An 'Insult to Broken Hearts': Families Denied Traffic Crash Reports

Thursday, March 20, 2014 - 04:00 AM

Amy Cohen (at podium) at a recent Families for Safe Streets Rally on the steps of City Hall (Jim O'Grady/WNYC)

It may seem odd but Hsi-Pei Liao keeps a video on his phone that shows the moment an SUV struck and killed his 4-year-old daughter Allison. The video was taken by a dashboard camera in a car that happened to be driving toward the intersection as the SUV hit Allison and her grandmother crossed a street.

Hsi-Pei said he watches it because it helps him understand his daughter's final moments — rather than conjure the nightmare himself. He has video because officers from the NYPD's Collision Investigation Squad obtained it and included it in their report on the collision. But getting the NYPD to turn it over to him and his wife Amy proved surprisingly difficult.

The NYPD is required by law to conduct an investigation into every fatal and serious traffic collision in New York City — there were 466 such investigations last year. But the results are kept from the public and the press, and even family members must file a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request to see a collision report.

That's what Hsi-Pei and Amy did soon after Allison died. It took a few months, but the report arrived. Then the couple looked at it. "We're like, wait, the video's missing," Hsi-Pei said. "There are some pictures but they're all dark. You barely could see anything. And we had to submit another FOIL request for the rest of the evidence that's there, including the video."

They also turned for help to their councilman, Peter Koo. The councilman wrote a letter to Queens District Attorney Richard Brown, asking him to urge the police to hand over the complete report. "I was surprised," Koo said of the request for help from the Liaos. "I thought the family involved in an accident can get a report. It's not for strangers or the news media but the immediate family."

Koo added in an email: "It only adds insult to their already broken hearts. These reports are not state secrets and should be made available to family members upon request."

That complaint was echoed last month at a rally on the steps of City Hall, where members of the advocacy group Families for Safe Streets had gathered.

"We still have not gotten the full traffic report," said Amy Cohen about a collision on October 8 in which a van struck and killed her 12-year-old son Sammy on Prospect Park West. Like the Liaos, Cohen and her husband have filed multiple requests for information. "We have a friend who's a lawyer who reached out on our behalf," she said. "He's had to file a FOIL request and an order to show cause. We're still waiting to find out exactly what happened."

Safety advocate Charles Komanoff, who was also at the rally, argued there's another problem with keeping the reports from the public sphere. "These reports contain a wealth of data that would enable the transportation department, the NYPD, city planners, community groups to design and create safer streets and a safer culture for pedestrians and cyclists and drivers," he said.

Wiley Norvell, a spokesman for Mayor de Blasio, said the reason it takes a Freedom of Information Law request to see a report is because it's considered part of an active investigation. The NYPD wouldn't comment on the policy. Norvell added in an email that, "As part of implementing Vision Zero, a standing working group will continue to develop new ways of making more information available to the public by expanding the quantity and quality of information that gets released." 

Last month, de Blasio met to discuss his traffic safety plans with Amy Cohen and other members of Families for Safe Streets. Of that meeting, Cohen said, "He has made a commitment to all of us as family members that they will start to release the reports after the crashes, "which currently we do not receive."

A website for Mayor Bill de Blasio's Vision Zero initiative, which seeks to eliminate traffic fatalities in the city within ten years, says the administration will increase its sharing of "information and data sets." As of now, the website doesn't specify whether traffic collision reports will be part of that sharing.


Andrea Bernstein


Comments [8]

Chang from Manhattan

Previous one Sent by mistake. Nobody deserves accident. But instead of blaming cars only, practice safe crossing because even 10mph can knock you down and kill you if you are on the way. If pedestrians were hit by car moving at 30mph, drivers wasn't careful enough but that pedestrian most likely was crossing against light which is illegal. Victim is not only one who is physically injured but also the driver who is emotionally devastated. If accident happens on sidewalk, it is uncontrollable. But if it happens on the road, it is controllable by not risking life in front of fast moving cars making two victims, ped and driver.

Take advantage of cars standing still at 0mph and walk signal. If cars turn fast, I let them go ahead and walk behind. That's my vision zero.

May. 31 2014 08:34 AM

I like to join this group standing with number 0 mph for 30seconds. Almost Every street in NYC is regulated with lights and stop sign to make all coexist in order. Unfortunately tragedy happens and nobody is saying somebodyndeserve

May. 31 2014 08:06 AM

Tai from are the joke! To think that someone is not negligent if they kill a pedestrian is absolutely absurd. Is it your feeling that killing people is simply a part of driving and the driver should not be held responsible. Who took the road test for safety? The driver or the pedestrian! Shame on you for sticking up for killer drivers.

Mar. 26 2014 11:10 PM
Tal Barzilai from Pleasantville, NY

This group is nothing more than a joke. All it really is nothing more than Transportation Alternatives exploiting a tragedy to help promote their agenda. In some of those accidents, neither the child or their parents were even being alert for them. Even if the person who hit them wasn't showing any negligence, they would still say that they are bad guys no matter what. Also, reducing the speed limits won't work for two main reasons. The first one will be about enforcing them, while the second will be you still have pedestrians and cyclists that continue to flout the laws themselves. If you really want safe streets, then all groups must follow them, not just a select few.

Mar. 20 2014 07:50 PM
Rebeca Taub from NYC

My heart breaks for the family of beautiful little Allison. And others who have lost loved ones. I usually cross in the middle of the block to avoid turning cars after being hit by a car rushing out of being parked to turn one rainy nite in 1972.

Mar. 20 2014 10:53 AM

I think it's great WNYC is doing this. I wish it happened under Bloomberg. It seems like the question was only allowed to be asked under De Blasio. Is there any chance a car lobby is behind the lack of cameras on traffic lights?

Mar. 20 2014 10:33 AM
Voter from Brooklyn

Mayor de Blasio has the power to fix this today. But does he have the courage?

Mar. 20 2014 10:11 AM
StanChaz from Breuklyeen

Broken-windows-Bratton is now closed-door-Bratton?

Mar. 20 2014 07:22 AM

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