Pedestrian Fatalities Spark Few Media Questions, Zero Cries for “Justice”

article_1069152_02E8D40300000578_56_233x364.jpgEarly Saturday morning, two 26-year-old women were killed while trying to cross 14th Street at First Avenue in the East Village. According to the Daily News and other outlets, Stephanie Dees (right) and Ann Sullivan were both hit by a taxi traveling west on 14th, and Dees was hit by a second cab, apparently heading east. Reports vary, but most say Dees died at the scene, while Sullivan was pronounced dead at nearby Beth Israel Medical Center.

Dees had dual British citizenship, and had moved to New York recently to pursue an art career. To this point less is known about Sullivan, who was reportedly from Albany.

The area where Dees and Sullivan were hit is a hotbed of pedestrian and cyclist injuries and fatalities. CrashStat indicates seven pedestrian deaths within a two-block radius of 14th and First since 1997, with scores of collisions resulting in injury (map grab after the jump).

Street conditions go unremarked by the News and others, along with other critical details. Did Dees and Sullivan have a walk signal? Were they stranded in the street while trying to cross? How fast were the cab drivers going? Was either of them using a cell phone? If, as the News reports, a passenger in the second cab saw Dees and Sullivan before the collision, why didn’t the driver of the first cab see them? Instead of investigating these and other factors, the News simply relays word from the drivers, who "said they did nothing wrong," and the police, who do not intend to charge either.

14thand1st_2.jpg
CrashStat: Fatalities indicated by pedestrian icon

Both the Times and the UK’s Daily Mail, meanwhile, quoted a witness who says one of the cab drivers was attempting to make the light. From the Mail:

Witnesses claim the pair were hit by the first cab after the driver tried to beat traffic lights changing from amber to red. …

Jorge Medrano, 22, said: "This one taxi tried to beat the light.

"He hit the first girl. She flew up and into oncoming traffic. He ran over the second girl."

Did the police also interview Mr. Medrano? If so, how did his account factor into the investigation (if any)?

Again, we can’t help comparing Saturday’s News story to recent coverage of another pedestrian who was fatally struck while standing in a crosswalk. Unlike the deaths of Dees and Sullivan, the previous incident had the News calling for justice for the victim and her family. The other notable difference: the vehicle in question was a bicycle, rather than a car.

Photo: Daily Mail

  • Cab drivers always say they did nothing wrong. Did the police simply take them at their word?

    Were these women drunk? Were they talking on a cell phone? Something about this story just doesn’t add up.

  • This happened right where I live and it’s too damn similar to what happened to my sister and her friend.

    Please continue to share ideas about how to end this totally unnecessary scourge of racing to beat a traffic light. Thanks to those who made suggestions under “Today’s Headlines” (Streetsman, Mark Walker); please share more of them at this group:

    http://www.livablestreets.com/projects/eliminate-speeding-to-beat-traffic-lights/summary

    I will be contacting City officials myself about fixing this insanely tolerated problem; please consider getting involved if you have better ideas or specific connections to relevant officials.

    I care less about punishing people who have driven so recklessly in the past than I care about making it physically impossible for them to do it in the future. It’s a god damn city of pedestrians. Our streets are there for people and business, and to allow motor vehicles to transport people and things, not to go fast.

  • Larry Littlefield

    To be fair, the Daily News did the whole “Boulevard of Death” thing.

  • Car Free Nation

    We need someone to do for pedestrians and cyclists what Al Sharpton has done for people hurt by the police, someone to get out there and call a press conference, to convince the families to sue the city, to draw attention to the lack of even the most modicum of punishment for lack of attention while driving a 2-ton weapon.

    Not even a ticket for the person who clips the pedestrians in the SUV and sits parked on the sidewalk for an hour, nobody charged when a 9 year old buy is murdered in front of his father, not even an investigation when a school bus hits and kills my friend Jon Milstein.

    We can’t sit idly by while people are run down in the street like dogs. In fact if they were dogs, I’m sure there’d be more of an outcry.

  • Stacy, inside cities, I think human beings ought to be allowed to cross the street drunk or talking on a cell phone. The operator of the 2000-50000 motor vehicle capable of great speed ought to be the one who bears the larger burden of public safety.

  • Paul

    Maybe we should be treating motor vehicle collisions with peds or cyclists like they do in the Netherlands. I.E., if you are driving a car and hit a cyclist, it’s your fault no matter what the circumstance because you should have been more careful, and to always drive like you’re expecting a collision. NYC cabbies drive like criminals, coming within inches of pedestrians, speeding, running lights, driving in bike lanes. Not all, but MANY. Everyone knows this, yet nothing is done.

