How the NYPD, the DOT, and the Justice System Have Failed My Sister: Part Two
This is part two in a series of four articles. Part one describes what happened the day after my older sister was killed by a driver on April 15, 2016 in Brooklyn, NY.
Other than the discarded odds and ends that we found yesterday, Lauren’s personal items had yet to be retrieved. No distinct guide showed us where to look or what to do, so we began with the NYPD.
The 88th Precinct proved somewhat fruitful and we recovered some items that Lauren carried Friday morning. Clear plastic police bags with hard white plastic handles contained Lauren’s shoes, a tote, a helmet, a wallet, cards, and a yellow hand-sewn clutch. It was peculiar to see her life from that Friday so improperly ensconced. Some care had been administered to her possessions. A rubber band held her bank and id cards together, and her spare change had been safely tucked into a smaller plastic bag, but generally, Lauren’s legacy held no ceremony and no sacredness.
An unintended interrogation of the 88th Precinct produced the rest of Lauren’s items — meaning all of her clothing and her phone. At first, the police officers didn’t know where to find these items, but after more questioning, they produced the Brooklyn Hospital Center as a place of inquiry.
And so, we walked to the Brooklyn Hospital Center where we met an emergency room nurse who cared for Lauren after her crash. The nurse spoke to us in a matter-of-fact-way — nonchalant — as if she’d had this conversation before. Lauren’s death was seemingly no different from the other emergency room fatalities she had experienced. Lauren appeared as one of many deaths in that nurse’s career.
She told us she was very sorry for our loss; they tried to revive Lauren when she arrived, but unfortunately, there was nothing they could do. Lauren had already left her terrestrial cast upon arrival to the hospital.
Following the brief encounter with the emergency room nurse, a hospital representative escorted us to a small room full of unclaimed items. Floor to ceiling was a room filled with people’s personal belongings. The hospital labeled Lauren’s clothing as “unidentified female.” She was an inconnue; an unknown woman to the Brooklyn Hospital.
Handing us two bags of Lauren’s discarded clothing was a jolt of unpredictable pain. Through the clear plastic covering, we could see a substantial amount of blood soaking Lauren’s clothes.
No one prepared us for this visual assault. No one prepared us to bear this pain.
My mother and I paused outside the hospital, asking each other if this was really happening, and then, we walked back to Lauren’s apartment where we laid out the items in the bags, surveying the damage that was done to Lauren.
Over the duration of a four week period, my family and I woke up almost every morning at 6:00am and walked to Lauren’s crash site. Often, our daily pilgrimage uncovered new flowers, new mementos, and new tokens of affection left at the crash intersection. Returning day after day to Lauren’s signpost memorial served as a way to celebrate her life, mourn her death, and render her more publicly visible to the world. Our daily walk also served as a time to ponder the NYPD investigation and formulate the questions we still carried in relation to Lauren’s death.
In an attempt to disprove the inconceivable narrative surrounding Lauren, my family and I stood at the crash site in the days following her death desperate to find anyone who could prove what we already knew — Lauren was riding with traffic, not against it. Lauren was traveling to work, not away from work that morning.
During the week after Lauren’s crash, we encountered many memorable passersby at Lauren’s memorial: a nurse who held Lauren as she lay in shock and bleeding after being hit, a man who moved her bicycle from the crash scene, a local woman who told us Classon Avenue was destined to have a bike lane but a community board rejected the request, and many other personal accounts describing risky experiences when crossing the street or riding a bike on Classon.
Our most compelling encounter though was with a woman cyclist who was riding near Lauren during the morning of her crash — Rebecca Ballantine. We met Ms. Ballantine on Monday morning, only four days after the crash; she approached us on her bike wearing what I remember as a red helmet.
The first words out of her mouth asked if Lauren was okay. The heartbreaking news that Lauren had succumbed to the injuries inflicted upon her Friday morning rattled Ms Ballantine. She had a hard time believing that Lauren didn’t survive, because according to her account, Lauren sat up after being hit. “She was okay,” she told us in disbelief.
As Ms. Ballantine described what she saw that morning, it became clear to us that she had not seen the actual moment of the crash, but she did observe Lauren before and after the collision. To paraphrase Ms. Ballantine’s own words, Lauren stood out to her that day, she was noticeable.
