Make the Maspeth Crash Horror a Teachable Moment for New York City

The Maspeth horror wasn't the first sidewalk-vehicular assault on a Queens student this year.

The latest bombshell from the horrific traffic crash that brutally injured at least three Maspeth girls walking to their middle school last week exploded this morning, with a report in DNAinfo that city education officials ordered the school principal to respond to the incident by warning students not to use electronic devices while traveling to and from school.

Camillo Turriciano, the principal of I.S. 73 in Maspeth, issued that warning to parents just hours after a 40-year-old man drove his Honda SUV onto the sidewalk and into a group of girls walking to school shortly before 8 a.m. last Thursday. Video footage from a deli at the crash scene, on Grand Avenue near 71st Street in Queens, shows three girls walking unsuspectingly on the sidewalk far from the curb as the Honda driver hurtled toward them from behind. One girl was smashed by the car’s front right cattle guard — as depicted in a grotesque freeze-frame photo in today’s News — and hurled forward out of the frame of the video. None of the three appeared to be wearing earbuds or headphones, nor did any electronic device somehow help place them or other injured students in harm’s way.

Rather, the crash, which has hospitalized three schoolgirls with multiple fractures, appears to have been entirely attributable to the actions of the driver. Yet the principal’s letter, which DNAinfo has now reproduced in full, only mentioned students’ use of electronic devices. “Headphones, CD players, iPods or any other electronic devices used by children … can be a threat to their safety as they do not permit children to hear what is going on in their surrounding environment,” Turriciano wrote, in “asking [parents] to keep your child from using any listening devices when commuting so that they may be more in tune with their immediate surroundings.”

According to DNAinfo, the City Department of Education told Turriciano to focus on distracted walking after he “reached out to DOE asking for advice on how to address the school after the horrific crash.” That account, from the chief spokeswoman for the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators, is buttressed with an email from DOE headquarters, DNAinfo reports:

In an email Sunday, a spokeswoman for the DOE said that “the initial information that the DOE received suggested that headphones could have been involved in the accident. The letter’s intention was to suggest safety measures that could be communicated to students.”

The mind reels at the idea that anyone learning that a driver had struck teenage girls on a city sidewalk would think to blame the girls in any way. That officials charged with educating and safeguarding the city’s one million public-school children would convey this warped perspective to traumatized students and apprehensive parents is shameful.

There are still steps I.S. 73 Principal Turriciano can take to respond to last week’s tragedy and reduce the chances of a recurrence. These include:

  • Insisting that police and prosecutors fully investigate the driver’s behavior to ensure that he is held accountable for the injuries he inflicted on the I.S. 73 students;
  • Urging I.S. 73 parents to refrain from driving their children to school;
  • Proactively monitoring driver behavior near I.S. 73 to ensure that dangerous driving practices are shamed and eliminated.

Steps such as these could genuinely improve safety while arming the I.S. 73 community — students, parents, teachers and administrators — with the sense of purpose and agency they need to move forward from last Thursday’s horrific event.

They might also spark a critical mass of outrage to compel city officials to, finally, express genuine concern over sidewalk-jumping driving incidents that are killing, maiming, and traumatizing New Yorkers. From the killing of 16-year-old Tenzin Drudak across the street from his high school in Long Island City and 3-year-old Denim McLean in East Flatbush, both in March, to the mutilating of British tourist Sian Green in Midtown last month — all on city sidewalks — residents and visitors alike remain at the mercy of reckless driving that the NYPD whitewashes and our mayor disregards.

  • Kareem

    and another killed pedestrian on Bruckner Boulevard in the south bronx where they are trying to put thousands of freshdirect truck trips with $200 million in public subsidies.

  • Eric McClure

    “The initial information that the DOE received suggested that headphones could have been involved in the accident.”

    The only way headphones could have been “involved in the ‘accident'” is if the driver was reaching for his own while not paying attention. Sadly, we’ll likely never know the degree of his distraction, since it’s highly unlikely that the NYPD or Queens DA will subpoena cell phone or EDR records.

