The driver who struck and killed 22-year-old Jack Delaney Koval while he crossed the West Side Highway last July was an off-duty police officer, a spokesman for the NYPD confirmed Monday.
Steven Oquendo, a 27-year-old police officer in Manhattan (a spokesman declined to provide his rank or file), was not charged in Koval's death following the July 31st crash. According to police, Oquendo was driving with the light when he struck Koval in the crosswalk at 46th Street around 2:15 a.m., and remained on the scene.
But Koval's family and legal team hope that evidence in the case, including witness testimony that Oquendo accelerated rapidly around an Uber SUV before striking Jack, will compel an administrative law judge to suspend or revoke Oquendo's license at a DMV fatality hearing scheduled for Wednesday morning.
"The hope is that there is sufficient evidence submitted that even though Jack might have been crossing against the light, the officer was operating too quickly," said Daniel Flanzig, the Koval family's lawyer.
Reached by phone on Tuesday, Oquendo declined to comment on the allegations. "I have no comment for the accident, I just really feel bad for the victim," he said. "I think about it every day, and my condolences to the family."
The witness whose account Flanzig plans to emphasize Wednesday is named in the initial crash report. Flanzig, who was recently retained by the Koval family, got in touch with him last week, he said.
Any detail about the NYPD's follow-up with this witness is contained in the Collision Investigation Squad report, which can only be obtained through a Freedom Of Information Law request. Flanzig said he requested the file a month ago, to prepare for tomorrow's hearing, as it contains details about the investigation including surveillance video and 911 calls. He has yet to receive it.
"For these hearings it's extremely useful to have the FOIL result in hand," said Steve Vaccaro, an attorney who often represents cyclists. "Typically the administrative law judge and the DMV just have a skimpy little file of records, just a preliminary report."
This was the case last week, when Judge Jettie Thomas apologized to the driver who struck and killed a cyclist named Lauren Davis in Brooklyn in April 2016.
The intersection where Koval was struck (Google Maps).
Transportation Alternatives has advocated for the NYPD to release all CIS reports to the public. "That's where you can see what the precise causal factors were," the group's director, Paul Steely White, told Gothamist last fall.
DMV hearings regarding fatal crashes are mandatory under the vehicle and traffic law, regardless of whether a driver is charged criminally. An administrative judge is tasked with determining whether the driver demonstrated "gross negligence" and acted "in a manner showing a reckless disregard for life or property of others."
Oqeundo also failed to file an accident report, according to his hearing notice.
Vaccaro says that advocates fought for DMV hearings to be more effective in 2014, after an administrative judge dismissed two traffic tickets incurred by the driver who struck and killed 3-year-old Allison Liao in a hearing that lasted less than a minute. "We really kicked them in the pants," Vaccaro said, recalling a meeting between Transportation Alternatives, himself, and the DMV. "They started holding these hearings more frequently."
Vaccaro has represented clients in about ten DMV hearings, he said. "In most of these we've been able to get a suspension or even a revocation of the drivers' license," Vaccaro told Gothamist. "For families, this is important above and beyond anything they might recover in a civil lawsuit."
Last August, Flanzig represented the estate of Matthew Brenner, a cyclist who was struck and killed by driver Caitlin Venedam in July 2014. Venedam was not charged in the crash, but evidence presented in the DMV hearing compelled a judge to revoke her license. Flanzig presented evidence that Venedam had been distracted at the wheel, looking at a GPS map on her phone. "Cops didn't have any of that," Flanzig said.
Koval, who graduated from Emory University last spring, moved to New York City shortly after July 4th, 2016 to start a job as an analyst at Centerview Partners, a financial advisory firm. He was killed later that month. A preliminary police report included a false account of the circumstances: he did not, as was originally reported, jump a divider and step into oncoming traffic before he was killed.
The Kovals told Gothamist that they believe witness accounts prove Oquendo was driving recklessly. "I have this theory that [cops] get immunity when they are driving," Joe Koval, Jack's father, said. "What police officer would ever ticket them?"
"This guy killed our son," Koval added. "He was driving crazy, and if the DMV has to put it to him it's fine."
Koval and his wife Bobbi will attend tomorrow's hearing. "It's not fair that [the driver] walks around without some kind of reprimand," he said. "But it's going be the toughest day of my life sitting across from this guy at a conference table."
The Manhattan District Attorney's Office, which declined to prosecute Oquendo, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
[Update 5:00 p.m]: The Manhattan DA's Office issued the following statement:
First, we would like to express our deepest condolences to Mr. Koval’s family and friends. Following his death, the Office conducted a months-long investigation, including a review of surveillance footage, witness statements, Crash Data Retrieval records, and phone records. At the conclusion of the investigation, we determined that criminal charges were not warranted in this instance.