Dead or Likely To Die: More on The NYPD's Accident Investigation Policy

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Earlier, the Voice reported on a lawsuit filed today against the NYPD claiming that the Department's controversial "Dead or Likely to Die" accident investigation rule violates state law.

The court document sheds a little light on how this controversial policy gets put into practice, and suggests that cops themselves might not understand how it works.

Recall that "Dead or Likely to Die" requires that the City's 19 Accident Investigation Squad investigators get dispatched to a crash only when a victim has died or is likely do die. These investigators are the only ones who are allowed to say whether a driver broke the law and issue summonses without having witnessed the incident. Crashes that don't involve actual or likely death only get a one-page report.

Thing is, it's unclear whether officers really understand the likelihood of death -- and whether they receive training that would help them ID would-be fatalities -- as evidenced by their failure to investigate case after case of near-fatalities.

In comments referenced in the lawsuit, NYPD Deputy Transportation Bureau Chief John Cassidy said that cops determine likelihood of death -- hence whether they should investigate -- "based on informal discussion between officers and hospital personnel caring for the crash victim."

However, they don't seem too have been given a barometer for what "likely to die" means -- "whether this phrase is meant to describe a person 90 % likely to die, 51% likely to die, or something else," according to the filing.

The cops dealing with these cases also are "not instructed to seek out a physician with direct responsibility for the crash victim, and in many cases receive opinions regarding the likelihood of death from other physicians or non-physicians who do not have reliable information," so the lawsuit claims.

In other words, police officers won't investigate a crash unless a victim is dead or likely to die, but they don't really appear to have an accurate, concrete way of determining that. They also don't have to talk to the medical professional who could give them the most accurate info.

Which brings us back to the Heyworth case: The AIS seems to have decided she was not likely to die before she was thoroughly checked out by doctors, which led to them initially junking investigative efforts.

Apparently, this also happened in 2010, with Stefanos Tsigrimanis. At first, non-AIS officers responding to the scene thought he was going to die, but an anonymous doc at the hospital said that his injuries weren't life threatening. The investigation was subsequently thrown out, but resumed after Tsigrimanis passed away. By that time, though, all the evidence was gone.

Follow Victoria Bekiempis @vicbekiempis.

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