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Anger over pedestrian killed by reversing, wrong-way garbage truck

BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | Police still have not publicly identified a 35-year-old man killed by a reversing garbage truck on Cornelia Street early last Thursday morning.

Per department protocol, police typically do not release the deceased’s name to the media until after the courtesy of first notifying his or her family. In this case, police say they do know the man’s identity but so far have been unable to locate any of his family.

A police spokesperson on May 23 did not have the name of the private carting company immediately available, but the Daily News, which had a photographer at the scene, reported it was Liberty Ashes. The News also reported that, according to what witnesses told officers, the victim “appeared to be intoxicated when he stepped into the street.”

The Village Sun is following up to try to find out the victim’s identity.

Some residents, though, suspect the victim was homeless and living with his partner in a nearby stairwell. One local said there was a lot of yelling going on outside, allegedly between the couple, the night of the tragedy.

Beyond that, however, some Downtowners are outraged at the possibility that charges might not be filed against the driver since he may have been committing a traffic violation — reversing southbound onto one-way northbound Cornelia Street — when around 5:20 a.m. he fatally struck the victim, who, for some reason, was in the street. One area resident, though, said it’s common to see carting trucks reverse onto Cornelia from W. Fourth Street, which runs eastbound, because they otherwise cannot make the turn at the corner, which has a very acute angle.

Jessica Seigel, a lifelong Villager and an adjunct journalism professor at New York University, was indignant that the garbage truck driver was going the wrong way down the street when he mowed down the victim — and that he wasn’t charged at the scene. The trash hauler could have avoided the difficult turn at W. Fourth Street by instead using Bleecker Street and entering Cornelia Street going northbound, she noted.

The driver remained at the scene afterward. An investigation into the incident is ongoing by the Police Department’s Collision Investigation Squad.

“They were going the wrong way on a one-way street,” Siegel fumed. “The question is why didn’t they go around to Bleecker Street? It’s obviously manslaughter. And what does it matter if the victim was homeless? They were going the wrong way on a one-way street and killed a man.”

This past Sunday evening, a doorman at a Cornelia Street residential building near where the man was killed said he wasn’t on duty when it happened. A maître d’ at a restaurant on the other side of the street was unaware of the fatality and didn’t know anything about a homeless couple who were allegedly living nearby, the man of which may have been the victim.

Police said the victim was struck about 130 feet south of W. Fourth Street, in front of 11 Cornelia Street. (Google Street View)

But Robert Brown, a homeless man living under a sidewalk shed a bit closer to W. Fourth Street, said the victim was homeless, too. Squatting down on his haunches, Brown had just finished sorting through a pile of metal cans to redeem and was starting to eat some chicken for dinner. He said he had been awake at the time of the fatal collision.

“It was a homeless guy,” he said. “You know how it is late at night; you better be on your ‘P’s and ‘Q’s: Green light, yellow light, red light — don’t care. The trucks see a homeless guy, a guy they see as less worthy, they’re not gonna slow down. You better move the f— out of the way. It’s always been like that in New York City.”

Brown said, though, that he did not know the victim’s name and that, to his knowledge, he was not living with a female companion.

“We all know each other out here,” he said. “It’s a question of if we interact.”

As for why the victim was reportedly in the middle of the roadway, Brown couldn’t say, other than…that’s life on the street.

Regarding whether the driver should be held liable for the death — or at least a traffic violation — Steve Vaccaro, a top New York City attorney for cyclist and pedestrian rights, said garbage trucks are treated no differently from other vehicles in such incidents.

“There is no special immunity from accountability for the harm caused by carting trucks, whether the truck is owned and operated by the city or by a private carting company,” he said. “You would analyze it the same way you would analyze any other crash. The relevant issues would be whether the victim was in the roadway or on the sidewalk, and whether the truck operators backed into the roadway because it was, practically speaking, the only way for them to make their pickup, or if the geometry of their pickup location on Cornelia — which as memory serves is narrow and winding — somehow compelled the maneuver. But, generally speaking, backing up is a dangerous maneuver and harm caused while backing up is chargeable to the operator, not the person struck by the backing-up vehicle.”

Vaccaro shared what he termed “some of the relevant provisions of the law,” below:

1. New York State Vehicle & Traffic Law § 1211. Limitations on Backing
(a) The driver of a vehicle shall not back the same unless such movement can be made with safety and without interfering with other traffic.
(b) The driver of a vehicle shall not back the same upon any shoulder or roadway of any controlled-access highway.
(c) the driver of a motor vehicle engaged in retail sales of frozen desserts as that term is defined in subdivision thirty-seven of section three hundred seventy-five of this chapter directly to pedestrians shall not back the same to make or attempt to make a sale.

2. New York City Administrative Code § 20-54 Back-up Cameras
No later than January 1, 2026, every commercial waste vehicle must be equipped with a rear video system, rear object detection system, or other device which enables the driver of the vehicle to detect by means of a visual indicator, or visual and audible warning-indicator, persons and objects located directly behind the vehicle.
(Added City Record 11/16/2021, eff. 12/16/2021*)

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