Saturday, April 16, 2022

Woman Struck in Gowanus by FDNY Ambulance Still in Court Six Years Later

Intersection of Union and Bond Streets, where Aeliana Boyer was struck 
by an FDNY Ambulance six years ago
FDNY EMS Station 32 at Carroll Street
Images credit:

Dear Neighbors,
The article below was written by Joseph Alexiou, a journalist, licensed New York City tour guide and the author of Gowanus: Brooklyn's Curious Canal. His freelance work has appeared in the New York Times, The New York Observer, Gothamist, and the Brooklyn Eagle.
Joseph, a former Gowanus resident and longtime friend, came to me with Aeliana Boyer's long struggle to get justice and relief after being hit by an FDNY ambulance from the EMS Station at Carroll Street and Bond that ran a red light.  
I would like to thank Joseph and Aeliana for allowing me to post this article here on PMFA since many walk past that station and are often in the path of its fast- moving ambulances. What happened to Ms. Boyer could happen to any of us.

Woman Struck in Gowanus by FDNY Ambulance Still in Court Six Years Later
Why does it take so long for New York City to do right by victims of emergency vehicle accidents?
By Joseph Alexiou

    Around 5pm on May 16, 2016, Aeliana Boyer was biking home through Gowanus when an FDNY ambulance drove through the red light and struck her at approximately 35 miles per hour. First she recalls being smashed by the driver’s side door and then again by the rear of the vehicle. The details reported in this story in the Daily News include the resistance of the city to even acknowledge an accident occurred. However, the ambulance’s presence has been confirmed by an eye witness and GPS tracking data that was acquired during Boyer’s spiraling, 6-year long lawsuit against the city of New York which has not yet been settled.

    As her body flew into the center of the intersection at Union and Bond Streets, one block from FDNY EMS Station 32 at Carroll Street, the Con Edison workers stopped jackhammering in the manhole in the center of the road and came to her aid as the ambulance sped off. Since this moment she’s sustained multiple injuries which, six years later, cause her to suffer from chronic daily pain all over her body. She has felt the after effects of an untreated concussion, during which she has been unable to work and was almost rendered homeless. Before this accident she was a published novelist and noted activist who had just acquired a masters degree. Today she lives in subsidized housing and is dependent on the Medicaid system, still waiting for her case to be resolved.

Exactly one week ago on April 7, an NYPD van ran a red light on Eastern Parkway at Schenectady Avenue and struck a reportedly homeless 53-year old man on the median. Carrying four prisoners towards the 77th precinct lockup, the van dragged the man approximately 35 feet before stopping. He died at Kings County Hospital. Despite calls from elected officials and civic leaders, the police have released no statements, explanations, or footage of the event, despite the fact that there are cameras on the corner in question. One week later, no one has been held accountable.

The only reason Ms. Boyer has housing at all in this city is because she managed to speak to former Mayor Bill de Blasio during his weekly “Ask the Mayor” segment on WNYC, days after the Daily News profile was published:

Brian Lehrer: "Mr. Mayor, my understanding is that Aeliana’s story was in the Daily News this summer, are you familiar with it?"

Mayor: "No, Brian actually I’m not familiar but Aeliana. I’m very, very sorry for the things you’ve gone through and want to find out, you know what has happened and what we can do about it here because this is news to me. Aeliana if you will share you information with WNYC I will make sure that one of our senior folks gets to you right away and discusses with you what’s happened here and what we can do about it.

Obviously you know, a lot has changed in the way that for example the NYPD operates since the days of Occupy Wall Street in 2011, it was a very different time and we approach things very differently today. We made a lot of changes, a lot of reforms but I am very concerned about what you are saying and I want to make sure that we follow up right away."

De Blasio’s office did eventually follow up with Boyer and connected her to a Legal Aid attorney who was able to secure her housing, but did not make any moves to aid the procession of the case. As the legal battle grew, so did the costs and mountains of evidence, and then COVID reduced the NYC court system to a standstill.

In the beginning of March 2022 Ms. Boyer’s attorney Michael Pontone handed the case file to city attorney Rodiana Katsaros, informing her that they had insurmountable evidence of the hit-and run and were ready to accept a settlement offer from the city. After a week of review she requested further evidence, then another week, and then informed Pontone her case had been handed to the comptroller’s office for review and there would be a response in two weeks. It has now been five weeks and no city agencies have reached out to Ms Boyer.

