Officers from the NYPD's Collision Investigation Squad have arrested a suspect in the hit-and-run killing of Matthew von Ohlen, a Queens man who was fatally struck by the driver of a black Chevy Camaro while biking in a Williamsburg bike lane in July.
A police source told Gothamist that the arrest was made this morning at 8:30. The suspect, 56-year-old Juan Maldonado, resides in South Williamsburg. He was indicted this afternoon in Brooklyn Supreme Court on eight counts including second-degree manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide and leaving the scene of an accident. Bail was set at $100,000.
Video surveillance recovered from the scene of the crash shows that the 35-year-old was riding in a designated bike lane when he was struck. Law enforcement sources told Pix11 in July that the driver—who was shielded by tinted windows—may have struck von Ohlen intentionally, slowing down and moving into the bike lane to strike him.
The charges filed today, carrying a top sentence of 15 years, imply recklessness—not intentionality.
"This was not an accident," said acting District Attorney Eric Gonzalez, "but rather a reckless act for which we intend to hold this defendant accountable."
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.
The DA said Tuesday that, according to an investigation, Maldonado "swerved" into the bike lane on Grand Street and sped through a red light before striking von Ohlen. He then "hit the victim's bicycle from behind causing the victim to fall. The defendant continued driving, running over the victim and dragging him approximately 10 to 20 feet as he sped away."
The last update on the von Ohlen case came on July 6th, four days after von Ohlen's death. At the time, police identified the Camaro allegedly involved in the crash and confirmed that a suspect had been identified based on the vehicle's registration. Since then, radio silence on the case and a marked uptick in cyclist ticketing on Grand Street has angered and puzzled safe streets advocates.
The NYPD source said Tuesday that DNA evidence has linked both von Ohlen and Maldonado to the Camaro.
Von Ohlen started Bikestock with partner Joseph Huba in 2013.
Following his death, eight friends got matching tattoos of his initials, and helped spray-paint sections of the memorial bicycle. Von Ohlen's girlfriend made a plaster mold of her hand in the classic rocker symbol, which friends mounted between the handlebars and topped with a pair of antlers. The water bottle cage holds a white-painted Old Overholt bottle, emptied out so that friends and family can slip messages inside.
"I lost one of these anchors in my world," said Logan Gilbert, von Ohlen's longtime roommate in San Francisco and fellow NYC bartender.
Mayor de Blasio pledged to catch and punish more hit-and-run drivers during his annual Vision Zero check-in last December, and recently passed legislation doubling hit-and-run fines. But arrest rates are still below 50 percent. Of 38 fatal hit-and-run crashes between July 2015 and June 2016—the most up-to-date statistics available—13, or 34 percent, have resulted in an arrest.
Transportation Alternatives Director Paul Steely White addressed the significance of the von Ohlen case on Tuesday.
"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."
Maldonado's attorney, Howard Kirsch, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
UPDATE 9:45 a.m.: This post has been updated to include the suspect's name and top preliminary charge.
UPDATE 1:45 p.m.: This post has been updated with charges, and statements pertaining to this afternoon's arraignment.