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AG will not charge off-duty cop who fatally struck two men in 2021 Ozone Park collision

Jun. 29, 2023 By Bill Parry

Attorney General Letitia James announced she would not bring charges against an NYPD officer who was off-duty when he struck and killed two men in Ozone Park in the spring of 2021.

The AG’s Office of Special Investigation (OSI) released its report on the deaths of Marcelo Pelaez and Leonardo Rodriguez-Mendoza on Woodhaven Boulevard following a “thorough and comprehensive investigation,” which included crash reconstruction analysis, review of security camera video, and witness interviews. OSI determined that a prosecutor would not be able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt at trial that the officer committed a crime and that criminal charges could not be pursued in this matter.

On the morning of May 24, 2021, off-duty Police Officer Angelo Hurtado was driving home with his wife and daughter after visiting friends. While driving northbound on Woodhaven Boulevard at the intersection with Rockaway Boulevard, the officer hit Pelaez and Rodriguez-Mendoza, who were crossing Woodhaven Boulevard from east to west in the northern crosswalk at 12:30 a.m. Hurtado and multiple bystanders called 911 to request medical assistance. EMS responded to the crash scene and transported the victims to Jamaica Hospital Medical Center where Pelaez was pronounced dead on arrival. Rodriguez-Mendoza was listed in critical condition and unresponsive. He succumbed to his injuries more than seven weeks later.

Hurtado’s car and Pelaez Rodriguez-Mendoza less than a second before impact.Photo via the New York City Department of Transportation Automated Enforcement Unit Bus Lane Video

Collision reconstruction analysis by the NYPD’s Collision Investigation Squad (CIS) and corroborated by an independent expert engaged by OSI determined that the officer had the green light and was driving approximately five to nine miles above the posted speed limit of 30 MPH when the collision occurred.

Security camera video secured from earlier in the evening shows the officer and his family meeting friends on Myrtle Avenue in Queens around 9:30 p.m. The video shows the officer drinking from what appeared to be three beers from a few minutes before 10 p.m. until almost 11 p.m. The officer and his family left around 11:22 p.m., and security camera video from a gas station next to a Burger King on Cross Bay Boulevard in Queens shows the family enter the restaurant before getting back in the car with bags of food at 12:04 a.m.
Officers from Transit District 23 who were first on the scene reported that Hurtado did not smell of alcohol and showed no signs of impairment. When CIS arrived nearly two hours after the incident occurred, Hurtado submitted to three field sobriety tests. He passed all three tests but declined to submit to a breathalyzer test, which resulted in a 30-day suspension from NYPD.

Police from the 106th Precinct in Ozone Park arrived on scene at 12:36 a.m. and a sergeant told OSI investigators that she spoke to two women who said they were in a vehicle at the red light when they saw the two men walk into the street; they said the driver had a green light when he hit them.

The sergeant also told investigators that she spoke with Hurtado and said he was steady on his feet, that his speech was clear and not slurred and that he did not smell of alcohol.

Under New York law, proving criminally negligent homicide requires proving beyond a reasonable doubt that a person failed to perceive a substantial and unjustifiable risk that death would occur; that the failure to perceive the risk was a gross deviation from a reasonable person’s standard of care; and that the person engaged in blameworthy conduct.

OSI determined that Hurtado was driving five to nine miles above the speed limit, which did not qualify as “dangerous speeding” under precedent. They also determined that while Hurtado was drinking alcohol earlier in the evening before the collision, there is no direct evidence of the amount of alcohol in his system at the time of the incident and the multiple witnesses who saw and spoke with the officer after the collision did not identify any signs of impairment. Given the circumstances and the evidence, a prosecutor would not be able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt at trial that the officer had engaged in “risk-creating behavior” or “seriously blameworthy carelessness.”

While OSI determined that criminal charges could not be pursued against Hurtado, the AG’s office recommended that all NYPD patrol supervisors be trained in the administration of breathalyzer tests and field sobriety tests so that any on-duty or off-duty police officer, or any civilian, involved in a motor vehicle collision can be tested on scene “as soon as practicable to ensure the most accurate results.”

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