BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | Priscilla Loke’s family and community members called for answers Monday in the death of the longtime Chinatown Head Start staffer, who was fatally struck in broad daylight by an electric CitiBike on Tues., Sept. 5.
Loke, 69, was an assistant director at the Head Start for more than 40 years. She was crossing the street at the always-busy intersection of Grand and Chrystie Streets around 10:20 a.m., when she was hit by a man riding a white e-CitiBike. The heavy e-bikes weigh up to 65 pounds, around 20 pounds more than a traditional pedal-powered CitiBike.
Video shows police spoke to the cyclist — but then, for some reason, allowed him just to walk away while wheeling the CitiBike.
Loke had been returning to the Head Start after running an errand when she was hit. She was declared dead in the hospital two days later.
Now, two weeks later, Loke’s family and colleagues are still awaiting answers from the New York Police Department. On Monday the Committee To Support Priscilla Loke wrote to Police Commissioner Edward Caban requesting a meeting to discuss the status of the investigation.
“A video shown on several mainstream TV channels captured the collision and the biker speaking with a police officer, then leaving the scene while Ms. Loke is on the ground with severe injuries to her head and spine,” the letter says, in part. “The family of Priscilla Loke and the community rely on first responders and those investigating this incident to take their duties seriously.
“The site of this collision is a busy area with several toddlers attending preschool programs in the vicinity,” the letter continues. “Pedestrian safety is even more challenging with moving bicycles, e-bikes, scooters, skateboards and rollerblades, in addition to cars to look out for. We need assurances that the police and those charged with street safety are vigilant in responding to these incidents which can be life threatening.”
The letter was jointly signed by Chia-Wen Ho and Weng Wai Ho, Loke’s niece and nephew; Sook Ling Lai, the Chinatown Head Start executive director; Wayne Ho, C.E.O. of the Chinatown Planning Council’s Chrystie Street School-Age Center; Raymond Tsang, president of the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association; Chris Chan, C.E.O. of Family Harmony; and Wellington Chen, executive director of the Chinatown Business Improvement District.
The committee wants access to the police report on the incident. They want to know why the cyclist was allowed to leave the scene and if anyone got his name. They want to know who had the light and how fast the cyclist was going. The family also wants to see the video clip of the incident in its entirety.
Elizabeth OuYang, a civil rights attorney who is a member of the committee seeking answers, said the Chinatown community wants Loke’s death to be investigated with as much energy and thoroughness as would be done if a woman died after being struck by a bike on the Upper East Side.
“She was a year from retiring,” OuYang said of Loke, “and looking forward to spending time with her nieces and nephews.”
OuYang also noted that Loke was one of the fiercest defenders of Private Danny Chen, a U.S. Army soldier who served in Afghanistan and committed suicide in 2011. In the weeks before his death, Chen was viciously bullied and verbally harassed with ethnic slurs by fellow officers, four of whom, as a result, were later courtmartialed. Chen attended preschool at the Chinatown Head Start. Loke traveled down to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, to attend the trials of his tormentors.
Mary Cheng, director of childhood development services at the Chinatown Planning Council, stressed to the press conference that the intersection where Loke was hit is very chaotic — and only gets worse at rush hour.
“There are two bike lanes that crisscross there,” she said. “So you can imagine how difficult it is for us every single time. And at rush hour there’s gridlock at that corner. We really want the city to understand that particular need there.”
Speaking after the press conference, Cheng added that she herself recently was struck by a white electric CitiBike.
“I just got hit by an e-bike the other day. It hit me in the arm and hip and leg,” she said, sweeping her hand down her entire left side to show how she took the impact.
She said she had been standing in the bus lane on Houston Street at Avenue A getting a cab and then turned to reach for her son — when a woman came hurtling by on a white CitiBike.
“She said she couldn’t stop,” Cheng said the cyclist told her. “I think I only didn’t get knocked down because I had my hand on the cab.”
Her niece, Chia-Wen Ho, was the closest person to Loke, who did not have children of her own. Loke lived just 15 minutes away from her in Queens. Ho said it was gut-wrenching to watch the video of the incident, which, she said, showed Loke putting her hand up to try to stop the cyclist — who kept going.
“It was like a bowling ball hitting a pin,” she said of the fatal impact.
“Me and the family want answers,” she said. “We want to know the status of the investigation. Is this man even aware that my aunt died because of this — and is he still riding around?”
Her brother, Weng Wai Ho, said he was “shocked” at the lack of information that the family has been receiving from police. Living in England, he flew over to New York as soon as he heard the terrible news.
“I just want closure,” he said. “I want to help my sister during this time.
“We were her children,” he said of his aunt.
Lyft is the operator of New York City’s CitiBike program. The Village Sun e-mailed Lyft’s press department asking if the bike-share operator would help identify the rider responsible for Loke’s death. Lyft did not respond to the e-mail.
It appears that every electric-powered CitiBike — at least the white ones, though maybe not the older-model blue ones — has a large, unique identification number prominently displayed on the left side of its seat post. Perhaps an enhanced video could reveal this ID number (though surveillance camera images are often blurry) — assuming that Lyft does not already know who was riding the bike at that moment.
Full disclosure: This reporter rode a white electric CitiBike to and from Monday’s press conference by the Committee to Support Priscilla Loke.