It’s like I’m on the set of a police series. Is it CSI or SVU? I’ve never been good with acronyms. Two cops escort me while an attendant pushes my squeaking wheelchair through the gloomy hallways of Wyckoff Medical Center’s ER. A drunkard soliloquizes in Polish, a crumpled woman has a coughing fit, and a patient in pajamas stares into space and smiles.
Officer Backer taps the screen of his tablet each time I give him an answer. Problem is I don’t remember much. I can only describe stroboscopic flashes of the accident: The violence of the car striking my bike and crumpling the rear wheel. My howl as I was thrown from the seat, onto the ground. A revving engine as the driver sped up while I writhed in pain. My sadness as I lay on that lonely road, with a bleeding knee and an acute sense of mortality.
But the cop’s questions are way more down to earth: “What was the color of the vehicle? What brand? What type? Did you see the driver?”
“No, Officer, I did not.” I was too busy making sure I was still alive.
I had been on a routine evening ride, biking back to Ridgewood after a dinner with friends. I had passed the East Village, crossed the Williamsburg Bridge, hurtled down Grand Street, and reached Metropolitan Avenue, a perilous portion of the ride with no separate bike lane. This is where I always stick to the far right side of the road and slow down to make sure fast drivers have time to notice my flashing taillight.
They usually do. But just when I was about to turn on Woodward, a brutal impact tore my bike apart from the back. Next thing I knew, I was shivering near the sidewalk, surrounded by three guys who stopped to help me. A fireman showed up, checked the back of my neck and asked if I felt dizzy. Fortunately, I was wearing a helmet and my head didn’t hit the ground. But I couldn’t stand up. A few minutes later, I was transferred to a gurney in an ambulance where a paramedic took my pulse, and tightened a tensiometer like crazy until I was about to faint.
Maybe I shouldn’t expect sympathy. Maybe I should just embrace the banality of my accident and be relieved I survived in one piece. But the indifference of everyone from the ambulance drivers to these two officers makes me feel like a total stranger. A non-resident French alien, my visa says. The word alien sounds appropriate now. A year into living in New York, I’ve never felt so out of place.
I feel like running away, but I have to wait for the doctor’s verdict in a narrow corridor on the hospital’s second floor. I glance at Officer Backer and his colleague and suspect they’ve had enough of me. They seem disappointed, jaded, probably both. I feel like a dunce who has let down his teacher by failing a quiz.
“Your police report will be ready in a few days at your precinct,” says Backer, who gives me the case number.
“Officer, before you go, I’d like to know if there’s any chance you’ll catch the guy who did it,” I ask. The second cop, who had remained silent until then, looks at me and shrugs, “Quite unlikely.”
“But wait, there’s this woman who said she wrote down the license plate number and called 911. Wouldn’t that information help you find him?” I ask.
Backer scrolls up and down his tablet. “Sorry, but I don’t see anything in our records.”
The doctor tells me the X-ray doesn’t show a fracture. Guess it was my “lucky day.” I have no idea what time it is, but I’m ready to leave. My knees shake a little when I get to my feet and I need a cane to keep my balance. But as Elton John would say, I’m still standing. Looking like a true survivor, feeling like a little kid.
But the little kid in me is choking back tears. Can someone really plow into a biker and just drive off and get away with it?
Back at home, a Google search makes me realize the scale of the problem. I’m like the other 4,000 yearly victims of hit-and-runs across the city. In all likelihood, my case will soon be buried and forgotten. According to NYPD statistics, an investigation is opened one time out of ten. And here’s an even more staggering number: of the 48 fatal incidents recorded last year, 28 suspects were apprehended. That leaves some 20 bastards on the loose.
Last month, hundreds of cyclists staged a protest ride to Washington Square Park, in memory of the 17 cyclists who had been killed by hit-and-runs this year. Transportation Alternatives, the advocacy group that organized the action, said that hit-and-run statistics were “moving in the wrong direction” vis a vis the mayor’s Vision Zero initiative to eliminate traffic deaths and serious injuries by 2024.
Reading such things makes me fume at my computer. There’s nothing I can do to have my assailant locked up, and that feeling of powerlessness hurts just as much as the wound on my knees. I understand that the police have tons of cases that are more important than this misadventure. But I can’t fully accept it. What if this guy strikes again? What if his next victim doesn’t pull through?
A few days later, I limp to my precinct to pick up the police report. At the counter, a bespectacled, middle-aged desk worker hands me the document. I timidly ask her whether there has been any “progress” on my case.
“Your case is closed, honey. They’re not gonna open an investigation.”
“And under which circumstances would that happen?”
“Only if you die, honey.”
So much for compassion.
So I reached out to a lawyer to find out if I could bring suit. He gave me the same answer as the desk worker from the police station, though in a more polished fashion. Unless I had sustained a “serious injury” (the list includes dismemberment, disfigurement, loss of use of a body organ, and loss of a fetus, among others), I would not stand any chance in court. “Thank God, you don’t have any of these,” he said. I thanked him and hung up.
I had run out of options and just wanted to move on. I guess the fact that the guy got caught brought me some comfort, but a weird aftertaste lingered. I don’t know anything about him, what he looks like, whether he’s been jailed or just fined. He’ll remain a shadow who almost ran me over on a Tuesday night and didn’t care to know if I was all right.