Dalerjon Shahobiddinov, 10, loved video games and biking. His friends say he was a safe biker, too. On Saturday morning, he left the Abu Bakr El Seddique Mosque, one block from his home in Kensington, Brooklyn, and started pedaling home.
He told his friends on the way that he was hungry and wanted to get something to eat. Just a block from home, the light turned green and he crossed Foster Avenue and Seton Place in the crosswalk. At the same time, Victor Mejia, 29, was turning left in his 2002 Ford SUV onto Foster Avenue, and he struck the child, killing him.
Photos from the scene show Dalerjon’s orange bike directly under the vehicle.
Police say Victor Mejia was making a left turn onto Foster Avenue and Seton Place in Midwood Saturday when he struck 10-year-old Dalerjon Shahibiddinov. https://t.co/xWpWT8B7wz
— Spectrum News NY1 (@NY1) October 6, 2019
Dalerjon was expected to attend a friend’s birthday party on Sunday, but instead dozens of family and friends gathered on the sidewalk, and in the lobby and stairwell of Dalerjon’s family’s apartment building to mourn the child’s death.
His family declined to speak about the boy or the safety of the streets. But Rizwan Ali, who lives on the same block and taught Shahobiddinov at the mosque, said he was a good kid.
“It’s really sad that it has to come to this,” Ali said, adding that and like so many other kids on the block, Dalerjon made the sidewalk his playground.
“The cars are coming down pretty fast and the kids are kids, you can tell them to stop today, but they’ll start tomorrow again. So, we can’t stop them but we have to do something so they can be safe in front of their own house.”
He said if the city can’t install a traffic light to break up Foster Avenue, at least it could add a speed bump. Turning to a group of neighborhood children, Ali reminded the kids, “don’t come on the road, don’t do that. Go play in the park,” he said. “The most important thing is, you riding a bike, wear a helmet, wear a helmet. Guys, gotta wear a helmet, you never know what’s going to happen.”
On Sunday, Mejia was charged with unlicensed driving, failing to exercise due care and failure to yield to pedestrians. He pleaded not guilty and was released without bail.
“He and his family are remorseful for what happened,” James Kirshner, Mejia’s lawyer told Gothamist/WNYC. “Their heart goes out to the family of this little boy who died, it was a tragic accident.”
Mejia was freed on supervised release, which means he has to report regularly to the court. Before leaving court on Sunday, the judge ordered him to “stay off the road.” Mejia is due back in court on Nov. 4.
Attorney and safe streets advocate Steve Vaccaro said while Mejia could be charged with a criminal offense, he’ll likely face lesser charges.
“Most people might assume that if you drive unlicensed and you actually hit someone, much less kill them, they’re going to throw the book at you. It’s not the case,” Vaccaro told Gothamist/WNYC. “Unless you’re caught many many times doing it, it amounts to just a misdemeanor.
He said the same is true of violating the cyclist’s right of way under the Right of Way Law.
District Attorneys could charge violating the Right of Way law as a criminal penalty, which could result in a $250 fine and up to 30 days in jail, but advocates and lawyers said this rarely happens.
“If it’s simply just failing to yield to the individual in the crosswalk, it’s just treated as a misdemeanor charge,” Kirshner acknowledged.
Dalerjon is the 24th cyclist to be killed while biking in the city this year, compared to 10 in all of 2018.
On Saturday evening, Mayor de Blasio, who has acknowledged that his Vision Zero street safety plan is facing a crisis, tweeted that the Department of Transportation was already making changes to the intersection where Dalerjon was killed.
DOT is already making changes to the intersection by clearing parking spots to improve visibility, assessing the need for speed humps and reviewing if there were any prior incidents at Foster Avenue and Seton Place.
— Mayor Bill de Blasio (@NYCMayor) October 5, 2019
But advocates for safe streets are calling for much more action from the city. Danny Harris, Executive Director of Transportation Alternatives, urged de Blasio to accelerate his Green Wave Bicycle Safety Plan.
Harris also wants the Council to pass Speaker Corey Johnson’s Streets Master Plan bill, which would create 250 miles of protected bike lanes within five years. Harris said it “would systematically address streets across the city, like Foster Avenue where the crash took place, that have no accommodations for people on bikes.”
“What we have before us is a preventable public health crisis. We call on our elected leaders to do everything in their power to get Vision Zero back on track.”