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NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—Local police only interviewed two witnesses, including one who a police report said was “confused with the incident,” before closing out an investigation into a student pedestrian that was struck and seriously injured by a police car last month.
The driver of the vehicle was a 39-year-old RUPD officer named Anthony Timbol. He told investigators that he was attempting to head straight on College Avenue, and passed a Rutgers bus on the right before striking a pedestrian.
In the section of the NBPD accident report for “apparent contributing circumstances,” an investigator listed “crossing where prohibited” and “running/darting across traffic” for the pedestrian For the driver, the investigator listed “none.”
The report also characterized the victim’s collision with the police car as occurring at a 90-degree angle, essentially running into the side of the vehicle.
However, a computerized drawing of the incident included on page three of the report depicts the victim prone in the street with his left foot under the driver’s side front corner of the police car.
Similar to the officer’s account of the accident on police radio, the NBPD’s accident report used some unusual language to describe the collision between the 2009 Ford Crown Victoria and Ryan Sikder, a 21-year-old Rutgers student from Wayne, NJ:
“[Timbol] went on to state that [Sikder] appeared in front of him (from the front of the bus that was stopped) on his left side and impacted the vehicle,” says the report’s narrative.
The accident occured on College Avenue during rush hour, near that campus’ most heavily-utilized bus stop on September 19.
Sikder said he was crossing about 10 feet beyond the bus shelter located in front of the city’s famous Grease Trucks. He said the police car “moved” him another 10 feet towards Hamilton Street after he was struck.
“I was just crossing the street, I was walking in front of a bus. He let me cross in front of him. And then the next thing I knew there was a car that was about to hit me, and then it hit me, and then I was on the ground.”
Sikder, a senior majoring in Economics and History, says he had nearly completed crossing the street when he was struck by the cruiser that had cut through the bus lane.
“I wasn’t expecting a cop to be there, because it was you know a bus lane.”
Sikder “jogged across the street (in front of the stopped bus) and heard a horn prior to him impacting [the police car],” according to the police report.
Sikder said that Timbol got out of the car and began yelling at him shortly after he fell to the ground and noticed that he had a bone sticking out of his leg.
“He stood over me and started yelling at me, ‘Where you running to? Why’d you run into my car?’ And I was trying to defend myself with my bone sticking out of my leg.”
Sikder said the emergency response to the accident was swift, but he had to undergo surgery to repair his severely fractured leg that night.
The three-page accident report does not say how fast the police vehicle was traveling on the 25mph city street, though it concedes that the officer was not responding to an emergency when his vehicle struck Sikder.
Police interviewed just two witnesses, including the bus driver who yielded to Sikder.
The bus driver, Waheeb Wahba, was quoted in the report as telling police that he saw Sikder “run across traffic and strike” the police vehicle.
The report also says that Wahba “stated [Sikder] did not use a crosswalk.”
The other witness, a Delaware woman named Diane Song, “was not sure how the pedestrian landed on the driver-side of the care and then became confused with the incident.”
Song told NBPD investigator Gregory Lisczak that she believed Sikder was “crossing from the Grease Truck parking lot toward Scott Hall.”
But the investigator came to the opposite conclusion, based on statements from Sikder and a video of the incident secured by Sgt. David Martella.
NewBrunswickToday.com has submitted an Open Public Records Act request to obtain the video.
At first, NewBruswickToday.com was told that the Rutgers Police Department was investigating the incident internally, when we broke the story on September 20. The following day, a spokesman for the school said that New Brunswick’s embattled police department would be handling the investigation.
Then, yesterday afternoon Seargent Raymond Trigg told the city’s Traffic Commission that RUPD was investigating and New Brunswick Police were not involved at all. Trigg was the department’s official representative at the meeting.
“That’s not us,” he said in response to a question about the incident from NewBrunswickToday.com during the meeting.
But later that day, police spokesman JT Miller told NewBrunswickToday.com that Trigg’s statements were incorrect.
“We took an initial accident report and it was determined to be an accident,” Miller told NewBrunswickToday.com yesterday, who said the NBPD closed the case without issuing any summonses.
He was unable to provide the police report immediately, but he said at last night’s City Council meeting that the Rutgers Police Department was also internally investigating the incident “because it invoved one of their officers.”
University spokesman EJ Miranda confirmed that there is an internal investigation into Officer Timbol, a 14-year veteran of the RUPD.
“Rutgers PD is conducting a review. That review is in process,” said Miranda.
A doctor has ordered that Sikder withdraw from the University for the fall semester. Sikder says he intends to come back and attend Rutgers next semester and graduate in December 2013.
He also said he hopes to get back the money he paid for tuition this semester, but Rutgers has thus far only agreed to return a portion.
“At first it seemed like they were going to be really helpful, but then when the doctor said that I can’t go back this semester, they’ve been kind of making it difficult,” Sikder told NewBrunswickToday.com in a phone interview today.
“I’m trying to withdraw this semester. They are letting me withdraw, but they are taking 40% of the tuition that I paid this semester.”
According to the University’s tuition refund policy, students who voluntarily withdraw during the first six weeks are eligible for a partial refund of their tuition.
The accident occurred during the third week of school, which means Sikder would only be entitled to a refund of 60% of what he paid, under normal circumstances.
“The university has reached out to the family to assist them in managing this matter,” said Miranda, adding federal law prohibited from discussing the financial situation of any individual students publicly.
Charlie is the founder and editor of New Brunswick Today, and the winner of the Awbrey Award for Community-Oriented Local Journalism. He is a proud Rutgers University journalism graduate and a community organizer, and an independent candidate for Mayor of New Brunswick.