By RUSS BUETTNER
Published: September 20, 2012
A postal truck driver whose seven-ton vehicle rolled over and killed a former State Supreme Court special referee as she rode her bicycle in Manhattan last year was acquitted on Thursday of leaving the scene of a fatal accident.
The single count required prosecutors to prove that the driver, Ian Clement, 64, knew, or should have known, that someone had been injured.
Mr. Clement testified that he did not see the woman, Marilyn Dershowitz, 68, fall under his right rear tire. Although he felt a bump, Mr. Clement said it did not feel like anything extraordinary in a truck that regularly rocks and bounces along city streets.
A co-worker later told him there had been an accident on West 29th Street. As he left on his next route, he noticed some flashing lights and police officers on the street. After some reflection, Mr. Clement returned about two hours after the accident to ask his supervisor for more details about what had happened. After hearing those details, he told the supervisor it might have been his truck.
The trial, in State Supreme Court in Manhattan, focused on what might have gone through Mr. Clement’s mind during those two hours and whether his explanation as to why he waited to speak to his supervisor was believable.
Mr. Clement faced a prison sentence of up to seven years if convicted. After a trial spread out over two weeks, the jury deliberated for a few hours on Wednesday afternoon and Thursday morning before returning its verdict.
As he left the courtroom, Mr. Clement, a father of two grown daughters, said he was relieved.
“But my sympathies lie with the Dershowitz family,” he said.
Mrs. Dershowitz’s husband, Nathan Dershowitz, a lawyer and brother of the prominent Harvard Law School professor and defense lawyer Alan M. Dershowitz, did not express any outward displeasure with the jury’s decision.
“I’m a strong believer in the jury system,” he said.
He and his wife had left their Tudor City apartment on July 2, 2011, at the beginning of a long holiday weekend, to go bicycling on the Hudson River Park bike path. At Ninth Avenue, Mr. Dershowitz sped up to pass through a changing light. As he waited at 10th Avenue for his wife to catch up, he noticed a commotion behind him.
The street is lined by Postal Service buildings. Mrs. Dershowitz was struck as she pedaled through a narrow gap between Mr. Clement’s moving truck and the back end of a parked postal truck that was sticking out of a truck bay.
Mr. Clement’s lawyer, John Arlia, suggested during his closing remarks to the jury that the case might not have been filed at all if not for the urging of the Dershowitz family, which had pushed prosecutors to pursue a more serious charge, such as vehicular manslaughter.
Most victims’ families have conversations with prosecutors, and they often ask for tough charges. Mr. Arlia presented no evidence that calls from the Dershowitz family were received any differently, though he asked jurors to consider how “the real world” works.
Though they do not often receive public attention, prosecutions for leaving the scene of a traffic accident are not rare. So far this year in Manhattan, 127 people have been charged with it, more than last year, and 33 of those cases involved serious injury or death, according to the office of the Manhattan district attorney,Cyrus R. Vance Jr.
Mr. Vance issued a statement saying his office would continue to pursue such cases, where the facts merit, to make the city’s streets safer.
“We respect the jury’s verdict,” Mr. Vance said. “However, far too many cyclists and pedestrians are killed in crashes with motorists each year, in every borough of our city.”