attorney representing the family of Mathieu Lefevre has sent a letter to NYPD that raises serious questions about the investigation of the hit-and-run crash that took the 30-year-old artist’s life.

The parents of Mathieu Lefevre asked NYPD for answers at a rally outside 1 Police Plaza in October. Photo copyright ##http://gudphoto.com/bikenyc/2011/10/26/rally-for-traffic-justice/##Dmitry Gudkov##

The five-page letter from attorney Steve Vaccaro indicates that the NYPD Accident Investigation Squad has all but concluded that crane truck driver Leonardo Degianni was unaware that he had run over Lefevre and his bike at the intersection of Morgan Avenue and Meserole Street in East Williamsburg just after midnight on October 19. (Disclosure: Vaccaro represented Streetsblog for our freedom of information request to obtain documents from CUNY related to effort to erase the Prospect Park West bike lane.)

Vaccaro, writing on behalf of the Lefevres to Sergeant Matthew Bono of NYPD’s Highway Patrol Unit #2 in Flatbush, points to numerous shortcomings and gaps in the department’s handling of the case, and requests vital information that NYPD has yet to clarify or make available to the Lefevre family:

  • Based on conversations with Bono and investigating officer Detective Sheehan, Vaccaro writes: “Because leaving the scene was the only criminal charge considered this case, my understanding is that AIS’s consideration of potential criminal charges has concluded. You did indicate that AIS is still considering whether a traffic violation should be issued.”
  • Vaccaro was told that the AIS lost crucial evidence: “Detective Sheehan told me on December 7 that the blood he found on the front bumper of the truck that killed Mathieu was not collected or sampled by AIS. He explained to me that crime scene technicians responsible for collecting such samples were not available because they were investigating more serious crimes. According to Detective Sheehan, Mathieu’s blood found on the truck’s front bumper as rain was beginning to fall, and was therefore washed away without any collection or sampling. We have not been told whether AIS personnel photographed or otherwise preserved or recorded the fact of the blood and its location on the truck.” Other evidence, including Mathieu’s helmet and backpack, remains unaccounted for.
  • Police told Vaccaro that a video recording of the crash has been reviewed by AIS, and that a toxicology report conducted on Lefevre would be forthcoming. Asks Vaccaro: “Has Degianni himself been asked to submit to toxicology tests of the type being performed on the remains of Mathieu Lefevre?”
  • NYPD apparently has not settled on an official version of the crash, despite its crash report that shows that Lefevre was hit from behind. During one phone call, Sgt. Bono told Vaccaro, “we don’t think that he hit him with the front end of the truck.” When Vaccaro asked how Mathieu’s blood could have been on the front end of the truck, Bono replied, “I’m not saying he did and I’m not saying he didn’t hit him with the front end.” Bono’s comments seem to reflect early reports, attributed to unnamed NYPD sources, which indicated that Lefevre was sideswiped or was the victim of a “right hook.”

  • Based on details released by NYPD, Vaccaro and the Lefevre family question the conclusion that Degianni did not know he was involved in a collision. “[T]he accident report prepared by AIS includes a diagram depicting the truck rear-ending Mathieu on his bicycle. We were also told that Mathieu’s body was dragged some distance by the truck following the initial impact, and his bicycle was dragged much further. This is powerful, direct evidence that Degianni rear-ended Mathieu with the front end of his truck, immediately below and in front of the driver’s seat. It is difficult to believe that Degianni could have failed to notice he was involved in such a crash. We are astonished that that AIS would reject this plain evidence of a rear-end collision and a knowing flight from the scene, in favor the self-exculpatory statements and demeanor of Degianni.”
  • The letter says that remarks by investigators indicate a “preoccupation” with and “perhaps hostility” toward cyclists, leading Vaccaro and the Lefevre family to question NYPD impartiality. Writes Vaccaro: “[You] expressed the concern during your call to me on December 8 that the Lefevre family was being ‘used as a platform’ by cycling organizations. In a similar vein, Detective Sheehan also remarked to a witness he interviewed concerning Mathieu’s whereabouts immediately prior to his death that Mathieu ‘must have been a big cyclist given all the attention these advocacy organizations are paying to this case.’ Detective Sheehan has also suggested that Mathieu was a bicycle messenger (which is untrue), and has expressed his view to me views that cyclists generally behave in reckless and unpredictable ways in traffic. These negative comments … further undermine our confidence that the AIS is conducting an impartial investigation.”

It’s important to note that the office of Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes will have an opportunity to review the AIS investigation and the evidence in the Lefevre case to determine whether the charge of knowingly leaving the scene of a crash should be applied. Streetsblog has a message in with NYPD regarding the Vaccaro letter and the status of the Lefevre investigation.