After the story of the Eastern Parkway death broke late Thursday, I reached out to a press representative of Comptroller Brad Lander’s office to inquire about the status of Boyer’s case. They informed me that they could only discuss pending claims against the City with claimant or their counsel and, despite repeated inquiries, they would not give a reasonable timespan for the comptroller to respond. However they then informed me on Monday that the Comptroller’s claims department had confirmed that the case was not in the Comptroller’s office, despite Katsaros’ insistence, and was back in the city attorney’s hands.

On that same Monday, I attempted to contact Ms Katsaros, who did not respond, but a press representative at the NYC Law Department called me to inquire about the story, describing the hit-and-run as “alleged” and informing me that Katsaros was not on the case. They inquired why I was trying to contact somebody that would not speak with me and wasn’t even part of this case. The representative later followed up officially with a two-sentence email: “There is no indication that an FDNY vehicle was involved in the alleged incident. Discovery revealed no record of the collision and no EMT in the area matched the description provided by plaintiff as being involved.”

It is truly questionable that, after 6 years on this case, after being asked several questions about the matter Katsaros suddenly disappeared from the lawsuit entirely. The Law Department declined to comment further on my follow up question:

With all due respect to the law department, I have seen with my eyes the GPS tracking data that says there was an FDNY ambulance on the scene and met the locally-based eye witnesses, named in this case, who also reported seeing the FDNY ambulance strike Aeliana Boyer. She herself says she was hit by an FDNY ambulance.

How can the law office impart this position when all of the evidence in this particular case says otherwise? Is there a reason someone could and would invent such a story, one block from FDNY EMS station 32? (Full disclosure, I lived down the street from that station at 391 Bond Street for 5 years, and have walked and biked many times around their movements). This past October the NY Times published a story about the dangers of siren noise, with the sub headline that reads “The overuse of lights and sirens, combined with speeding, pose heightened risks to emergency responders and civilians. One expert called it a ‘public health dilemma.’” These tragic incidents occur even when the sound of concrete being drilled in a Con Ed hole isn’t filling the street, such as the evening of April 7 on Eastern Parkway.

One week after the incident, neither the city nor the NYPD have followed up on that man who was killed on Eastern Parkway. In fact, trying to get a straight answer from an NYC public service representative is like dredging the Gowanus Canal for coal—something you need professionals to do. After contacting the 77th precinct about the van (it was to this precinct station that the prisoners were headed), nobody answered the phone and no responses to my messages were received. At the 73rd precinct—where the accident took place and a camera is located—when I reached an officer at the switchboard, I was told “Oh, okay hold on…” after identifying myself and my reason for calling and was put on hold for just under eight minutes. When I called the second time, my number was sent to a voicemail, on which I left a message. I called once more ten minutes later and my number went directly to a recorded message stating that the precinct was unavailable and that I should call at a later time, before an audible “click."

The officer at the FDNY EMS Station 32 could not provide statements regarding either Ms. Boyer’s case or the case on Eastern Parkway. The 76th precinct officer (the Gowanus precinct) who answered the phone directed me to their Community Affairs line, which also left me with a message and no response. When I called the comptroller’s press representative, they informed me they were “sick” but, yes, this was indeed their work cell phone, and yes they were working but, still, “what do you want?” they demanded.

Some of our elected officials are demanding answers. Crystal Hudson, Council Member of the 35th district where the NYPD van incident went down, did not mince words:

“The recent NYPD-involved traffic fatality that claimed the life of a local resident is devastating. It underscores the NYPD’s utter apathy toward the communities they serve.It is disheartening to see, time and again, those who are supposed to provide ‘courtesy, professionalism, and respect’ show a blatant disregard for human life.”

“Since the incident, we have called on the NYPD to name the officers involved and terminate them immediately and asked the State Attorney General to investigate the incident. Our community deserves nothing less than full accountability and transparency. My Office has been in contact with the family of the deceased and is helping direct them to resources and support.”

“Additionally, according to NYPD data, there have been 1,639 crashes since 2020 involving ambulances, including 368 in Brooklyn. The number of ambulance crashes citywide has increased in recent years, jumping 25 percent between 2020 and 2021, though we have seen a decrease in Brooklyn. What these numbers show, however, is a clear need to rethink what accountability means for first responders who act neglectfully.”

