By Christina Santucci
Relatives of a Japanese student who authorities say was fatally struck by an NYPD cruiser responding to an emergency last year in Queensbridge have been waiting for a year to find out the circumstances of Ryo Oyamada’s death. And they believe a federal court ruling directing the city to release materials from an investigation into the fatal accident by mid-March could provide some of the answers they have been looking for.
The decision by U.S. Magistrate Judge Cheryl Pollak on the federal civil suit filed by Oyamada’s family against the city and the NYPD requires the city to produce records on a “rolling basis,” and all of the documents should be available within 30 days. This material includes surveillance video from the Queensbridge Houses, which is located across the street from where Oyamada was struck on 40th Avenue and 11th Street, according to her ruling.
A spokesman for the city’s Law Department said in an e-mail that the case is in litigation, and a spokeswoman for the Police Department said the Internal Affairs Bureau investigation into the officer who was behind the wheel at the time of the accident has been closed with no misconduct noted.
A court conference on the case has been scheduled for March 13.
Christopher Fitzgerald, the family’s attorney, said the Oayamdas had filed the $8 million suit in May in part to find out if the NYPD cruiser driven by an officer assigned to Police Service Area 9, which covers most of the public housing projects in Queens, had its lights on or was speeding when their 24-year-old son was hit.
“As defendants in the lawsuit, the NYPD has the obligation to comply with the court’s directives and produce the documents that have been demanded by the Oyamadas, but equally as important is the NYPD’s duty as a city agency to be transparent and to disclose matters that relate to issues of public safety in a timely manner, especially when one of their own has killed an innocent pedestrian,” Fitzgerald said.
He joined more than a dozen of Oayamada’s family and friends to mark the one-year anniversary of his death huddled on a damp sidewalk a little after midnight last Friday.
Tomoko Suzuki, 35, one of Oyamada’s two sisters, who both traveled from Japan, recalled how her brother had dreamed of riding a bicycle across the Brooklyn Bridge but had not found time to do so in the three months he was living in Queensbridge.
“Of course, I worried about him as a sister,” she said when asked what she thought of her younger brother moving nearly 7,000 miles away.
“After he moved here, it seemed like he was so happy and enjoying his life. I was relieved to know that he was doing well,” Suzuki said through a translator.
A budding photographer and guitar enthusiast, Oyamada enjoyed fashion, his sister said.
Friend Stefan Johnson, one of several friends who had dinner with Oyamada several hours before he died, said the Zoni Language student had a unique aura.
“I only knew him for a short time, but it just feels like I’ve known him for much longer,” he said. “He just gave off something that you had to be happy around him.”
“Right after the accident all that they knew was that he died from a police car and nothing else,” Suzuki’s translator explained for her. “She and her family started to think there was something that was hidden in this case.”
Suzuki said the family hoped the records, such as the NYCHA video, would provide more information about her brother’s death.
“Once they have the evidence, then they will know the truth,” Suzuki said.
Reach managing editor Christina Santucci by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org by phone at 718-260-4589.