Driver Distraction An Issue in Cyclist Death
Distracted driving may have been the cause of a crash resulting in the death of a Rockland County cyclist last Sunday.
Orangetown Police have determined that the driver, Denise Patawaran who struck and killed Janet Martinez around 1:39 PM June 10 was at fault. But the investigation is still pending on whether that fault reaches a criminal level.
“Why she did not see the cyclist, that is what we intend to find out,” said Lt. Lorraine Wetzel. The 25-year-old driver cooperated with the ongoing police investgation and has given her cell phone to police for inspection.
If the driver is found to have been texting or speaking on a cell phone, she could be criminally charged, said Wetzel.
In an interview with police the driver is reported to have said she was not aware she had hit someone until she “heard a boom.” Patarawan is also reported to have said she had been looking at other cyclists on the road.
Patarawan’s statement and the significant damage to the car’s front window points to the possibility that the driver was not looking at the road in front of her when she struck Martinez.
Martinez weighed only 105 pounds but her body formed a massive rounded crack in the car’s right side front window.
The investigaton will now focus on determining the cause of Ms. Patawaran’s inability to go around Martinez while she rode southbound on Route 9W, just south of the road leading off to Nyack, NY.
“Radio, cell phone, a bug in the car, anything could be happening. “The “what” is what we intend to find out,” said Wetzel.
Patarawan was not tested for drugs or alcohol because she did not show any indications of being under the influence of mood alterants. “We would have to have probable cause, ” said the Lieutenant. Patarawan has a clean prior driving record.
So far, the report by the Rockland County Medical Examiner Dr. Mark L. Taff in determining the cause of Martinez’s death have not been released, though Martinez was initially believed to have died from severe head injuries despite the use of a helmet.
Officers assigned to the Orangetown Accident Investigation Squad continued to look for clues on the roadway where Martinez, 53, was struck. They also issued another plea to the public for any additional witnesses.
A group of cyclists who had also been traveling south on 9W but were a small distance north at the time of the crash told police they had not seen the incident.
The investigation is looking further into any other possible causes of the crash, such as road visibility issues, but Wetzel who is in charge of the team, said they will not be downloading data from the car’s computer, if there is one.
“I have been on the AIS team since 1990 and we have never used a black box in an investigation,” said Wetzel, though she said the Scion had been impounded and was in police custody.
Black boxes can be used to determine the speed of a vehicle at the time of a crash, a critical element in assessing the level of charges that can be levied against a driver.
On Sunday, members of the Orangetown AIS team which includes Lt. Wetzel, a sargeant, and two patrol officers were at the crash scene measuring the distance of the motor vehicle, a red 2008 Scion, from the locaton where Ms. Martinez lay, marking the wheels where the car had stopped, looking for skid marks, and noting other objects on the road.
Those markings are registered with a laser device that retains the measurements electronically so even if the physical markings on the road–bright yellow spray paint–has worn away, the scene can be reconstructed for years ahead because of its stored coordinates.
Orangetown’s AIS team also relies on bureau detectives to issue subpoenas and perform other legal and tactical work.
Does Lt. Wetzel ever feel the pressure of having to deal so closely with the death of a person?
“You know, we had to go through [Martinez's] phones to determine her identity, and there were pictures of her, and pictures of her with little kids, and that was hard,” said Wetzel.
Capt. Bob Mahon at the Clarkstown Police Department who is also an avid cyclist said the section of Route 9W posed challenges for cyclists and drivers to co-exist. Because of its narrow width, the allowable speed of 40 mph, and lack of shoulder space on either side, “there is little room for error,” he said.
In a separate incident on Saturday, June 9, a driver went off Route 9W near Indian Hill in Alpine, NJ, and struck a cyclist who was standing on the side of the road fixing a flat tire, said Chief Jerry Beckmann of the Alpine Police.
After striking the cyclist, the driver Jose L. Sanchez, 27, of Washington Heights, NY, continued moving forward in his gray 1998 Toyota Corolla until he hit a tree. Neither driver nor the cyclist Michael D. Wolf, 58, of Manhattan, were seriously injured, though Wolf was taken to Englewood Hospital for pain in his right wrist.
The cause of the driver’s sudden loss of control has not been determined said Beckmann, and Sanchez was charged with careless driving and operating a motor vehicle without due caution.
The location is significant because it is only a hundred feet or so from the spot where cyclist Camille Savoy was struck and killed in late 2007. Thanks to Leon Moser for alerting CI to this crash.