Aeliana Boyer has a storied past with the government of the City of New York. It began in 2011 and specifically with the NYPD and Occupy Wall Street. The current mayor is himself a retired Police Captain, and so she asks herself, is it so paranoid to think that because of this the city is stalling this case?

The dissipating spectre of COVID is decreasingly present as restaurants, bars, museums, schools and libraries do not require masks and yet COVID regulations remain present in the court system. Very recently the NY Bar Association released a report detailing how the pandemic slowdown has decimated family court and “ruined” the lives of thousands of children. Boyer feels that this backlog of court cases has become a tactic to fatigue plaintiffs with complaints against the city. “The pandemic absolutely changed the court system. Everything went online and then last summer the city’s law department system got hacked,” she said, referring to the embarrassingly rudimentary hacking incident at the Law Department last July

This does beg the question, why is Mayor Adams letting other places go to business as usual but the courts are still in a Covid-centric process? If your case can be resolved within a week, they’ll let it through, but if it’s anything like a two-week trial or beyond, in the case of Aeliana Boyer then you get pushed further back down the line. So the more severe your accident, the more merde-outta-luck you are for your case and its procedure. Ms. Boyer also wonders if Brad Lander—who was speaker of the Council at the time of the accident while also overseeing Gowanus and Park Slope—or if current Mayor Eric Adams, who was acting Brooklyn borough President at the time, were even alerted to her case after the accident, or after the Mayor’s Office pledged to see the case through.

“All I know for certain is that when I was a school bus driver in college in California, I was trained to stop whenever there is any accident involving a city vehicle. And an investigation always happened afterwards,” she said in a recent interview.

Perhaps the most chilling and unsurprising fact about Boyer’s accident is that there was never an NYPD investigation, nor did any other city agencies review the incident. All of the attention and help she has received on the case has come from friends and colleagues, online petitions and her own petition of the mayor in a public forum. If one considers the string of actions of the City of New York since 2016 it is hard not to conclude that health, wellbeing and the future of one New York City transwoman—injured beyond the ability to work but offered none of the help a person hit by an anonymous driver would receive—was simply not really important to our self-described “progressive” leaders.

Furthermore, they actively deny a truth that seems clear to every individual and attorney I know who have read the details of the case: that the FDNY ambulance did indeed hit Aeliana Boyer. They would perhaps do this in order to achieve the only real end goal I can perceive: Protect at all costs the individuals and the organizations that are the NYPD and the FDNY against all scrutiny, all review, all reform, and all accountability.

By our current standards a city vehicle is fully allowed to turn on some noise and lights and then hit, maim, or kill New Yorkers—taxpaying or not—while traveling well above the speed limit, running red lights and with absolutely zero responsibility. This is not protecting, or serving. This is abuse and it's killing us. It is not acceptable, and it needs to stop, now.


Anonymous said...

We are asked to pay soooo much attention to who is placed on the Federal Supreme Court bench, because those decision maker made there are supposed to have such profound impact on our lives.

But what about the functioning of our local courts where decisions, or delay of decisions, can have such direct impact on a person's life as in this case?

gowanee said...

This is a nightmare of injustice upon injustice. I am sorry for Ms. Boyer for suffering, loss of time battling and getting nowhere, it is an outrage.

Anonymous said...

Sadly the law protects emergency vehicles responding to an emergency. They are not liable for simple negligence. Thus the case is MUCH harder to prosecute and win. Six years is a long time so something may be up. Maybe she is seeking an extraordinary sum of money. Maybe the city feels they have a rock solid case. I hope everything turns out well for her.

Anonymous said...

I❤ Red Hook houses

My name isn't Dave* said...

And I guess Pardon Me for Asking goes out on a whimper......? We shall miss ya, another Covid Causality.

Anonymous said...

A hearty thanks to this blog for many years of wonderful content. As Not Dave said, we shall miss ya ....

Anonymous said...

I know that there's not been new content in quite some time, but has this blog officially ended? I certainly hope it hasn't...

Ryan said...

its over, right?

Anonymous said...

From what I understand the case finally went to court just recently. According to my source the jury came back one hundred percent in favor of the plaintiff. The judge dismissed the jury and then immediately overturned the verdict. It will take years for this woman to appeal. Seriously, for the love of God.Hasn't she been through enough?