The husband of cyclist Olga Cook, who was killed by a drunk driver last June at the intersection of West and Chambers Streets, is suing the City of New York, the State of New York, the Hudson River Park Trust, and the Battery Park City Authority over her death.
“There were 17 prior crashes at just this location, in the years preceding Olga’s death,” says attorney Daniel Flanzig, who is representing Ms. Cook’s husband, Travis Maclean. “And five of those incidents also resulted in serious injuries. And there have been multiple deaths of cyclists at other locations in the Hudson River Park’s bike path.”
Mr. Flanzig adds that, “we’re going to establish which arm of government is responsible for control over location, which is not a simple question. The West Side Highway is a State road, but the New York City Department of Transportation has made modifications to the turn signal there since the crash, while the property itself falls within the jurisdictions of both the Battery Park City Authority and the Hudson River Park.”
Mr. Maclean, “has slowly begun to put his life back together,” Mr. Flanzig notes, “in part by starting a charity, Olga’s Path, which is dedicated to making New York City safer for bicyclists.” While the suit seeks, “unspecified monetary damages,” Mr. Flanzig says, it is also about, “making sure there are no more deaths like Olga’s. The changes that the City has made to the turn signal and lanes at that intersection are valuable, but we need similar changes for the entire length of the Greenway in Hudson River Park. This suit is a way of making that happen, because it creates a record that puts government agencies on notice, and increases their liability for similar tragedies in the future.”
Ms. Cook was run over at approximately 8:00 pm on the evening of June 11, 2016 when a white Ford truck, driven by a 26-year-old Samuel Silva, traveling southbound on West Street, made an abrupt right turn onto westbound Chambers Street, and struck Ms. Cook, who was riding north along the Hudson River Park Greenway.
Ms. Cook was gravely injured by blunt-force trauma to her head and torso. Emergency Medical Service ambulances responded within minutes, but were unable to revive the victim, who was transported to Bellevue Hospital, where she was pronounced dead on arrival.
Mr. Silva fled to scene of the accident, eventually stopping several blocks away, on Warren Street, between River Terrace and North End Avenue. But an alert passerby had snapped a photo of his truck and its New Jersey license plate, which he shared with an off-duty police officer who happened onto the scene within a few seconds of the incident. That officer called for assistance, and then began driving around northern Battery Park City, until he spotted the white truck and arrested Mr. Silva.
Mr. Silva pleaded guilty in March of this year to charges of leaving the scene of an incident without reporting, criminally negligent homicide, and operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol. He was sentenced from one and one-third to four years in State prison.
In the months following Ms. Cook’s death, the City’s Department of Transportation made extensive changes to the intersection, creating a dedicated lane and traffic signal for southbound vehicles turning right on Chambers Street.
But these changes are not enough, in the view of some public officials. In February of this year, a coalition of 12 elected officials, including U.S. Congressman Jerrold Nadler, State Senator Daniel Squadron, State Assembly members Deborah Glick and Yuh-Line Niou, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, and City Council member Margaret Chin, signed a joint letter to Matthew Driscoll, the Commissioner of the State’s Department of Transportation (which oversees West Street), to urge the agency to undertake a comprehensive study of traffic safety for the entire length of West Street. The letter noted that at least 206 pedestrians, cyclists, and motorists were injured on the West Side Highway in 2016 alone, including a pedestrian fatality (at West 46th Street) six weeks after Ms. Cook’s death, and another cycling fatality in December (at West 55th Street).
The letter from the elected officials presaged calls made by Mr. Maclean in his lawsuit in two ways. First, it noted that, “the New York City Department of Transportation has done an admirable job to improve traffic safety on this road… despite the fact that it is not under its control.” And second, it called for a holistic look at safety for all of the Hudson River Greenway, from Battery Place to West 72nd Street.