Saturday, August 20, 2011

Another Victim, More Bull in Axelrod Fatality

Jeffrey Axelrod, 52, was killed by a cement truck on Delancey street on Thursday evening.

The event was covered by many of the Internet news gobblers who have seized on the "bicycle death" reporting angle like crocodiles in a crowded pool because they know how many hits they are going to get from concerned cyclists and hipsters. It's about the only time the Fixies from Williamsburg bother to read the news.

But the reporting is almost as bad as the news, and gives no justice to the person who has been killed, in this case Axelrod, who never had a chance to explain what happened when he was decimated by a massive cement truck.

I don't have time to review all the half-baked articles that are being circulated on the Internet, but I was surprised to find this kind of writing from the Gothamist which is normally a very well-respected media outlet with balanced reporting.

What I find really distressing about this article is that the writer allows all the false bull that the police and witnesses foist on them to be translated to paper.

The whole article sums up to the "fact" that he ran the red light, and that's why he is dead.

(this article has been altered based on new facts:)
First of all, the NYPD have not been able to confirm if the truck turned right from Chrystie Street to Delancey, the same route that the cyclist took. If he did, then the truck may have cut the cyclist off.
The one witness account by Jose Martinez that has been reported in the press does not state that Martinez was watching Axelrod the entire time, and there is a good likelihood that he wasn't. After Axelrod purportedly "went through the red light", what happened next that should make him fall behind and under the wheels of the truck? Would he have purposefully inserted himself between the truck and the parked car? 
And if the truck did not make the turn, and was simply traveling west on Delancey, did it give him enough room when it passed? A small refresher course on the rules of the road:

§ 1122-a. Overtaking a bicycle.
The operator of a vehicle overtaking, from behind, a bicycle proceeding on the same side of a roadway shall pass to the left of such bicycle at a safe distance until safely clear thereof.
Reporters covering the "dead cyclists" beat should know every line of the New York State traffic law, and challenge police reports. (See our follow up story about the NYPD's accident report on Axelrod and its errors and omissions.)
Their challenges should be translated to paper, so no more excuses are propagated like bad DNA through the universe of understanding the mechanics of why cyclists are dying on the streets of New York.
But the "ran the red light" crap is really the ultimate. 

BBB could even hear it in the voice of the spokesperson at the NYPD who added in their narrow responses that "the cyclist ran a red light," but could not answer any questions about the itinerary of the truck, nor the fact that the cars he was jammed by were parked illegally. Did they ticket those cars? OF COURSE NOT because in their report the cars were "legally parked."

"Running the red light" had nothing whatsoever to do with the cyclist's death, and only serves as a way to blame him when the truth is Axelrod was squeezed between the truck and the illegally parked car (see our follow up story)--- for some reason which is not known to us.


Steven Rosenstein said...

To Jenny B and Ana Banana:

I find your article about Jeffrey Axelrod's death to be as inappropriate as you claim the rest of the news coverage has been. Perhaps more-so, because of the uncalled-for and venomous accusations it is laced with.

Most of the articles I've read on-line appear to come from the same feed, and that feed relies heavily on the eyewitness account of Jose Martinez, another cyclist. According to the article in the Gothamist, Martinez, who was stopped at a red light, saw Axelrod going west on Delancey, through the intersection, lose control, and fall between the wheels of the truck. Martinez also stated that he saw Axelrod on Chrystie moments before the accident having trouble with his chain.

In an article reported in <a href=">The L Magazine</a>, Martinez is quoted as saying, "Jose Martinez, a cyclist who was stopped at the intersection as Axelrod passed him turning right from Chrystie's southbound lane onto the westbound side of Delancey, told DNAinfo that Axelrod became pinned between the cement truck and a parked car then began to shake and fell between the truck's rear wheels. Axelrod was pronounced dead at the scene—Bowery Boogie has a particularly gruesome photo of the accident's aftermath." The "L" article further states, "Both the truck and Axelrod had turned right onto Delancey from Chrystie, although the cyclist—who was wearing a helmet—did so after the light had turned red. He apparently lost control of his bike, and witnesses told DNAinfo that his bike chain had come off. The truck driver didn't see the accident, but remained at the scene, and will not be charged."

So what false BS was foisted on reporters by the police and witnesses? Martinez's account seems very straightforward to me. But no matter. The truth is known only to Axelrod. If he went through a red light, he took a chance. If he tried to pass the truck on the right (which it appears he did), he took a chance. If he put himself in a situation where he did not have a means of safe escape, he took a chance. If he had trouble with his chain, well... You can extrapolate Murphy's Law if you want to.

