FORDHAM — Amid the clamor of cars hurtling along Jerome Avenue and
trains rumbling overhead, a solitary white bicycle leans against a signpost.
A small plaque attached to the post seems to whisper its message: “Cyclist
Killed Here. Rest in Peace.”
Joseph Nelson, a 54-year-old handyman and former bike messenger, was the cyclist
killed in a crash near the intersection of that avenue and Fordham Road
Sunday marked the one-year anniversary of his death. Police have yet to
announce any suspects in the fatal crash, which an autopsy report ruled
was caused by an open car door.
Nelson’s somber memorial, known as a
Ghost Bike, was erected by the volunteer group,
Street Memorial Project.
On Sunday, April 21, the group will lead its eighth
Annual Memorial Ride and Walk, when cyclists and their supporters visit every snow-white bike memorial
installed during the previous year.
Joseph’s brother, John Nelson, plans to travel more than 400 miles
by bus from Virginia to attend the event, partly to ensure that as his
brother’s case file languishes, his memory does not wither with it.
“My brother wasn’t trash. He wasn’t a throwaway or disposable,”
said John, 58. “That’s one reason I’m going to make
the trip to the memorial — to show people that he was a human being.”
After Joseph Nelson’s crash just blocks from his apartment, local
precinct officers responded to the scene.
But the special citywide police unit that investigates serious crashes
was not notified until more than a month after the incident, according
to an NYPD investigator, in an apparent breach of police protocol.
Since then, police have not found any witnesses or video of the crash,
nor identified the person who apparently opened the door Nelson struck,
who then left the scene, according to Nelson’s family and their lawyer,
A police investigator told John Nelson during their final conversation
in October that, without any leads to go on, the unit planned to close
the case, according to Nelson.
Joseph Nelson, 54, died in a bike crash in the Fordham section of The Bronx
on April 14, 2012.
(Family of Joseph Nelson)
“I think it was all a comedy of errors,” Nelson said. “I
wasn’t satisfied at all.”
The police did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday.
The NYPD recently modified the way it responds to traffic crashes like
the one that killed Joseph Nelson, according to a letter sent by Police
Commissioner Raymond Kelly to the City Council in March.
Now, patrol officers will summon the special investigation unit whenever
someone is critically injured in a crash. In the past, the unit was only
notified if someone had or appeared likely to die.
Also, the number of such investigators will increase. And, in a move long
sought by cycling advocates, the unit’s name was changed from the
Accident to the Collision Investigation Squad.
Meanwhile, Flanzig, the Nelsons’ lawyer who often handles bike-crash
cases, has launched a website called
Bikewitness.org to help police and crash victims connect with witnesses.
Last year, 18 cyclists and 148 pedestrians were killed in traffic crashes,
according to the city Transportation Department.
The memorial ride Sunday will stop by 17 of the bike crash sites, as well
as two sites of crashes this year and one Ghost Bike installed for any
unreported deaths. (The memorial group relies mainly on media reports
to install the bikes, which can cause discrepancies between its death
count and the city’s.)
Philipp Rassmann, a memorial volunteer who cycles nearly the length of
Manhattan during his daily work commute, recently installed Joseph Nelson’s
“18, 24 deaths might seem like a low number compared to deaths from
other sources,” Rassmann, 44, said in a chat interview. “But
those are 20, 18 or 24 individual lives.”