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Driver Who Killed Matthew Von Ohlen In Williamsburg Convicted Of Manslaughter

Matthew von Ohlen
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Matthew von Ohlen courtesy Bikestock

The hit-and-run driver who struck and killed Queens man Matthew von Ohlen in a Williamsburg bike lane in July 2016 has been convicted of second-degree manslaughter, leaving the scene of an incident and reckless driving, according to the Brooklyn District Attorney's Office.

Juan Maldonado, 57, of South Williamsburg, was arrested in connection with the incident last November. He faces up to 15 years in prison, and will be sentenced on October 18th by Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Suzanne Mondo.

"The driver in this case engaged in the types of criminal actions I am determined to prosecute in Brooklyn in order to reduce fatalities on our roads and streets," said Brooklyn DA Eric Gonzalez in a statement Monday. "The jury has now agreed that this was not an accident but a crime, and this defendant will be held responsible for his reckless behavior that cost an innocent man his life."

Von Ohlen was biking home from a shift as a bartender at Apotheke in Manhattan on the morning of July 2nd when he was struck in front of 690 Grand Street in Williamsburg, between Manhattan and Graham Avenues. The crash took place around 2:20 a.m.

Video surveillance recovered from the scene of the crash shows 35-year-old von Ohlen riding in a designated bike lane when he was struck. According to prosecutors, Maldonado sped through a red light before swerving into the bike lane and striking von Ohlen's bike from behind. He then continued driving, "running over the victim and dragging him approximately 10 to 20 feet as he sped away," according to the DA's Office.

DNAinfo reports that Maldonado was fired from his job as a delivery driver for Williamsburg's Certified Lumber a day before the crash. He had missed several shifts and arrived at work intoxicated, according to a colleague.

Howard Kirsch, Maldonado's attorney, declined to comment to Gothamist on Monday evening. In court, however, he described the crash as an "accident" that "may have been negligent, but he was not so reckless as to commit the crime of manslaughter."

He also insinuated that von Ohlen was culpable because of the alcohol in his system when he died.

"We also know Mr. von Ohlen was legally intoxicated more than double the [legal limit]," Kirsch said, according to DNAInfo. "Maybe somebody who's that intoxicated is not full in control of that vehicle, in this case the bicycle he was riding."

Assistant District Attorney Douglas Marquez responded that there is no law against riding a bike intoxicated. "He wasn't swerving, he wasn't falling down, he was riding in the bike lane," he said.

Von Ohlen started Bikestock with partner Joseph Huba in 2013.

"I lost one of these anchors in my world," said Logan Gilbert, von Ohlen's longtime roommate in San Francisco and fellow NYC bartender, last year.

Transportation Alternatives Director Paul Steely White addressed the significance of the von Ohlen case last fall, at the time of Maldonado's arraignment.

"We were watching this case very closely because it has the potential to be pivotal to restoring trust that the NYPD will protect the lives of vulnerable road users," he said. "We've seen too many cases where there has been a reflexive response to victim blame. In addition to restoring faith, I think this will also send a strong message to motorists that they must respect the right of way of bicyclists especially in bike lanes and crosswalks."

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