When a driver struck and killed Matthew Brenner on Sands Street on July 6, 2014, NYPD blamed Brenner and let her off without so much as a ticket.
It turns out the driver killed 29-year-old Matt Brenner in 2014 while she was distracted by her cell phone.
The driver, 25 at the time, struck Brenner, 29, as she turned from eastbound Sands onto the ramp for the northbound BQE at 9:35 p.m. Police said Brenner was biking against traffic trying to cross the ramp when she struck him, an explanation that his friends and family found unlikely.
Video evidence later contradicted NYPD’s account, showing Brenner was not on the roadway, DNA reports, fitting a recurring pattern of police erroneously blaming the victims of fatal crashes.
As recently as last November, DMV had informed Brenner’s family that it would not hold a hearing to review the drivers driving privileges. DMV is supposed to hold hearings for every fatal crash but doesn’t adhere to the policy in practice.
A hearing was finally held some two years later and state Administrative Law Judge Regina A. Rinaldi concluded after a legally mandated inquiry into the deadly crash earlier this year that "a contributing factor in Matthew Brenner's death was the drivers failure to exercise due care to avoid striking [the cyclist]."
"But for our civil suit, certain things would never have been brought to light, including that she was using Google Maps to guide her," said Daniel Flanzig, the lawyer for Brenner's estate, said that the actress would still be on New York's roads were it not for information uncovered in a civil suit.
"That should have been used by [NYPD's Collision Investigation Squad]. The Administrative Law Judge would never have had the evidence necessary to revoke her license. The CIS work alone was completely insufficient."
The NYPD did not respond to a request for comment.
The driver told Flanzig at a formal deposition that she was coming from her home in Point Pleasant, N.J., and was rushing to pick up a friend at LaGuardia, but ended up driving away from the airport on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. She got off the highway at Sands Street to call her friend and consult Google Maps on her cellphone because she was lost.
With her phone still open to Google Maps sitting on the passenger seat, Venedam drove down the street and veered across a safety triangle in order to make it back on to the BQE, according to the report.
A video of the crash shows the actress trailing close behind a car that veered out of the way to avoid Brenner, then she smashed into the cyclist in the safety triangle as he tried to make his way to a bike path on the other side of the entrance ramp.
She said she was unaware of what she'd hit.
"The windshield was smashed and the car stopped," she told lawyers. "I knew I hit something."
Police originally blamed Brenner for riding his bike across the ramp to the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, but the video shows he was not in the roadway.
Venedam admitted that she never went over to see if the cyclist was OK because other motorists that had stopped were already trying to help him.
Flanzig said that criminal charges would be difficult to bring against her because distracted driver statutes require the driver to be holding the cellphone.
Brenner's mother Franci Brenner said that she forgives the actress, but she would have liked to see a more thorough investigation at the scene of the collision.
"She did not set out to kill someone that day," she said. "I hope this is a lesson learned."
Venedam did not respond to multiple requests for comments. Her lawyer also declined to comment.