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In the Name of Clara: A Fort Greene Husband's Plea For Justice

Almost a year after Clara Heyworth, 28, was struck and killed by an unlicensed motorist, her husband, Jacob Stevens, announces a civil suit against police.

It was a rare public display of private grief in Lower Manhattan on Monday.

"If it simply was a matter of my tragedy, I would not be here today," said Fort Greene resident Jacob Stevens of his wife, Clara Heyworth, who was struck and later died from her injuries after an unlicensed—and likely drunk—driver slammed into her at the intersection of Dekalb and Vanderbilt avenues on July 10, 2011. "I wouldn't be speaking on the steps of City Hall. I would be grieving instead in private."

Speaking in front of a crowd of pedestrian advocates and survivors of motor vehicle-related crashes, Stevens announced the filing of a civil lawsuit charging the New York Police Department for failing to adequately investigate last year's crash that claimed the life of a beloved 28-year-old wife, daughter and friend.

"They've also failed to investigate hundreds, if not thousands, of other cases," he said. "That's why I'm suing NYPD this morning in Clara's name, but also in the name of all of the others who have been affected by this inhumane policy and all those who will be affected in the future."

Stevens went on to provide harrowing details of the crash, which occurred as Heyworth walked across the street towards him in the early morning hours of Sunday, July 10.

"I can still hear the screech of the car and the sound of the impact," he said. "My friends saw the tire marks he left all over the road."

Despite Heyworth's life-threatening injuries and the fact that the driver, Anthony Webb, was driving with an expired license and was suspected of being legally intoxicated, the suit alleges that the NYPD's Accident Investigation Squad failed to launch any serious inquiry into the crash.

"Whenever a crash victim comes forward, the NYPD's response is, more or less, 'Accidents happen,'" said Stevens' attorney, Steve Vaccaro. "But crimes happen too."

The NYPD did not respond to a request for comment regarding the case.

At today's City Hall press conference, Transportation Alternatives executive director Paul Steely White put the lack of an apparent investigation into Heyworth's death in terms of a systemic failure by police to probe into the circumstances of pedestrian and bicyclist crashes involving motor vehicles.

"90 percent of these cases are not getting an investigation, which means that the drivers responsible for these people losing their lives, their limbs ... the majority of these New Yorkers are receiving no justice whatsoever," White said.

Webb, whose positive alcohol breathalyzer results administered by 88th Precinct officers was ruled invalid due to an uncalibrated machine, was not charged in connection with Heyworth's death.

White joined Stevens and Vaccaro in calling on Mayor Michael Bloomberg to put pressure on the NYPD to beef up AIS—which currently has 17 detectives assigned to investigate an average of 3,000 pedestrian and bicyclist-related incidents a year throughout the city.

But beyond the statistics, it was Stevens who provided a human face to the unspeakable tragedy that can occur, seemingly at any moment, on city streets.

"That night, I lost the love of my life, the basis of all of my plans and dreams for the future," he said.

Pedestrian June 11, 2012 at 06:30 PM
Thank you, Jacob Stevens. Something must be done to curb reckless driving in our community and one of the big pieces of that puzzle is to force the NYPD to do its job. We need serious crash investigations and for drivers to understand that they will be held to account if their actions cause injuries and deaths. I only wish it didn't take Stevens' senseless loss and unfortunately necessary lawsuit to get the NYPD to uphold the law.
Gary June 12, 2012 at 12:47 AM
The NYPD needs to stop dangerous drivers NOW.
Don Rosenberg June 12, 2012 at 05:21 AM
Jacob, my sincere condolences. My son was killed by an unlicensed driver in San Francisco in November 2010. The driver had been caught driving without a license before and those charges were dropped as I've now found out always happens. I have been fighting with the DA's office as they have botched the case so badly that the driver, whose trial starts in July will probably walk. At most he could get a year in jail. I have also been fighting the city of LA (near where I live and the state as they make it easier for the unlicensed (never had a license, ie: illegal) to drive. This problem is not isolated to NY or California by any means. The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety has been studying the problem for 17 years. Unlicensed drivers are 5 times more likely to cause fatal accidents and 5 times more likely to drive drunk. I have set up an email unlicensedtokill@gmail.com and will have a website up shortly. Please contact me. If you want to see some of what I have done Google Don Rosenberg.

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