  • BornAgainBicyclist

    Thank you. I just sent a link to this post to Mr. Turriciano, excerpting the list of actions he can take and encouraging him to do so.

    Disturbing that the DNA Info article says that the driver is not expected to be charged.

  • Anonymous

    Clearly it’s dangerous to walk the sidewalks of NYC.

    How about everybody just walk in the street now instead. Traffic would have to slow to the speed of the slowest pedestrian – cuz, you know, all the people in the streets. With no room to accelerate up to 30+ mph, drivers won’t be able to jump their cars onto the curbs.

  • Eli

    I’m not sure when Streetsblog NYC just became a source of daily depression (I’m normally reading it from Seattle), but I just decided not to apply for a job at Spotify because it would require moving to your city.

    I’m in the Netherlands right now, where I have probably seen 100 happy 8-year olds on bikes today. I would never contemplate moving to a place where human life is so devalued when it involves violence via automobiles.

  • Where’d the DOE get this information, anyway? Because that video was posted by DNA and available for anyone to see and it most certainly does not show a set of headphones on anyone’s head.

    So the choices are:

    1. The DOE received bogus info about the crash from the NYPD. Entirely plausible, as we’ve seen all too often.
    2. They heard rumors through the grapevine of parents and students. Also plausible.
    3. They received no information, but are so conditioned to living in a culture that absolves drivers of any and all responsibility that they figured the “headphones cause driver to ram into kids from behind” explanation made the most sense.
    4. They’re afraid of entitled motorists being offended at even the mere suggestion that they watch out for other people, especially kids.

    None of these choices give me much faith in the adults who are charged with educating and protecting New York City’s children.

  • Anonymous

    Victim blaming is a subtle process, cloaked in kindness and concern.

    — William Ryan, 1970, Vintage, Victim Blaming

  • Anonymous

    I don’t know that suggesting ways that potential victims (which is, sadly, what we all are, the way people drive in this city) could be more cautious in the future necessarily equates to victim-blaming.

  • Depaver Jan Lundberg

    As long as owning an SUV is respectable there will continue to be maimings and killings. And kids will keep being poorly educated in public school about critical issues, no matter what the academic excellence trumpeted.

  • Where does NYC find the likes of Turriciano and the City Department of Education? Were they hiding behind the door when God gave out brains?

  • In the general context of safety and the reality of what happens on city streets I see nothing wrong with telling parents and kids to be careful when they walk to school. (It would be nice if, like Charles suggests, parents who drive were also told to be careful.)

    When my friends visit me from out of town, I frequently remind them that even having the right of way in a crosswalk is no guarantee of safety in this town.

    It’s in this specific context that it’s offensive. It’s like arming women with the knowledge they need to avoid One is acknowledging a sad reality that we’re working to change and the other is just out of bounds.

  • In the general context of safety and the reality of what happens on city streets I see nothing wrong with telling parents and kids to be careful when they walk to school. (It would be nice if, like Charles suggests, parents who drive were also told to be careful.)

    When my friends visit me from out of town, I frequently remind them that even having the right of way in a crosswalk is no guarantee of safety in this town.

    It’s in this specific context that it’s offensive. It’s like arming women with the knowledge they need to avoid One is acknowledging a sad reality that we’re working to change and the other is just out of bounds.

  • In the general context of safety and the reality of what happens on city streets I see nothing wrong with telling parents and kids to be careful when they walk to school. (It would be nice if, like Charles suggests, parents who drive were also told to be careful.)

    When my friends visit me from out of town, I frequently remind them that even having the right of way in a crosswalk is no guarantee of safety in this town.

    It’s in this specific context that it’s offensive. It’s like arming women with the knowledge they need to avoid One is acknowledging a sad reality that we’re working to change and the other is just out of bounds.

  • What is this expectation that everyone on the street be on the lookout for rogue drivers? Of course if you’re crossing the street, look first. But walking on a sidewalk? I will send a text message or check the weather if I please. I shouldn’t have to be looking over my shoulder every second to ensure no car is coming at me, and even if I did, I’m not sure I’d be able to react quickly enough anyway.

