Driver Who Killed Phil O’Reilly Had a History of Speeding and Red Light Tickets

Union Turnpike at 175th Street, where Phil O’Reilly was killed by a driver in January. Image: Google Maps
Union Turnpike at 175th Street, where Phil O’Reilly was killed by a driver in January. Image: Google Maps

When a motorist killed Phil O’Reilly as he crossed Union Turnpike outside Carnesecca Arena in January, NYPD filed no charges and said O’Reilly was crossing against the light. Police cited no evidence to back up the claim that the driver, who hit O’Reilly with a Nissan Altima, was not at fault.

But the city’s open data portal shows that the same Nissan was cited for speeding five times in less than two years and a red light violation two months before O’Reilly was killed.

The history of dangerous moving violations raises questions about NYPD’s crash investigation and reinforces the need for new measures to keep habitual reckless drivers off the streets.

A popular ride leader for the Five Borough Bike Club, O’Reilly, 71, was struck at around 11 p.m. on January 23 on the westbound side of the turnpike at 175th Street, on the border of the St. John’s University Queens campus, where he’d just watched a basketball game.

Union Turnpike is a divided four-lane road conducive to speeding. Two people were injured in crashes at 175th Street in 2017, according to city data.

Days after the crash, the NYPD public information office provided no details on how fast the driver was going, and didn’t say if the driver’s phone was checked for evidence of distraction. While sharing no information about the motorist’s behavior, police felt comfortable telling the public O’Reilly was at fault.

“Police said the driver had the right of way and that the victim, though in the crosswalk, was going against the red light,” the Daily News reported.

As is typical when a motorist is not charged or ticketed after taking a life, NYPD withheld the driver’s name, identifying him or her only as 47 years old.

Violations attached to the car that struck Phil O’Reilly. Image: NYC OpenData
Violations attached to the car that struck Phil O’Reilly. Image: NYC OpenData

Streetsblog searched for the Nissan’s plate number, visible in a Daily News photo, in the city’s traffic violation database. Since late 2015, the car has been ticketed by traffic cameras five times for speeding in school zones and once for running a red light. In addition, the database shows numerous parking violations and summonses for expired or missing registration and inspection stickers. All violations that indicate a location occurred in Queens.

When a motorist kills someone walking or biking, NYPD often adopts the driver’s story as the official version of events without talking to other witnesses. In cases where other people’s testimony or video evidence comes to light, NYPD’s findings are frequently discredited.

The public doesn’t know why NYPD thinks Phil O’Reilly caused the crash that killed him. Since the car is routinely operated in a reckless manner, and NYPD has a record of allowing drivers to guide investigations into fatal collisions, skepticism is warranted.

Like last week’s crash that ended the lives of two children in Park Slope, this case is also an example of how deadly traffic violence might be curbed if repeat traffic camera tickets resulted in a loss of driving privileges, not just a $50 fine.

Responding to the Park Slope crash, last week state lawmakers announced bills that would suspend registrations of vehicles tagged for multiple camera violations.


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