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After a Son Is Killed, Facing a Police Runaround

The New York Times: After a Son Is Killed, Facing a Police Runaround

By JIM DWYER
Published: December 6, 2011

The Lefevres — mother, father and one of their surviving sons — took the first flight to New York, spent the night with a friend, and the next morning went directly to the city morgue on Winthrop Street in Brooklyn. The second of the Lefevre sons, Mathieu, 30, had been run over by a truck two days earlier, just after midnight on Oct. 19, while he was biking home to Williamsburg. The truck did not stop.

His parents looked at pictures, then the remains, under a sheet. “The detective at the morgue told us to go to the 90th Precinct to do two things,” said Erika Lefevre, Mathieu’s mother. “A detective there would be able to give us an accident report, and we would be able to get our son’s personal effects.”

Before they left, the police detective at the morgue also told the Lefevres, who are from Canada, that they would need a lawyer; she gave them a business card. “We didn’t quite understand how the legal system worked in the United States,” Ms. Lefevre said. “We thought we would get a police report, that the information would be in the report, and we would proceed from there.”

“The detective gave us the card as a polite gesture,” she added. “I think she wanted to help us. We discarded it. We didn’t think this was a procedure we had to do.”

The 90th Precinct station house proved to be a House of No, as Ms. Lefevre described it: the family was told at the desk that there was no detective available to speak with them, that Mr. Lefevre’s property was not there and that no report on the accident was available.

So they waited.

“After some time elapsed, I called the detective at the morgue, who had given us her phone number in case we ran into problems,” Ms. Lefevre said. Eventually, a detective in the 90th Precinct explained that the person handling the investigation of their son’s death would not be back for several days. “The detective we saw said he had no access to the information, that they do not share files,” Ms. Lefevre said.

After four hours, she said, they left.

More people are killed in traffic accidents than by guns in New York City; death by motor vehicle is rarely treated as a crime. Someone died in city traffic every 29 hours, on average, from 2005 to 2009, according to a study by the city’s health and transportation departments. While New York has a stellar record compared with other big cities in the United States and has drastically improved in the last decade, the rate of traffic fatalities is far worse than in many major cities in Europe, according to another study, by the advocacy group Transportation Alternatives.

As a boy growing up in Alberta, in the countryside of western Canada, Mathieu Lefevre staged turtle Olympics, skied, built forts, played hockey and soccer. Everyone in the family was an avid cyclist. In Montreal, where Mr. Lefevre studied art, his work was hailed as witty and caustic, and it won honors.

In March 2010, he moved to New York and joined the 3rd Ward artists collective in East Williamsburg. “He wanted to establish his art internationally,” Ms. Lefevre said. “It was his dream. He loved living in New York. People have been so generous and compassionate to us.”

Five days after their visit to the 90th Precinct station house, they heard from a detective. Meanwhile, they read articles that quoted anonymous police sources stating, variously, that Mr. Lefevre had run a red light near the scene of the accident, at Meserole Street and Morgan Avenue, or that he had been passing a truck on the right as the truck was turning, making him a casualty of a right hook.

“I specifically asked about the red light, and the detective said there was no evidence of that,” Ms. Lefevre said.

On the night of the accident, the police found the vehicle they believed had hit Mr. Lefevre, parked on Scholes Street, two quick turns from the accident scene. It was a crane truck marked with the name Imperium Construction, according to an accident report, which identified the driver as Leonardo Degianni. Contacted on Tuesday, Mr. Degianni would not say if he had been behind the wheel. “It hasn’t been proven yet,” he said. “I have no comment.”

The authorities have said that the driver was not aware of striking Mr. Lefevre, although Steven Vaccaro, a lawyer hired by the Lefevres to get information, said that a diagram on the accident report showed that the truck hit the bicycle from behind. In any case, no charges have been filed.

“What happens to the driver is not of concern to us,” Ms. Lefevre said. “It is our greatest desire that we will finally learn the truth about the circumstances of our son’s death. We hope there will be a fair and unbiased investigation.”

A week after visiting the station house, the Lefevres were given their son’s belongings. They had been in the station house all along.