  • Anonymous

    I agree that encouraging caution is good, but in this case the headphone suggestion is a complete non-sequitur because pedestrian behavior had absolutely nothing to do with this crash. There’s, unfortunately, nothing that pedestrians can do to avoid being hit on the sidewalk, short of avoiding sidewalks or having the reflexes and jumping ability of Spider-Man.

    The principal’s letter makes about as much sense as a letter advising people not to wear headphones in the wake of the DC sniper attacks. There’s really nothing you can do against such random violence.

  • Brad Aaron

    My money is on nos. 2 and 3.

  • Anonymous

    If any Streetsblog fans are in Westchester, Komanoff is speaking at the Warner Library in Tarrytown at 7:00pm tonight. The talk is titled, “The Price of Traffic.” Hope you can make it!

  • Andrew

    5. They are themselves motorists, who find themselves occasionally focused on tasks other than driving, and they realize that they could easily end up in the same situation. Suggesting that the driver might have been at fault is too close for comfort.

  • As long as school leadership confuses walking down a sidewalk minding one’s own business with leaping one’s SUV onto said sidewalk and endangering the public, our schools will be suspect to their ability to teach reason.

  • Listening to Charlie is definitely worth the trip.

  • Rabi Abonour

    Even if the girls were listening to music, it wouldn’t matter. It’s bad enough that we’re at a point where cars own the road – the idea that it’s somehow your fault if a car hits you on the sidewalk is horrifying.

  • rhubarbpie

    Eli — Reading Streetsblog can indeed be depressing. But I’ve been to Seattle, and they love their cars there. While I know there’s been recent progress on the mass transit front in your town, I can remember waiting what seemed like forever for a bus (it was maybe 35 minutes) during a visit several years ago. Meanwhile, in New York, there’s been extraordinary progress in bike safety and reductions in pedestrian deaths. In part, this is because the stakes have been made higher by advocates…which is why the Daily News put this story on the front page.

    We got nothing on the Netherlands, but if your choice is New York or Seattle, you’re missing out if you stay in your fair town.

  • civil servant

    Principals have bosses like everyone else and must follow orders, which unfortunately in this case was to send that non sense letter… Prichacsss.

  • Serafina

    I work in the neighbor and witnessed the aftermath of the crash and heard from several teachers that work at IS 73. In response to the steps the principal could take:
    The driver was dropping his daughter off on the main avenue rather than on the side streets where the school is located. He is not a parent of a child from 73 rather the elementary school attached but behind the main entrance of IS 73.

    I agree that the driver should be tested and screened for possible use of drugs such as prescription pills.

    Finally, if you watch the video and from what passerbyers witness…the driver was not wreck less…he was actually pulling up to the side of the street to park at a meter very slowly…and then he hit the accelerator instead of the break–absolutey devasting!

    In no way am I sticking up for the driver but I would never want that mistake to happen to me. He must pay the consequences, whatever they may be besides his own personal battle in living with this mistake.

  • Anonymous

    Nos 2 and 3 and MOST DEFINITELY 5.

    People on the “driving team” stick together, and that includes the cops.

  • Andres Dee

    The killing in The Bronx is unfortunate. Some people love to “hate” on FreshDirect. Their trucks double-park and idle in front of homes, etc. I, for one, am a fan of FD, however.

    It may not be obvious to everyone, but delivering fresh food to retail stores in Manhattan is a wasteful nightmare: On any day, every grocery is served by at least a dozen different trucks. All jockey for space and often block transit lanes (Food Emporium on 2nd in the 60s, I’m looking at you). Food is offloaded onto the sidewalks, box-by-box, pallet-by-pallet, while the truck idles with its doors open and fridge running. A good percentage of this food will be thrown out as spoiled or damaged, rather than sold.

    With FreshDirect, in contrast, the big trucks do their job in a “controlled” environment, off the street. The “little” trucks are loaded only with food that someone actually wants. There’s far less waste and environmental impact.