You ask the question, "did the cement truck give him enough room?" If a bicyclist makes a right turn through a red light, comes up behind a truck on the right (blind) side, and tries to squeeze between it and a parked car, how is the driver of truck supposed to know the cyclist is there to give him enough room? The quotation of the Ordinance about overtaking a bicycle is completely out of place here, because it clear that the cyclist overtook the truck.

Oh, it was not the concerned driver who saw Axelrod wobbling, it was Martinez's description of the events. You should learn how to evaluate an eye-witness accounting.

I took an interest in this because I happened to arrive at the scene right after the first patrol cars, and before the EMS and other emergency vehicles. It was horrific. There was a sheet mercifully draped over the back of the truck, but where it touched the ground it was bright red and there was a red river running from under the sheet to the curb. As I arrived, an officer was retrieving a bicycle wheel from the roadway so I knew exactly what had happened. I was sick.

No matter tragic this was, it is no excuse for the vitriolic assertions and innuendos you made in your article. You call for justice for Jeffrey Axelrod, but you do him a bigger injustice by letting your animosity and your bias toward the police distort the facts and taint your narrative. Unless you know additional facts to the contrary, there is nothing here for the "dead cyclist" reporters, or anyone else, to challenge.

May Jeffrey Axelrod rest in peace.

Jenny B and Ana Banana said...

Your points are well made and well considered.

The logic of the crash does not ring true. Please read our follow up: how could Axelrod have kept pace with the truck if they both turned right, the first allegedly on the green, the second allegedly on the red?

Especially if he was having problems with his chain?

Our one witness tells us he turned on the red, basically damning him: but that was not the reason for the crash. The articles I cite lead the reader to believe that is the reason he was killed, which is a false lead.

The truth is we really don't know why he was killed, but clearly, if you see our follow up article, illegally parked cars may have played a part: and the truck may have cut him off at the turn. (when big trucks turn they take more space than we think).

I do take issue with your description of our approach as vitriol: considering that a man's death is being discussed, reporting and writing that creates a misperception of the truth is the most vile kind of reporting because it is the story that stays in peoples' minds--not the follow up stories that clarify the facts, and certainly not the court cases that follow years later.

still I thank you for your comments and we can agree at least on the fact that it is not clear how he died.

Jenny B and Ana Banana said...

PS, I am sorry you had to see the aftermath of the crash. That must have been very disturbing. And I appreciate you sharing your eyewitness account.

One more thing:if you read our past posts, we often side with the police, except when they appear to be missing the facts. Our "vitriol" as you characterize it was aimed at the press who are leading people to believe that the accident was caused by the cyclist. Which we do not know.

Anonymous said...

I am curious to know where you have seen the witness account that the truck also turned right at the light. I'm not saying it is incorrect, I just haven't seen that written anywhere.
Also, it is very possible for Jeff to have come up on the truck from behind, traveling at a speed greater than the truck. Judging from the trucks proximity to the corner after the accident, it was likely not moving very fast. A truck that large has a long stopping distance that increases with speed. It is not unreasonable for the bicycle to be traveling faster that the truck, especially during the evening rush hour, and even more so if the truck did in fact complete a turn at that intersection.
One other thing. Although the parked cars may not have been authorized to legally park there, that curb area is a loading zone that is intended for vehicles (vans and trucks) to park at. Those spaces are intended for vehicles, and if that car was not illegally parked there, there is a good chance a commercial vehicle would have been. A car being parked in a space designated for vehicle parking is not a safety issue in the same way that a car parked in a no parking or standing zone (near a corner for instance)is.
This was a terrible accident, and from what I have read, a good man was killed. My condolences to anyone who knew Jeffrey.

Steven Rosenstein said...

After reading all the different articles and eyewitness accounts, a pretty clear picture of what might have happened emerges.

The truck enters the intersection while the light is green (or yellow), and proceeds to turn right. At the time of day the accident took place, the intersection is probably filled with cars heading east to west on Delancey. Some of these cars may not have fully cleared the intersection, and the truck has to turn more sharply to avoid them. This, coupled with the (illegally?) parked cars on Delancey leaves very little clearance to the right of the truck for a cyclist to squeeze through.

Axelrod arrives at the intersection after the light turns red (in my opinion *not* a materially contributing factor to the accident). He is having some mechanical problems (Martinez said it was his chain), so his attention is not fully on the situation in the intersection, or the danger posed by the clearance between the turning cement truck and the parked cars.

