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Mail-Truck Driver Tried on Charges of Leaving Scene of Fatal Bik

The New York Times: Mail-Truck Driver Tried on Charges of Leaving Scene of Fatal Bike Accident

By RUSS BUETTNER
Published: September 11, 2012

On a holiday weekend last year, Nathan Dershowitz sat on his bike at 29th Street and 10th Avenue waiting for his wife of 43 years to navigate through the postal trucks crowded on the street behind him.

After maybe a minute, he turned around, hoping to see her pedaling toward him.

“I looked back and saw some commotion taking place,” he said.

What he saw was people rushing to help his wife, Marilyn, 68. A seven-ton postal truck had slowly rolled over her and her bicycle. She was gasping for breath there on the street.

Mr. Dershowitz, who is a lawyer and brother of the prominent Harvard Law School professor and defense lawyer Alan M. Dershowitz, recounted on Tuesday that day, July 2, 2011, at the trial of the truck’s driver, Ian Clement, in State Supreme Court in Manhattan. Mr. Clement, 63, is charged with leaving the scene of a fatal accident, which carries a prison sentence of up to seven years.

A prosecutor said that the commotion Mr. Dershowitz saw from the end of the block should have alerted Mr. Clement to the misfortune under his right rear tire.

Instead of staying at the scene, the prosecutor said, Mr. Clement paused his truck for just 30 seconds, pulled to the side of the road for another two minutes, and then drove away, ignoring a cacophony of honking horns and “horrific screams” as bystanders rushed to Ms. Dershowitz’s aid.

“Practically everyone went to her side, except the person who caused her death,” said Erin LaFarge, the assistant district attorney prosecuting the case.

When Mr. Clement pulled into a Postal Service parking lot at the end of the block, Ms. LaFarge said, a co-worker asked him: “Did you see that terrible accident?”

And when he returned two hours later, Mr. Clement told his supervisor: “I think I’m the guy you’re looking for,” Ms. LaFarge said.

Ms. LaFarge said his actions and those encounters showed that Mr. Clement knew he had been involved in an accident and knew, or should have known, someone had been hurt.

But Mr. Clement’s lawyer, John Arlia, said Mr. Clement had not been aware that his truck had hit anything. Mr. Arlia said, “The city would come to a standstill” if truck drivers stopped and investigated every horn honk or bump in the road, he said.

The passable portion of the street, which is lined by Postal Service buildings, was narrowed that day, a Saturday, to one slow-moving lane because of huge postal trucks parked or pulling in and out of traffic. Ms. Dershowitz pedaled through a narrow gap between two seven-ton postal trucks and fell underneath the tire of the truck driven by Mr. Clement, Mr. Arlia said.

“Sometimes there’s just no one to blame criminally,” he added.

Mr. Arlia suggested that Mr. Clement had been singled out for prosecution because of the “influence” of the Dershowitz family, though he did not elaborate.

Nathan Dershowitz told the jury that he and his wife had met as children at summer camp, when she was 13 and he was 12. They married when she was in college and eventually had two children.

She retired in 2010 as a special referee in State Supreme Court in Manhattan to spend more time with her grandchildren and her ailing mother.

They had decided to stay home over the Fourth of July weekend to “play tourist” in Manhattan, where they had lived their entire lives. They left their Tudor City apartment before noon, heading for the Hudson River Park bike path. At Ninth Avenue, he sped up to make it through a changing light, which he said he regretted.

An hour later, Mr. Dershowitz was at Bellevue Hospital Center, speaking to his wife for the last time.

“I spent five or ten minutes talking to Marilyn,” he said. “She wasn’t talking back. I finally just kissed her and looked down.”