We asked her if she knew which direction Lauren was traveling and she confirmed what my family and I already knew: my sister was absolutely riding northbound towards Manhattan that morning.
Ms. Ballantine’s official testimony eventually made its way to the officer managing Lauren’s case. Here is the testimony later recorded by the Collision Investigation Squad on 22 April 2016:
Video surveillance later found on Classon Avenue corroborated Ms. Ballantine’s statement, and the NYPD retracted their initial claim of Lauren’s “negligence” (Streetsblog NYC). We breathed a sigh of relief thinking initial false witness statements would now be wiped clean and no longer considered relevant in Lauren’s case. I hoped my older sister’s character would now be exonerated with the release of the amended report, but this assumption did not prove true.
Although the police department publicly rescinded their initial report in Streetsblog, the damage was done. The false narrative of Lauren traveling southbound on Classon would continue to supersede the truth in future judicial proceedings.
We asked that the Collision Investigation Squad amend the original report, but they refused this request. Instead, CIS told us that they wanted to wait until they had all the facts so as to avoid amending the report multiple times.
Having generations of police officers in our family, we understood report errors as being easily rectifiable, so it was incredibly difficult to accept the CIS’ unwillingness to correct the report. We tolerated this news, but did not stop pestering the police officers and detectives working our case.
It was by the end of the week following the crash that Lauren’s friends and family lauded my sister’s life by commiserating over our mutual loss. In an effort to bring back some part of Lauren, we exchanged stories, memories, and mementos of Lauren at a Greenpoint Church memorial in Brooklyn.
Unannounced, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams showed up to the memorial in Greenpoint.
As the first person to speak about the loss of Lauren, he expressed that her death was both unnecessary and preventable. Eric Adams did not obscure the personal trauma felt by those in the room, but he also did not inflate her passing with overpoliticization. Purposefully, he mentioned the need for safer streets and the urgency for Vision Zero to exhaustively improve itself to ensure families stop suffering needless losses. Deeply touched by my mother’s loss, he ended his oration by declaring, “Mothers should not outlive their daughters. Daughters should outlive their mothers.” Surprised and shocked by his presence, we thanked him for conveying the pointlessness of Lauren’s tragic passing.
Nineteen days after Lauren died, a memorial ride took place to commemorate Lauren’s life and the life of James Gregg (another cyclist killed in Brooklyn just five days after Lauren’s crash). Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams led the memorial ride, and again, spoke eloquently to the importance of combatting victim-blaming and creating safer streets. He said, “We should not assume that the cyclist was always the person responsible for a crash or had accepted the risk simply by climbing on a bicycle.”
Within weeks of Lauren’s crash, two other cyclists (James Gregg and Heather Lough) were killed in NYC making a total of three cyclists killed in one month.
The killing of cyclists had seemingly reached epidemic proportions as six cyclists had been killed by the end of April and twelve more would be killed by the end of 2016. All and all, 18 cyclists would be killed and 4,594 cyclists would be injured in NYC during 2016 (Vision Zero Map).
Nascent ambitions for safer streets took root as Lauren’s Crown Heights apartment was carefully packed into cardboard boxes and bags. We had spent one month in New York — uprooted our lives and paused our jobs — for the sake of finding answers in the wake of Lauren’s death.
With Lauren’s dog, Rupert, in tow, my mom and I began the long journey driving a moving truck from Brooklyn to San Diego in four days. The trek was a painful reminder of all the road trips Lauren and I had spent together — camping, exploring, and driving to new places. Despite my inclination to sink into the past, I also found myself looking forward to the possible structural changes I could make in the future.
After arriving safely in California, Lauren’s Brooklyn memorial was followed by another fleeting memorial in Oakland, CA. Both events permitted some solace, but really these gatherings highlighted a shared feeling of both shock and injustice for my sister.
Would anyone be held responsible? Would there ever be justice for Lauren? What form will justice take? What can we do to make streets safer? How can we ensure other families never endure the pain my family endured? How many more cyclists would die before more concrete changes are made in NYC?
To be continued…
Written by Danielle Davis (@daniellekdavis8), the younger sister of Lauren Davis. This is the second piece of a four part series about the life and death of a New York City cyclist, my sister, and the torture my family and I have gone through as we try to seek justice after her death.