Will the “Rule of Two” Trigger Hynes Probe Into the Death of Felix Coss?

While the NYPD Internal Affairs Bureau looks into the death of Felix Coss, the school teacher who was struck and killed by an officer driving a police vehicle in Williamsburg, Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes has yet to launch his own investigation.

Felix Coss. Photo via DNAinfo

Coss, 61, was crossing Broadway at Hooper Street at 4:30 p.m. Saturday, in a crosswalk with the signal, when he was hit by Officer Paula Medrano, who was driving a marked van from the 90th Precinct, according to reports and photos of the scene. Medrano was making a left turn and “failed to see” the victim, the Post said.

DNAinfo and the Daily News reported that, according to witnesses, Medrano was seen talking on a cell phone when she hit Coss. From DNAinfo:

After eyewitnesses told investigators that they saw Medrano talking on her cell phone at the time of the crash, officers with Internal Affairs asked her to hand it over, sources said.

Medrano, who was wearing civilian clothes at the time of the crash, refused, and investigators have subpoenaed the records, law enforcement sources said. She had not been charged as of Monday afternoon.

The Daily News also reported today that Internal Affairs has subpoenaed Medrano’s phone records.

Despite NYPD’s initial assessment that no laws were broken prior to the collision, it seems there were at least three potential violations: careless driving, failure to yield to a pedestrian, and distracted driving.

Theoretically, this would be enough to trigger the so-called “rule of two,” an arbitrary standard which holds that a New York State motorist who is breaking at least two traffic laws at the time of a crash may be charged with criminal negligence. But it remains to be seen whether the DA will get involved. For now, said Hynes’s office, “[I]t’s an Internal Affairs investigation.”

It would be easy to assume that Officer Medrano will be given special treatment, but it’s highly unusual to hear of NYPD subpoenaing phone records after a deadly crash. If anything, based on reports, it appears NYPD is investigating this crash more thoroughly than most fatalities involving a sober driver. It probably doesn’t hurt that the story is getting sustained media coverage, given the distracted driving peg and the fact that Coss was a well-known and popular figure.

All of which serves to remind how little attention is paid to most NYC pedestrian and cyclist deaths, and how few are pursued by police and prosecutors. “Rule of two” notwithstanding, only once in recent memory — a case brought by Hynes — has a sober motorist who was not fleeing police and who remained at the scene faced criminal charges for causing the death of a New York City pedestrian or cyclist.