Matthew von Ohlen’s Alleged Killer Charged With Assault and Manslaughter

A Brooklyn man was arrested and charged yesterday for the death of Matthew von Ohlen, who was killed last summer as he rode his bike on Grand Street in Williamsburg by a motorist who left the scene.

Matthew Von Ohlen
Matthew von Ohlen

Prosecutors say that in the early morning hours of July 2, 56-year-old Juan Maldonado ran a red light, swerved into the bike lane, and crashed into von Ohlen on Grand near Graham Avenue, dragging him 10 to 20 feet before driving away, according to the Village Voice.

Von Ohlen, 35, was a co-founder of Bikestock, which operates bike repair vending machines. He was reportedly headed home to Ridgewood after a bartending shift in Manhattan when he was killed.

Investigators located the vehicle, a black Chevrolet Camaro, a few days after the crash, but NYPD said nothing else publicly about the case until yesterday. Police told Gothamist DNA evidence “has linked both von Ohlen and Maldonado to the Camaro.”

“A young man who was an active member of Brooklyn’s biking community lost his life because a speeding driver struck him in a designated bike lane and sped away,” said acting Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez in a statement. “This was not an accident, but rather a reckless act for which we intend to hold this defendant accountable.”

Maldonado was charged with assault, manslaughter, leaving the scene, and weapons possession — all felonies — as well as speeding, reckless driving, careless driving, and violating the victim’s right of way, according to court records. The top charge, assault in the first degree, is a class B felony with penalties ranging from five to 25 years in prison.

In the immediate aftermath of the crash, police said video evidence seemed to indicate the driver struck von Ohlen intentionally. The assault charge may suggest prosecutors will argue Maldonado acted with intent.

DNAinfo reported that on the day before von Ohlen was killed, Maldonado was fired from his job as a truck driver for a lumber company, in part because he repeatedly came to work intoxicated.

“The fact of the arrest doesn’t change the sense of loss and the grieving, but hopefully it’s a step in the direction of justice for Matthew, so that’s encouraging,” Bernt von Ohlen, Matthew’s father, told DNAinfo.

The number of New York City cyclists killed by motorists is up this year compared to 2015. Since von Ohlen’s death, his family and friends have joined Transportation Alternatives, City Council Member Antonio Reynoso, and others in calling on DOT to install a protected bike lane on Grand Street. More broadly, TA wants the city to prioritize buses, biking, and walking on Grand to help people get around more safely and efficiently when the L train is shut down for Sandy repairs.

“I want to commend the NYPD for doing a thorough investigation,” TA Executive Director Paul White told the Voice. “At times, we did have our doubts that were doing it assiduously, but we’re heartened to see this arrest be made. I see this as a big step in the right direction for Vision Zero, as we begin to regain trust in the NYPD’s commitment to it.”

NYPD’s initial response to the crash that killed von Ohlen, as his killer remained at large, was to ticket people on bikes, near the crash scene and on the Manhattan Bridge.

Maldonado pled not guilty and is being held on $100,000 bail, according to court records. His next court appearance is scheduled for December 15.