The investigation into the Dec. 27, 2011 death of Phyo Kyaw ’10 is complete, and it has been ruled an accident. Kyaw was killed when his bicycle and a J. P. Noonan tanker truck collided as the truck turned right from Massachusetts Avenue onto Vassar Street in rainy weather after dark that evening.
“We found that there is insufficient evidence to support negligence on the part of the driver,” said Jessica Venezia Pastore, a spokeswoman for the Middlesex District Attorney’s Office. Pastore responded to a routine inquiry from The Tech about this matter on Friday. Pastore said the investigation had closed on April 8. Police reports on the accident were not available prior to that closure.
The Massachusetts State Police performed a collision reconstruction, and their 16-page reconstruction report, dated March 21, is available online at http://tech.mit.edu/V132/N26/kyaw.
“The possible cause of this collision was the encroachment of the bicycle into the path of the turning tractor trailer unit,” the report said. The report, which was the basis for the DA’s decision whether to charge the driver, is written in the “best light” favorable to the truck driver. This is consistent with innocent-until-proven-guilty. The report explicitly states that its assumptions favor the innocence of the driver.
The reconstruction report shows the tractor-trailer truck crossing over the double-yellow line into Vassar’s oncoming (westbound) traffic’s left lane, and shows both Kyaw’s bicycle and Kyaw’s body as being on the lane division between the left and right westbound lanes.
However, the report states that “roadway design and engineering did not precipitate or contribute to this collision.” State police spokesmen were not available last night to resolve the discrepancy.
Kyaw’s bicycle’s final position was not in a bicycle lane, the report said. Local laws do not require bicycles to travel in the bicycle lane, and it is common for left-turning bicycles to travel in Vassar’s left lane.
The reconstruction report cited contributing factors of “moderate to heavy rainfall,” Kyaw’s nonreflective clothing, Kyaw’s presumed high speed, and the lack of a front light on the bicycle.
Kyaw was wearing a helmet at the time of the accident, Cambridge Police report #5 said. The bicycle was “not equipped with a front-facing light,” and its front white reflector was partially obstructed by brake and shifter cables, the report said. Massachusetts law requires bicycles to have a front light at night.
Kyaw’s 21-speed bicycle appeared to be set at the gear combination that was as hard to pedal in as possible, indicating travel “at a fairly fast pace,” police report #5 said. On the other hand, if Kyaw was intending to turn left and was approaching a red light, it is also possible he was slowing down, or had even come to a stop.
Truck driver’s narrative
According to Cambridge Police Report #1, the truck driver “stated that he was travelling westbound on Mass. Ave. when he attempted to take a right turn onto Vassar St. [The driver] said that the light was green and his right directional light was on. Moments later, [he] said he felt the impact of something hitting his truck. He stopped and got out of his truck to investigate and observed that he had been in a collision with a bicycle.”
According to the reconstruction report, MIT provided video that showed the truck did activate its right directional signal. (Presumably this video came from the exterior video cameras mounted on Building 42, the Central Utilities Plant at 59 Vassar Street.)
Several phone calls to the driver’s home number yesterday afternoon were not returned.
A person answering the phone at J. P. Noonan Transportation Inc., the owner of the truck, referred inquiries to a dispatcher identifying himself only as “Larry.” Larry stated he was not aware that the investigation had completed.
Larry Noonan is listed as the secretary and director of the company, and also as the company’s sales manager. Larry Noonan and terminal manager Paul Noonan did not respond to email inquiries sent yesterday afternoon.