Axelrod tries to turn inside the cement truck, next to the parked car(s). The truck is completing its tight turn, so it is further to the right than it otherwise might have been. The truck is also moving very slowly during the turn (cement trucks do not turn very fast), so it is not at all unreasonable to infer that Axelrod not only caught up to it, but was, in fact, trying to pass it on the right. Remember, all this time Axelrod is in the truck's huge rear-right blind spot, and the driver is probably concentrating on not hitting any of the cars in the lane to his left.

If Axelrod had a mechanical while trying to pass the truck (such as his chain jumping off of the front or rear sprockets) he would have been startled, experienced some instability, possibly loss of forward momentum, slight panic, and started to wobble (as reported by Martinez). We'll never know his kinetic situation or state of mind at that moment, but instead of falling to the right into the parked cars, he fell to the left between the truck's front and rear wheels. I never inferred from any of the other articles that there was somehow a connection between his going through the red light and his having chain trouble.

Could the driver have possibly done anything to prevent this accident? In my opinion, not after he committed to his right turn. He had to complete the turn and clear the intersection. If he saw the light was turning red, it would not be unreasonable for him to assume that all other vehicles on Chrystie (cars and bicycles) would stop and not follow him through. If Axelrod was a-mid truck just before he fell, he would have been under the field of vision of the truck's right-side mirror. From all that I read, I really do not believe that the truck "cut Axelrod off". The truck was fully within its rights to make the right turn if the light was green (which by all accounts it was). It is the responsibility of the cyclist who comes up behind a vehicle to evaluate if there is enough time and space to safely complete a turn. If the light was red (which again by all accounts it was), then there is *no* excuse for Axelrod going through it.

I draw your attention to this article: Scroll down to Collision Type #5, which very closely resembles the events that took place at Chrystie and Delancey.

As for my use of "vitriolic" in my original comment, upon reflection it was too strong of a statement and I apologize. I was upset by what I had seen, and I was very off-put by the tone and content of your original article. It seemed that you simply used this tragedy as a platform from which to indict the police and the news media for their perceived biases against cyclists. I appreciate that you followed up with your second article, which is much more fairly and reasonably written... but I still respectfully disagree with the conclusions drawn.

Jenny B and Ana Banana said...

okay points well taken. We'll try to tone it down a bit, but the journalist and the cyclist in me keeps rearing its ugly head. In the meantime, I am not sure a cyclist of this experience would try and pass on the right. Is it possible the truck started backing up? To me that is more plausible, since how else could he fall "under the back wheels," as the incident report reads, and the picture shows? Read one of the comments from a friend of his who knew him well. I think he got squeezed between the car and the truck because the truck was backing up. Maybe the truck was stuck? It looks pretty darn close to the parked car.

Jenny B and Ana Banana said...

Hi, for the reader who did not hear that the truck and Axelrod both turned right off of Chrystie, it was written here,

I tried to confirm this information with the NYPD Dept. of Public Information, but they did not have any further details. They don't seem to know much, even that the cars were not legally parked. I have called them twice, but no updates.

The LMagazine account is a lot more balanced than the other media reports, and also states quite simply that Axelrod was pinned in between the double parked cars and the truck.


Anonymous said...

Looking at the picture, it seems highly unlikely that the truck would have backed up as it had already completed the turn. I seriously doubt it was "stuck" Although it doesn't look like a lot of space between the truck and the parked car, driving close to cars and trucks is a routine part of driving a truck in the city. (I drive a truck in the city)
Also note that no cars appear to have been double parked.
Also not that no other media story states that the truck turned right, and the L reporter did not talk to the witness, but referenced dnainfo's story, which did not say the truck turned right.
I think the important elements in this story are that an experienced cyclist would not have voluntarily put himself in that tight spot between the car and truck, and the fact that the witness saw Jeff wobbling on his bike. This wobbling sounds consistent with a chain problem, as wobbling is pretty unusual for any experienced cyclist.

Anonymous said...

"The LMagazine account is a lot more balanced than the other media reports, and also states quite simply that Axelrod was pinned in between the double parked cars and the truck."

As you can see, it is very easy to inadvertently misrepresent the facts, as no car was double parked. I don't say this to criticize you (it happens to all of us), but to point out how the L could possibly be incorrect or misspoke about the truck turning right. Like I said, they reference the dnainfo story which does not give that account.