    Before FreshDirect, shopping for food in Manhattan was a miserable experience of jammed stores and crappy overpriced, wilted fresh foods. People with the means would make out-of-town shopping trips, by car. Suburbanites would tease New Yorkers about their pathetic groceries. FreshDirect raised the bar (as would a more aggressive Fairway and to some extent Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods).

    I also believe the real reason grocer John Catsimatidis ran for mayor was not because he “wants to give back” or wants to save NYC from a crime wave or to protect the honor of the Port Police, but because he hoped that being mayor would give him power to block the competitors that are giving people an alternative to his stores.

  • Miles Bader

    Seriously, what does the principal think those girls should have been doing?!?

    Spinning in circles as they walked, intently scanning the horizon for incompetent drivers and constantly calculating escape routes and keeping their legs flexed so they can jump out of the way at the smallest sign of a moron texting as he drives?

    Given the principal’s obvious muddle-headedness and confusion about the responsibilities of driving, I think a good first action would be to take away his driving license…

  • Bolwerk

    @51dab7e187360270c97a6c36f63be77d:disqus is right, in all fairness. This is pretty much an American problem, not a New York-specific problem. Car culture just encourages sociopathy.

  • Nathanael

    We already know that most cops can’t be trusted with guns (given that they shot two bystanders recently). I submit that cops can’t be trusted with cars either.

    Put the cops back on foot with nightsticks. Maybe they’ll start being aware of their surroundings. (Or maybe they’ll just go around beating people for fun, but at least it’s worth a TRY.)

  • Nathanael

    Long, long ago, fresh food came into New York City in large volumes, at the docks, and by railroad at the St. John’s Freight Terminal. Pretty much nobody alive remembers those days now….

  • I’ve been driving for 41 years, and although I’ve done some dumb things in cars, I am not entirely sure how you confuse the brake with the accelerator. That car was moving pretty fast when it hit the girl in the video. One cannot countenance that kind of sloppiness in the built environment.

  • Eli

    Totally. I don’t mean to be a Seattle booster. Personally, I think all of our cities are just varying expressions of our country’s low bar for walkable/bikeable communities. In Seattle, though, we’ve gotten to a point where fatalities or major injuries like these lead to public expressions of community outrage and prompt action, e.g.:

    http://www.seattlebikeblog.com/2013/08/19/city-announces-plans-for-ne-75th-street-road-diet-will-try-to-implement-before-school-starts/

    (I agree debating Seattle over NYC would be like debating the Palm Treo vs. Windows Mobile 5 when the real comparison point should be the iPhone.)

    I guess, it just strikes me as a long-time Streetsblog reader and occasional donor that it really leaves very little sense of optimism or progress at this point.

    Without living in NYC (or having been there in years), I would assume that other than Bike Share, there has been very little substantive progress other than a few token plazas and a bunch of wimpy, mostly non-protected bike lanes, and that the police is pathologically dysfunctional. It leaves me with the casual impression that the JSK era of change basically ended a year or two ago. It certainly does not give the image of a place I would want to live in.

    My own day job is in a role of disseminating research information to impact organizational behavior. It is a challenging line to straddle between honesty and just depressing your audience to a point of hopelessness.

  • Anonymous

    OK, I see what you mean.

  • SteveF

    “If you don’t like the way I drive, Get off the sidewalk!”
    old bumper sticker….

  • Cold Shoaler

    “Must follow orders”! Srsly? If my boss told me to do something this stupid I would say ‘no, send it with your signature on it if you want it to go out.’

  • civil servant
  • Gina

    I’m not sure how one confuses the two either. The DOE is ridiculous! Regardless of any behavior from the kids there was absolutely nothing that could have prevented them from being hit in this situation. Plus, as everyone can see, the children were just walking and talking, as most people do while walking with a buddy. Perhaps before the DOE places blame, as I’m sure they always do, they should get their facts straight before blaming and offending an entire student body population.

  • Anonymous

    Dear School Principal and teachers,

    The new word of the day it CAUSALITY.

    Cau·sal·i·ty: noun, (ko?-?za-l?-t?)
    Definition: the relationship between something that happens or exists and the thing that causes it.

    Learn it. Know it. Live it.

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