  • A driving license should be harder to get than a gun license. Especially for taxi drivers.

  • A properly designed urban street, with refuge medians and maximum design speeds of 15 miles per hour, would almost certainly have prevented these deaths.

    Streets in dense, pedestrian-rich urban environments should be designed to eliminate risk. Demand a Vision Zero: http://www.livablestreets.com/projects/new-haven-safe-streets-coalition/time-to-demand-a-vision-zero-for-connecticut

    Create a welcoming and safe environment, and traffic fatalities can be virtually eliminated, due to a combination of basic physics and the improved road behavior that well-designed environments tend to produce.

  • The Daily News article (linked in this story) is fascinating and frightening: headlined “No Justice for Brookklyn mother,” it gives the impression that bicyclists are the real menace on the streets, robbing people of their lives. While it acknowledges that the pedestrian was in the the crosswalk, it implies that the biker tried to kill the woman. Here is an excerpt:

    “There should be a severe punishment,” said Howlader Hossain, 54, her husband. “This is not an accident. He could have moved out of the way.”

    Thursday, he told doctors at Luthern Medical Centers to take his sweetheart off life support equipment.

    Six days ago, Nasreem Hossain, 38, left her husband and kids – Sharna, 11, and Shayer, 12 – at their Kensington home to walk to her part-time job at McDonald’s.

    Nasreem Hossain stood in the crosswalk on 12th Ave. and Dahill Road, looking out for cars, but not bikes.

    The cyclist ran right into her, knocking her to the road where she hit her head. She never woke up.

  • ddartley – True. Walking under the influence shouldn’t be fatal. I’m just trying to piece together how two people crossing the street, even on a yellow light, could get hit by – not one but two – separate cabs and nobody gets a ticket. Obviously somebody did something wrong if they hit two pedestrians regardless of what color the light might have been.

  • It is likely the victims were “drunk”—reduced to the awareness and reflexes of the children and elderly that are usually run down when auto are trying to beat lights, or turn into crosswalks. Taxi drivers wouldn’t have any work at that hour if it weren’t for nightlife and its inherent disorder; they could hardly complain about the complexities it adds to operating a vehicle safely. (Nor do they that I’ve seen.) So they aim to drive expertly, but at the same time they raise the stakes of any error, lethally, by racing around to score more fares. Taxis are just playing their natural part in the lawless free-for-all of NYC driving. But then something like this happens to illustrate the depth of the failure, with someone being thrown from one speeding taxi into another.

    There is no solution within any individual pedestrian or taxi driver. There is nothing to be gained from awareness campaigns but a false sense of accomplishment. This is a systematic problem that requires systematic changes in street and taxicab design (starting with not suing to keep driving the “safe” tanks that just killed two people). It’s up to New Yorkers to demand those changes. They certainly won’t come from commercial driving organizations, community boards, or daily newspapers, all institutions that have become gruesomely comfortable with perpetual roadway deaths.

  • I think you know this, Stacy, but I wasn’t arguing with you. I was just making a separate point out of something you mentioned.

  • JMR

    Some slightly good news is that First Ave and 14th St is part of the small “East Village” improvement area (http://www.nyc.gov/html/dot/downloads/pdf/eastvillage.pdf) under NYC DOT’s Safe Streets for Seniors program, and will likely be improved next year with signal timings and perhaps other street improvements.

    CrashStat.Org shows that both 14th St and First Ave are among the most dangerous streets for pedestrians on the East side of Manhattan, and there are certainly many other areas that should be improved for pedestrians in the East Village vicinity.

    I am currently working on Transportation Alternatives’ study of Manhattan District 2 (Rosie Mendez’s district: approx. 34th St to Houston, east of Madison/University Pl) under TA’s Safe Routes for Seniors program. If anyone would like to send me input on either places/streets that they would like to see improved or types of improvements desired, send me an email at jesse@transalt.org.

  • Sean Nortz

    Am I the only person that thinks we shouldn’t even have 4 lane streets in densely populated cities? Intersections like 14th and 1st are deathtraps.

  • Sean Nortz, I definitely agree (see my post above).

    Based on many studies of the issue, progressive traffic engineers more or less are in agreement that 4-lane streets designed like this — with no median and relatively high design speeds — should simply not be tolerated in urban areas. Never.

    But we do — and as a result, we’re going to see more and more injuries and fatalities every year.

  • Erin

    Stephanie was a friend of mine and my young son’s teacher for preschool in Prague. She was a kind, funny and sensitive young woman and we miss her! Pointing fingers to determine who was at fault it won’t bring either of these young women back – let’s just make sure it doesn’t happen again in this dangerous pedestrian zone.

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