An October 1 guilty verdict against a bus driver who struck and killed a CitiBike rider in 2017 reawakened a raw debate about who bears more responsibility on New York City’s crowded streets: cyclists or motorists? The operator of the Coach bus, Dave Lewis, was found guilty of failing to yield the right of way – a misdemeanor – and failure to exercise due care, a violation, after a bench trial before a State Supreme Court judge in Manhattan.
The June collision on 26th Street between Seventh and Eighth Avenues in Chelsea killed Dan Hanegby, a 36-year-old investment banker from Brooklyn, and marked the first death involving the popular bike-share service.
Lawyers for Mr. Lewis, who had turned down a no-jail plea deal that involved a fine and a six-month license revocation, had noted that Mr. Hanegby was wearing headphones, and argued that his death was an unfortunate accident. During closing arguments, a prosecutor and a defense lawyer each described the moment that Mr. Lewis – steering his bus down a stretch of road narrowed by vehicles parked on both sides of the street – collided with Mr. Hanegby, who fell to the ground and was run over. But they offered far different explanations of who was to blame.
“There was ample time and ample location for this bicyclist to pull over,” a defense lawyer, Jeremy Saland, told the judge overseeing Mr. Lewis’s trial, adding that the bicyclist had been “completely and totally unaware” of his surroundings.
None of that mattered, according to a prosecutor, Raffaela Belizaire. “Dan Hanegby had the right of way,” she countered. “The defendant thought that the cyclist should move over, not that he himself should have slowed down.”
After the judge, Heidi Cesare, found him guilty, Mr. Lewis left the courthouse without comment. He could face up to 30 days in jail for failing to yield the right of way, and up to 15 days imprisonment for failing to exercise due care.
Bicycling advocates found validation in the verdict. “Drivers are rarely held accountable for recklessly taking lives on New York City streets,” said Paul Steely White, executive director of Transportation Alternatives. “All too often, police hastily exonerate drivers while erroneously blaming bicyclists and pedestrians for their own deaths.”
The authorities initially said that Mr. Hanegby had struck the bus after swerving to avoid a parked van. But surveillance video from a nearby business showed Mr. Hanegby riding in a straight line before being struck by Mr. Lewis, prosecutors said.
Despite the presence of the video, much of the trial revolved around the distinctly different perspectives of the motorists and cyclists who battle daily for turf on the city’s increasingly crowded streets. Mr. Saland told the judge Mr. Hanegby had “lost control” of the bike. Ms. Belizaire maintained that Mr. Lewis had behaved irresponsibly by attempting to “barrel” past the biker through a narrow channel where a parked white Ford van and a black SUV had tapered the available road space. Mr. Saland also raised the possibility that Mr. Hanegby had been riding erratically before being struck. Ms. Belizaire dismissed that theory as “victim blaming.”
Source: New York Times