Is Road Rage a Medical Episode? NYPD Says Fatal Crash in Queens is Still Under Investigation

The aftermath of the Astoria crash that killed Xing Long Lin and injured Nahar Anin-Aminof. File photo: Zohran Mamdani
The aftermath of the Astoria crash that killed Xing Long Lin and injured Nahar Anin-Aminof. File photo: Zohran Mamdani

Cops are still coming to the defense of the driver who fatally struck a delivery worker in Queens last week, saying the woman behind the wheel of a speeding Mercedes-Benz may have had a “medical episode” when she veered into the bike lane, killing 37-year-old Xing Long Lin.

Like in many fatal crashes, law enforcement sources at the scene last Thursday initially absolved the driver, telling reporters that the unidentified woman had suffered a medical episode when she hit the gas before slamming into an outdoor dining area on Ditmars Boulevard near 35th Street — an excuse parroted by multiple media outlets.

But the next morning, a police source told a reporter for CBS News that that the diagnosis was simple road rage — she had apparently gotten angry at a slow driver in front of her and sped up, striking Lin in the act. The official NYPD statement on the crash sent out on Friday morning said the driver — whose name has not been released by cops — was traveling at a “high rate of speed.”

But by Monday, police shifted back to the “medical episode” narrative. A spokesman for the NYPD told Streetsblog that cops never retracted their statement about the medical incident, and that the crash was still under investigation. The driver has lawyered up and police are trying to determine why she was speeding, he said.

“I know they said she was speeding, but we have to determine why she was speeding, whether it was a medical episode,” said Sgt. Anwar Ishmael. “Obviously she wasn’t drunk or they would have arrested her.”

Witnesses told other reporters on the scene that the woman was going upwards of 50 miles-per-hour on the narrow, residential street when she ran over Lin, a husband and father who at the time was working for a local sushi restaurant on Ditmars Boulevard. The driver also plowed into an outdoor dining structure for Rosatoro Restaurant at the corner, injuring another patron inside.

Some driver advocates said the crash shows the danger of the city’s successful open streets program, but safe streets advocates blamed two people for the crash: the car driver and Mayor de Blasio — the latter for failing to keep reckless drivers off the road, and for failing to build out safe infrastructure that protects vulnerable road users.

“Ever since Mayor de Blasio launched open streets, we have called for physical changes to streets to eliminate the danger of cars,” said Danny Harris, executive director of Transportation Alternatives. “Mayor de Blasio has not advanced these life-saving protections to our streetscape. Unless Mayor de Blasio permanently redesigns streets for safety, drivers will continue to kill more New Yorkers whether they are crossing the street, riding a bike, or dining outdoors.”

The local Assembly Member Zohran Mamdani also blamed Lin’s death — and the deaths of both Xellea Samonte, a 23-year-old bicyclist who was killed on 35th Street in 2018; and 35-year-old Alfredo Cabrera Licona, another deliveryman, who was killed in November on Crescent Street — on the city.

“These are not isolated incidents, they are deaths caused by our city’s failure to adequately protect pedestrians & bicyclists,” the pol said on Twitter. Mamdani set up a GoFundMe for Lin’s family that has since raised more than $100,000.

A spokeswoman for Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz refused to say whether its office was also investigating, claiming it’s dependent on an arrest by the NYPD, despite the fact that the Queens DA is supposed to send an assistant district attorney to the scene of all fatal crashes. And just days earlier, the same office filed aggravated manslaughter and vehicular manslaughter charges against a Long Island woman for allegedly driving while intoxicated when she hit and killed an NYPD officer last month, and attempted murder charges against another Long Island man for almost striking an NYPD officer during a traffic stop in January as part of a drug investigation.

It’s easy to be wary of the medical episode defense, says one attorney, who is representing another grieving family in Brooklyn after their 10-year-old son was killed in September, 2019, by an-out-of-control driver who Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez claimed to have suffered a medical episode.

“It’s too easy a defense,” said personal injury attorney Leslie Kelmachter, who is representing the family of Enzo Farachio. “If you’re speeding or lose control, it’s very easy to say, ‘I had a medical episode,’ Hopefully it will be a very thorough investigation and not rely solely on the word of this woman. They should get medical records, and speak with medical experts.”

But in Lin’s case, even if there was a medical episode, it doesn’t automatically mean the driver will get let off the hook. In 2018, Gonzalez charged Dorothy Bruns with reckless manslaughter after she killed two kids on Ninth Street in Brooklyn after ignoring doctors’ orders to not drive because of a history of seizures due to Multiple Sclerosis. Bruns later died by suicide.

“Even if there are medical reasons, it does not eliminate the possibility that it was also a criminal act [especially] if she had a medical condition that she knew precluded her from driving,” said Kelmachter.

The fatal crash in Astoria is a reminder that death stalks the roadways of New York City at all times. Since last April, drivers in Astoria’s relatively small 114th Precinct have killed two cyclists and three motorists, and caused at least 811 injuries, including to 165 cyclists and 130 pedestrians, according to Crash Mapper. In just those 13 months, there were  1,930 reported crashes, or roughly five crashes every single day.

And just one day after Lin’s death, cops were searching for the reckless and impatient driver who seriously injured a bus driver in Brooklyn on Friday all because he was apparently frustrated at having to wait.