Vance “Reviewing” Safir Hit-and-Run, Pedestrian and Cyclist Deaths

The office of Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance is looking into last Friday’s Upper East Side hit-and-run involving former NYPD Commissioner Howard Safir and pedestrian Joanne Valarezo, as well as two recent incidents in which a pedestrian and cyclist were killed.

safir_valarezo.jpgHoward Safir and Joanne Valarezo have very different versions of what happened on Third Ave last week. Photos: NYT, News

Though local media have reported that Safir has been cleared of wrongdoing, a Vance spokesperson issued the following statement to Streetsblog early this afternoon:

Traffic accidents involving pedestrians or cyclists are a serious concern in Manhattan, as the first week of 2010 showed. The District Attorney has asked the Office to conduct a review of the traffic accident involving former Police Commissioner Howard Safir. He has also instructed the DA’s Vehicular Crimes Unit to do its own review of last week’s traffic fatalities. The closer review of traffic accidents that cause serious injury or death will be a priority for the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office.

One pedestrian and one cyclist have been reported killed in Manhattan since Vance took office on January 1.

It isn’t often that you get to hear from a person struck down by a driver, and there is little doubt that, were one of the parties not a former big-time city politico, last Friday’s incident would scarcely have rated a police blotter blurb. But thanks to Safir’s high profile, we have a case where the victim is able to tell her side to a rapt audience of reporters.

From the Times, which broke the story late Friday:

Ms. Valarezo said in a telephone interview on Friday night that she was on a break from her job at a doctor’s office and had gone to buy socks for her unborn child when she was hit.

"I was crossing the street in between cars and he hit reverse, and his female passenger screamed, ‘Are you not looking, there’s someone there,’ and as he was reversing, he hit me on my shoulder and my knee and the side of my stomach," she said.

Then he started to drive away, she said.

"I confronted him and I said, ‘I’m pregnant. Did you not see?’ And he just disregarded that and kept going," she said. She said if the passenger had not screamed, causing her to turn, she would been hurt more seriously.

Knowingly leaving the scene of an incident, whether or not it involves personal injury, is, of course, against the law in New York State. All we know of Safir’s version is that he told investigators he was unaware he had hit anyone as he maneuvered his double-parked Escalade on Third Avenue. That was apparently good enough for NYPD, at least initially.

What stands out most to us here is that a victim has lived
to tell what happened, and it doesn’t match the driver’s
account
at all. But Vance seems to be listening, and is showing signs that he intends to follow through on his pledge to treat pedestrian injuries and deaths with the seriousness they deserve.

Streetsblog will continue to follow this story, along with those of last week’s as-yet-unidentified victims, as they develop.

  • Marty Barfowitz

    Here, let me help you with your next blog post on this issue:

    …And D.A. Vance has found that Safir did nothing wrong. In fact, the pregnant lady is now being prosecuted for jay-walking and assaulting a former police officer. The NYPD can feel free to continue to run over citizens and do their shoddy, blame-the-victim investigations of pedestrian and bike fatalities. Mayor Bloomberg, as usual, has nothing to say about the mayhem slaughter on his city streets.

    Next!

  • Surely there is a camera somewhere in that part of the the Upper East Side that recorded the incident:

    http://www.wired.com/politics/security/magazine/16-05/ff_manhattansecurity#

  • The news story also refers to a female passenger yelling at the driver. I think that would be a good place to start. Will she risk perjuring herself that the driver was not exercising due care?

    Back when I was taking driver’s education class, backing up without looking would be an easy way to failing the driving test.

  • What about failing to stay at the scene? Even if the impact did nothing more than damage her clothes, he would be required to stay and provide his identifying information.

  • What a beautiful thing it might be if a high profile person faces charges for car-on-ped violence:

    If Safir were to face charges, I suspect that the public at large would at first find it a peice of minor, scandalous news, and then think, “Well, serves him right. If you hurt someone with your car and leave the scene, you deserve to face charges, no matter who you are.” And my hope is that that idea would stick a little more than it currently does. Currently, much of the public has the same attitude as NYPD (“accidents are accidents; the person shouldn’t have been standing/walking where they were.”) Maybe a former NYPD Commissioner facing charges could help wake some people up.

  • From the NY Times article:

    Told he was found but not charged, Ms. Valarezo said, “Really.”

    Then she laughed.

    She asked for his name, and when given it, said, “You would think that a man who abides by the law should follow it.”

  • I know legally, leaving the scene is probably a bigger penalty, but I think the actual crash is worse.

    Does a person accused of committing an assault get any more charges if they leave the scene?

  • Omri

    Let’s not get heated up. If the lady is the only witness for the prosecution, and Safir and his wife have a different story, then convicting beyond a reasonable doubt is unlikely, and the DA has cause not to proceed. If, however, the city takes action to deny this lady her rights for civil relief, then we can get plenty hot and march with torches and pitchforks.

  • Times’s City Room blog has picked up on the DA’s decision, too. Good work, Ben!

  • spike

    From what I read, the woman was jaywalking, coming out from between two parked cars into the car’s blind spot. Pedestrians have the responsibility not to be utterly stupid. If you are going to jaywalk, you need be careful if you are near cars, they can’t always see you. I ride a bike in the city. The thing that makes biking so dangerous is there is always too much going on all the time- a dozen cars changing lanes at the same time, pedestrians wandering through traffic, bikes going the wrong way, cars stopped in the middle of the road.

  • Spike, if the woman was doing that, it wasn’t smart. But if she’s right that the former police commissioner knew that he hit her then and ran away, then Safir committed a serious crime.

  • Breath of fresh air that the DA’s office is at least going to go beyond the cops’, “Sure we investigated – we asked the driver and he said he was innocent.”

    Grandpa Morgy’s office wouldn’t lift a finger in a case like this. Even if nothing comes of it, at least someone was willing to tell the press that they were going to consider for a moment that there was the possibility of wrongdoing. I’ll take that minor victory and build on it.

  • Andrew

    spike:
    Perhaps you’re right. But, last I checked, drivers are still supposed to watch where they’re going, even when they back up. And then there’s the small hit-and-run issue.

  • christine

    Good news that the DA office seems to be interested , however calling this an accident is a huge give away…Did nto they read the memo ? it’s call a crash… We need to ratchet up the illegality of these actions , and establish a new threshold for criminalization.

    Hats off to ben fried last night on nbc news related to the pedestrian killed .

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