Vision Zero Hasn’t Changed NYPD Practice of Blaming Deceased Crash Victims

Based on press leaks it seems NYPD still presumes the victim is at fault in most serious crashes. Image: News 12
Based on press leaks it seems NYPD still presumes the victim is at fault in most serious crashes. Image: News 12

Last week an MTA bus driver crushed a pedestrian to death in Mott Haven. By all accounts the victim, walking with a cane, was in the crosswalk at Willis Avenue and E. 147th Street when the driver ran him over while turning left.

If reports are correct the bus driver should be subject to charges under Section 19-190, the new city law that makes it a misdemeanor for drivers to hurt or kill pedestrians who have the right of way. Yet before police cleared the crash scene, NYPD exculpated the driver in the press.

“At this point, they don’t believe there was anything criminal involved,” said ABC 7 reporter Lisa Colagrossi, “just that it was a tragic accident.”

It’s possible police may eventually file charges for the Bronx crash — the one time NYPD is reported to have applied Section 19-190 so far, in the case of the cab driver who killed Silvia Gallo on the Upper East Side, charges didn’t come until weeks later. But 10 months into Mayor de Blasio’s Vision Zero initiative it’s still standard operating procedure for NYPD to declare “no criminality suspected” before investigators have taken down the barricade tape.

NYPD also continues to blame victims for their own deaths. On Monday at around 7:19 p.m., the driver of a Ford SUV fatally struck pedestrian Cristina Alonso in Dyker Heights. Other than the basics like the victim’s name, the driver’s age and vehicle make, and the time and location of the crash, the only information released by police was that Alonso was not in the crosswalk.

From News 12: “According to police, 38-year-old Cristina Alonso was not using the crosswalk as she walked from 14th Avenue onto 86th Street Monday night.”

From the Brooklyn Paper: “The woman was not crossing at a crosswalk, a report says.”

From the Daily News: “She was struck while walking ‘outside of the crosswalk,’ cops said.”

How did the driver fail to see Alonso? Was the driver speeding or using a cell phone? A motorist’s actions before a serious crash are at least as important as those of the victim, but they don’t fit the standard NYPD crash narrative and are virtually never revealed to the media. According to NYPD, if you die while jaywalking or committing some other minor infraction, it’s your fault. If you are killed by a motorist while following the law, your death was an unpreventable tragedy.

Section 19-190 was intended to make the latter scenario a thing of the past. The public can only hope NYPD has reformed the way it conducts crash investigations, even if the department hasn’t dropped its habit of assigning blame to victims in the press.