Lawsuit: NYPD Fails to Fully Investigate Cases in Traffic Deaths (PDF)

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The New York Police Department fails to thoroughly investigate when pedestrians and cyclists are struck by cars, according to a lawsuit filed in federal court in Brooklyn today.

As previously reported by Transportation Nation, the Police Department has just 19 detectives assigned to crash investigations and it's Accident Investigation Squad only responds when a crash victim is killed on the scene or officially declared "likely to die" by a medical professional. Often paramedics or emergency room doctors do not realize their designation will mean the difference between a full criminal investigation and a cursory police write up.

At issue in the lawsuit is the death of Clara Heyworth, who was struck last July while crossing a Fort Greene, Brooklyn street. The driver may have been drunk.  Because no doctor declared Heyworth likely to die that night, police called off the investigation while she was in the hospital. She died the next day.

"Unless they get that statement from the doctor, NYPD walks away and the evidence is not preserved, it's lost, the video tape, the tire tracks on the ground, witness statements, all of that is lost and that's what happened here," said Steve Vaccaro, who is representing Heyworth's husband Jacob Stevens.

The lawsuit argues state law requires police to investigate all serious injury crashes, not just near fatalities.

NYPD did not return a request for comment, but has said in the past its a question of priorities.

For a full explanation of this issue, listen to our previous investigative radio report aired on WNYC.

Stevens v NYPD Clara Heyworth Case_June 2012