Witness Says Driver Ran Red Light in Crash That Killed Queens Pedestrian

A witness or witnesses reportedly told police that a red-light runner caused the collision that killed 82-year-old Margaret Choberka in Jackson Heights. No charges were filed. Photo: Daily News

At least one witness told police that a driver ran a red light before a collision last week that resulted in the death of a Jackson Heights pedestrian, according to reports.

In the early afternoon of March 21, Margaret Choberka, 82, was walking near her home at 32nd Ave. and 70th St. when the drivers of a Toyota minivan and a Mercedes SUV collided at the intersection. The Mercedes then struck Choberka, who suffered head trauma and died at the scene.

The account of the incident in YourNabe says: “A witness at the scene who declined to give his name said the Toyota had run through a red light at the intersection.” A Queens Gazette blotter item reads: “eyewitnesses told investigators the driver of the Toyota ran a red light.” No charges were filed.

From YourNabe:

Some nearby residents said they had lived in the area for many years and found that speeding had gotten much worse recently, especially from motorists attempting to outrun red lights.

“People come down this block at 50 miles an hour to beat that light,” said Anthony DiGesu, 49, referring to the traffic light at the intersection of 70th Street and 31st Avenue.

NYPD confirmed all other details of the collision, but told Streetsblog there was no mention of a driver running a red light in the incident report, that both drivers had “valid paperwork,” and that “no criminality was suspected.”

It’s hard to fathom how neither driver could be at fault in this case, since, barring a mechanical malfunction of some sort, a two-car “t-bone” collision at a signalized intersection pretty much requires one driver to run the light. This crash is also reminiscent of the one that killed pedestrian Genowefa Kurpiewska (initially identified as Beata Kurpiewski). On May 18, 2010, Kurpiewska and her 3-year-old grandson were hit after a speeding driver blew through a light and struck another vehicle in the Castleton Corners neighborhood of Staten Island. Due to the particularly horrific nature of the crash, Kurpiewska’s death drew an unusual amount of media attention. The driver was charged with homicide.

It could be that there are mitigating factors here, details not reported by the press nor revealed by NYPD. It could be that crash investigators relied on the notorious “rule of two” when deciding whether to press charges or issue summonses. Whatever the variables, whomever caused the death of Margaret Choberka — and someone most certainly did — it appears that as far as NYPD is concerned, her case is closed.

  • Anonymous

    Run a red light in a park when no one is around, get a $270 ticket. Run a red light on a residential street and kill someone, go home. Great priorities, Ray Kelly!

  • Clarence Eckerson Jr.

    I live in Jackson Heights. Last night walking down the street, I came within a second of being plowed over by someone coming out of their driveway and across the crosswalk – who NEVER looked in my direction. (In fact, I had to jump back a smidgen to avoid having my toes run over!) This doesn’t surprise me that the driver could have run the light. In some pockets of Queens the traffic on streets can be rather light – but it is also because of that, that many drivers go thru lights 2 or 3 seconds past the red.

  • Driver

    Just a possibility, perhaps one of the factors in not pressing charges was that the vehicle that blew the light was not the vehicle that struck the pedestrian, unlike the SI case where the vehicle that blew the light was the same one that struck the pedestrians.

  • Driver

    Just a possibility, perhaps one of the factors in not pressing charges was that the vehicle that blew the light was not the vehicle that struck the pedestrian, unlike the SI case where the vehicle that blew the light was the same one that struck the pedestrians.

  • Driver

    Just a possibility, perhaps one of the factors in not pressing charges was that the vehicle that blew the light was not the vehicle that struck the pedestrian, unlike the SI case where the vehicle that blew the light was the same one that struck the pedestrians.

  • M to the I

    So in your hypothetical version of events, one driver should have at least been given a citation for running a red light, possibly speeding, not to mention second degree manslaughter charges.

