No charges? No charges?!
Only in New York City can you run over a man, not even stick around to watch him bleed to death on the street, and not even be charged with a crime or lose your job as a driver.
It’s a scandal of life-altering proportions — and everyone is complicit, too.
Let me explain.
In the wee hours of July 22 in Greenpoint, a driver from a notorious private sanitation firm called Action Environmental ran over and killed Neftaly Ramirez, a 27-year-old cyclist who had just gotten off work at a nearby restaurant. The driver of the truck had been traveling south on Franklin St. when he made a right turn onto Noble St. and flattened Ramirez, who died right there on the street as the driver kept moving.
That was the first horror story. Here’s the second: On Friday, I got news that the NYPD decided not to press charges against the driver, even though he left the scene of the accident and failed to yield to Ramirez, a violation of vehicular law.
No charges? How is that possible? It’s all thanks to New York’s “stay-out-of-jail” card for the most reckless drivers: The driver only had to say to cops that he did not know that he had struck Ramirez, and suddenly, no charges are pressed.
Think about that: The driver of this sanitation truck was driving so recklessly that he didn’t even know that he had killed someone, so he gets off without so much as a charge … even for the recklessness!
“The Action Environmental Services driver didn’t know he’d hit the cyclist and no criminality is suspected,” Action spokesman Ken Frydman said.
That’s pretty implausible, but let’s take that on face value for a second. Maybe the Action Environmental driver was indeed so reckless that he didn’t know he’d killed someone. But what about the other guy — the worker who typically rides on the back right corner of the garbage truck? As the truck turned right onto Noble St., certainly this worker saw everything, right?
The NYPD confirmed to my colleague Graham Rayman that “there was an operator of the truck and there was someone in the truck. Cops spoke to both. They were not aware that the biker was struck.”
So it’s a cover-up. It’s simply not conceivable that the guy on the right side of a truck that is turning right didn’t see a cyclist who was hit by the right side of the truck.
Frydman declined to talk about the other worker on the truck. But nothing should surprise you when it comes to Action Environment because the company doesn’t seem to have very high standards for choosing employees. We know about the company’s frequent transgressions, thanks to some fine work by reporters Janon Fisher and Gwynne Hogan at DNA Info, who revealed recently that Action drivers have now killed five pedestrians and cyclists and injured at least a dozen others since 2008.
My own research revealed that Action is no worse than other rogue private carting firms with their “Mad Max” drivers. The NYPD told me that seven cyclists and pedestrians have been killed by private carting firms since 2015.
Seven dead in two-and-a-half years. Every one of them avoidable.
I also pulled the court records on some private garbage firms. Five-Star has been sued seven times for injuries since 2013. Avid Waste Systems has two since 2014. Liberty Ashes has four since 2010. And IESI has four since 2014.
And those are just the lawsuits that weren’t quietly settled out of court.
But Ramirez’s death especially ticked me off. Maybe it’s because I’d eaten at his restaurant, Paulie Gee’s, dozens of times. Maybe it’s because I’m a cyclist and I’ve put my life into car drivers’ hands many many times on Franklin St., which is far too narrow to accommodate trucks. And maybe because I’m out late a lot (hey, it’s me!), and I’m sick of the private garbage drivers who turn our roads into the Wild West.
And I continue to be appalled that the NYPD reacts to every cyclist death by issuing tickets the next day…to cyclists. The NYPD doesn’t charge drivers who should be charged and has a knee-jerk, anti-cycling approach to crashes that wound or kill cyclists. We owe a great debt to Streetsblog, which chronicles every such death and often points out NYPD failure to protect and serve two-wheelers in favor of four-wheelers.
As the website has pointed out, police initially said Dan Hanegby (the city’s first CitiBike fatality), Kelly Hurley, and Lauren Davis were at fault for their own deaths — only to be disproved by later evidence.
Drivers are always off the hook if they say, “It was an accident!” or “The cyclist swerved right into me!” — as if they can’t recognize that big rectangular pedal to the left of the one that makes their cars go so damn fast.
And private carting drivers are the worst.
“I get complaints about them all the time,” said Councilman Stephen Levin, who represents Greenpoint and Williamsburg. “And I’m also often out there screaming at these drivers as they fly by me at 40 miles per hour. And they honk at me when I drive the speed limit!”
So I decided to do something about it. First, I started calling Action’s clients. And these aren’t just little mom-and-pop stores, but major New York companies like the Mets, the Yankees, the Health and Hospitals Corporation, Maimonides Medical Center, Mount Sinai Hospital, Mario Batali’s restaurant group and other big name firms.
I asked these companies if they really wanted to be working with a company that has left such a trail of death and destruction across the city. Naturally, the firms ratted me out to Frydman — I guess only journalists protect their sources! — but I didn’t care. I think it’s important for all of us to know when we’re in bed with a monster.
Not that it matters, of course. No one wants to talk about dirty laundry — nor how it’s disposed of. A few of the companies told me — off the record — that they’re appalled by Action’s record. And then — on the record — told me that they won’t be making any changes.
So these companies are part of the cover-up, too.
Next, the other night, I drove around Greenpoint after midnight with a camera — and in less than five minutes, found a private carting driver who was driving recklessly. I filmed for only a few minutes and caught him violating at least four laws, including speeding and driving the wrong way down a street. The video is at the top of this story. (Admittedly, it’s not “Law & Order” quality, but, hey, it was dark.)
I shared that video with Frydman, who told me that Action had fired the driver of that truck.
Uh, thanks, I guess.
But no post-death fig leaf from Action Environmental can obscure this fact: the guy who deserves, at most, a couple of traffic tickets got fired, but the guy who killed a man is still on the job?