Three NYC Traffic Deaths, Three Very Different NYPD Investigations

Police are still looking for a cyclist who appears to have been involved in the crash that killed Kyle Larson, the 20-year-old skateboarder who last week was run over by the driver of a delivery truck on Union Square West. If the cyclist is believed to have contributed to the crash, police should try to bring him in. Nevertheless, the NYPD’s search points to a double standard when it comes to traffic fatality investigations.

Larson, a student at NYU, was killed at approximately 11:15 a.m. on Tuesday, November 20. By Wednesday night, NYPD had released a video that appears to show a wrong-way cyclist who nearly collides with Larson, stops for a few seconds, then rides away from the scene. Police are seeking to question the cyclist, who as of this morning had not been identified. Witnesses were asked to submit tips via the Crime Stoppers phone number or web site.

NYPD’s swift and public actions in the aftermath of Larson’s death stand in stark contrast to other crash investigations.

Days after Roxana Sorina Buta was killed by a hit-and-run truck driver at Broadway and 14th Street, a short distance from where Larson was struck, NYPD told Buta’s mother that no surveillance cameras had filmed the crash. The family learned later that police did in fact have video, which led authorities to identify the driver. NYPD did not release the video to the public. It’s not known if they were allowed access to the video, but as of October, five months after her death, Buta’s relatives reportedly did not know the driver’s name.

In October 2011, Mathieu Lefevre was killed in East Williamsburg, also by a hit-and-run truck driver. It was March before family members saw video of the crash, which was released by NYPD only in the midst of a protracted legal battle.

Larson, Buta and Lefevre were killed in crashes where someone left the scene. In two of those cases NYPD willfully shielded its investigation from view, even keeping victims’ families at bay. The only instance in which NYPD sought the public’s assistance is the crash for which a cyclist may bear some responsibility.

NYPD should conduct as complete an investigation as possible to find out what happened to Kyle Larson. The question is why the department fails to investigate thousands of other deaths and serious injuries as rigorously as this crash.