Cops seek to charge sports car driver blamed in beloved Brooklyn cyclist’s death — but state law makes criminal case difficult
Video made it seem like the height of recklessness: A Dodge Charger roared through a red light and pushed another car into a man on a bicycle, killing him.
Cop sources said Monday they plan to throw the book at motorist Umar Baig, 18, who they blame in the death of beloved 52-year-old cyclist Jose Alzorriz.
But under New York law, the horrifying crash may not add up to a crime worthy of more than some traffic violations — unless Brooklyn’s DA is willing to take on an uphill court battle, legal experts say.
“How is this going to happen so often in the city?" said Amanda Hanna-McLeer, 26, whose mother was Alzorriz’s partner. "We love the city, and it just doesn’t care about its citizens if you’re prioritizing cars over cyclists.”
“He was waiting for the light — it’s not like he was riding recklessly,” Hanna-McLeer added.
Baig, of Rego Park, Queens, was not high or drunk when he blasted his Dodge Charger through the light on Coney Island Ave. and Avenue L and pushed a Honda Pilot SUV into Alzorriz, said police. The cyclist had only a split-second to react.
Sources said cops are determining how fast Baig was driving when he blew the light in hope of hitting him with the harshest charges possible.
Police detained Baig after the crash, but released him late Sunday without charges.
Cops and district attorneys in New York have long been hesitant to bring homicide or assault charges against drivers who injure or kill someone but are not intoxicated and stay at the scene of a crash.
Lawyer Steve Vaccaro is among those who say police and prosecutors should make more of an effort in cases like Alzorriz’s death.
“There’s definitely enough to drive criminality in this case,” said Vaccaro, who represents cyclists and pedestrians injured by cars.
“The question is whether or not [Brooklyn District Attorney] Eric Gonzalez has the nerve to bring a case that isn’t a slam dunk. Prosecutors like to have a 90% conviction rate. But in a case like this it’s too important not to bring criminal charges.”
A spokesperson for Gonzalez said that because the crash is still an active police investigation, he could not comment.
Cops could charge Baig with reckless driving, a misdemeanor, or reckless endangerment of the second degree, a Class A misdemeanor, said Marco Conner, a lawyer and deputy director of street safety advocacy group Transportation Alternatives.
To make criminal charges stick, prosecutors must demonstrate that Baig exhibited “gross deviation” from how a normal person would behave behind the wheel, Conner said.
Conner said prosecutors could show gross deviation by proving Baig committed two or more moving violations — a principle of New York case law in crash cases known to prosecutors as the “rule of two.”
However the prosecution plays out, it won’t ease the pain felt by the friends and family of Alzorriz, a triathlete who friends said was devoted to his Park Slope community and charitable causes.
Alzorriz was returning from a swim at Brighton Beach when he was killed on Sunday, said a friend. He was training for a triathlon.
“He was truly, truly an amazing individual who touched a lot of people’s lives just by helping them,” said Alorriz’s best friend Danny Artiga, 59. “I will miss him deeply — my conversations with him, my coffees with him.”
Alzorriz moved to New York from Bilbao, Spain, during the early nineties, said Artiga. His family is expected to arrive in the city in the next day or two.
He started to become an active runner and cyclist in his 30s, and Artiga became his trainer.
Alzorriz competed in a marathon, several triathlons and some smaller events in Brooklyn, said friends. He raised money for charities, and volunteered for Race2Rebuild, an event founded in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy to raise money for people affected by natural disasters.
“You know how someone dies and suddenly they’re a saint — but in Jose’s case, he was a real mensch,” said Jonathan Cane, a triathlon coach who worked out with Alzorriz. “He was always looking out for others, and he didn’t deserve to die like that.”
Alzorriz, who had no children, took care of those close to him. A neighbor told the Daily News that Alzorriz was the primary caregiver for his ex-wife, who suffers from a lung disease.
“Coney Island Avenue is a hostile environment, especially for those not in a vehicle,” said Cutrufo.
Mayor de Blasio offered his “deepest condolences” to Alzorriz’s family over the “needless tragedy,” said spokesman Seth Stein. He added that de Blasio will continue his “Vision Zero” effort to eliminate all motor vehicle deaths in the city.