  • Driver

    According to the story. the car that allegedly ran the red light was not the car that hit the pedestrian.. There is nothing hypothetical about that.
    Also, we do not know if the witness gave a report to the police, or just said that to the reporter on scene. Notice the witness did not give their name.
    Can the statement of a witness be enough evidence for the police to issue a citation? You can’t tell a cop you saw somebody commit a traffic violation and have the cop write that person a ticket (under ordinary circumstances), the infraction has to be witnessed by the cop. Does anyone know firsthand the burden of proof needed to issue a citation based on witness accounts at an accident scene?

  • How is ramming someone else’s car into a pedestrian less of an offense than ramming your own car into him?

  • Anonymous

    Well someone entered the intersection illegally. No one said the light was faulty

  • Suzanne

    In what other situation will a death caused by willfully and egregiously breaking the law *not* result in a conviction? The only people (besides cops) who ever seem to get away with killing others are car drivers.

  • Driver

    Ocschwar, I am not claiming it is any less of an offense. I was thinking about how it plays into meeting the burden of proof in a criminal case (manslaughter). That second vehicle is one degree of separation between the offender and the victim, and a defense attorney would most likely try to exploit that. I was just throwing out the thought as a possibility, however slight.
    The point is moot, as there was not even a moving violation issued. I am still curious to know if one witnesses account is enough for the police to write a moving violation in a situation like this.

  • Driver, as people have pointed out, it is impossible to have a T-bone collision without one party in the wrong. The lack of a citation here is a damning indictment of the police’s priorities.

  • Driver

    Ocshwar, you seem to be ignoring the burden of proof aspect. I agree that someone blew the light. The question is how do you prove who was in the wrong? The lack of a citation is not necessarily an indictment of the police’s priorities, but may simply be an indication of lack of evidence or proof. The police can’t just make a best guess as to who was at fault and give them a ticket, there has to be some sort of evidence or testimony that can be presentable in court.

  • “I agree that someone blew the light. The question is how do you prove who was in the wrong?”

    Okay, so you don’t give a citation, you collect testimony and start a criminal proceeding. Instead, once again the cops are saying “no criminality suspected.”

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  • Driver is right. Regardless of our feelings about the matter, the DA isn’t going to bring a case that has no chance of persuading a jury, and the police know this. If I was on a jury, and the prosecutor explained that the one car hit the other, which hit and killed someone, I wouldn’t believe BEYOND REASONABLE DOUBT that the first driver was to blame.

    The same thing happened last year on Kingsbridge Road in the Bronx, where a car making a U-turn hit another car, which ran into someone else.

  • Suzanne

    I’m not going to disagree with you Jonathan but morally? How can it not be the drivers fault? That is, whoever ran the red light that caused this mess?

    Just because something isn’t so doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be. Again, I can’t think of any other area of modern life where people get away, literally, with murder and don’t get punished for it. At all.

  • Suzanne, the justice system presumes you innocent, and the prosecution has to work to convince the jury that you’re guilty.

    If you can draft a prosecution argument strong enough to make me believe that the driver who ran a red light was beyond reasonable doubt the cause of this death, that by going through that light he set in motion an inexorable chain of events that had as its certain, anticipated result the death of Ms. Choberka, feel free to post it here.

    It’s entirely possible that a civil suit, however, could be successful.

  • Driver

    How about the construction industry Suzanne.
    http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2010/07/22/national/main6702608.shtml

    Or landlords who illegally subdivide houses.
    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/20/nyregion/20fire.html

  • Suzanne

    You got me driver ;p

    I should have said, I don’t know of any area in modern life where a regular person, someone who isn’t rich, can get away with murder.

  • Driver

    Suzanne, although this is completely off topic, I just want to point out that just because someone is a landlord does not make them rich. On the same note, a rigger makes a very good living with a high hourly wage (with unsteady employment) but is probably not considered rich. I would consider a rigger or crane operator a “regular person”, as well as some, if not many, landlords (my own landlord being one of them).

  • Suzanne & Driver, you could take the same argument and say that anyone who owns an automobile and can afford to spend the five to eight thousand bucks annually to keep it up is “rich.”

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