Today at noon the parents, family, and friends of Brooklyn artist Mathieu Lefevre are holding a press conference and rally at NYPD Headquarters at 1 Police Plaza to press the NYPD to hold accountable the driver of a flatbed truck who fatally ran over Lefevre a week ago in East Williamsburg. The driver of the truck left the scene of the accident and was not tracked down by investigators for several days; ultimately the NYPD decided that no criminality was involved. Lefevre's funeral was yesterday, and today his mother spoke to us at length to share her frustration with how the NYPD has handled the investigation.
"We have been to the 90th precinct twice," says Lefevre's mother Erika. "We have a police report that is not an investigation of the accident, it says really nothing. There is very little information there; just my son's name, the time of death, and the names of the officers who responded. The police have not told us they have dropped the case, but we've found learned that from the press, not the police. We've read the case has been dropped, but the police have told us nothing! They said we have to go to AIS [the NYPD Accident Investigation Squad] to find out if the driver would be charged." Lefevre's mother tells us the detective at AIS has not returned the family's calls, and she went on to say:
It's been extremely frustrating. We've been here since Thursday, and we do not have very much information at all. We've been to the scene of the accident, and there are many questions that we have but so far no one has been able to answer our questions. The police have not let us know anything, really. We're from Western Canada, and it appears that it's going to be very difficult for us to get information. On Friday we spent all day driving back and forth to the precinct and got no information. We were always directed to somebody else. Nobody returns our calls.
It is very disturbing to read an article in the Wall Street Journal quoting a police spokesman saying they were not pressing charges—when we haven't even been told. It is very disturbing to find that information has been released to the media that we, the immediate family, have not been told! We contacted the Canadian Embassy and they were not helpful either, at least not so far.
In Canada, if you hit a cyclist, whether you have seen him or not, it's your fault. You can't claim, 'Oh, I didn't see him. It was an accident.' You are charged and arrested. But we don't even know what happened because the NYPD tells us they don't have information about whatever investigation was conducted! I have to read in the paper that my son ran a red light? Why is that released to the press but the NYPD can't tell us that?
Erika Lefevre says her son was biking in the same direction as the truck driver. "So if my son ran the red light, so did the truck driver," she points out. "Why is the truck driver not charged for making the turn at the red light? We're told there is video surveillance footage at that intersection, and the police told us there were witnesses, but the report they gave us has almost no information whatsoever." Lefevre's ex-wife, Juliana Berger, also issued this statement harshly criticizing the NYPD's handling of the investigation:
I spoke to [Lefevre] just a few days before this happened and he was so excited about the paintings he was preparing for the Toronto Art Show. I have been with the family since we have received the news on Wednesday. Almost all of the information we have is what we have read in the newspaper. The fact that we have not been properly informed adds insult to injury. The family is trying to cope with this tragedy, but it seems nearly impossible given the lack of information. We can’t bear the fact that other families have likely been given the same treatment and other families are bound to be treated this way as well if nothing changes.
Transportation Alternatives has also blasted the NYPD for what they see has a pattern of lax prosecution of drivers who run over cyclists. In a statement, the group points out the distressing statistic that "drivers have killed four bicyclists in Williamsburg since August. Transportation Alternatives is calling for public officials to commit to a goal of zero bicyclist, pedestrian, driver and passenger fatalities and serious injuries on New York City streets.
"As long as the default response to a motor vehicle crash is, 'accidents happen,' the behaviors that kill and injure New Yorkers on our streets will continue. There is nothing 'accidental' about the majority of crashes; 69 percent of fatal crashes with known causes are caused by driver’s dangerous and illegal behavior, according to an analysis of 80 contributing factors associated with crashes tracked by the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles."
On Monday, the NYPD press office told us that no charges would be filed because—and this is a direct quote—"The driver did not know that he hit the cyclist." Sunday, we spoke with an officer near the scene of the accident and he told us Lefevre ran a red light—how the NYPD came to this conclusion is unclear. The officer also told us he would be running a checkpoint nearby, and sure enough, a tipster confirms that the NYPD has been cracking down on reckless driving in the area. Oops, correction: the checkpoint targeted cyclists, not drivers, and we're told at least half a dozen cyclists were seen getting tickets from police.