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Vance Pursues Manslaughter Case Against Upper West Side Pedestrian Killer

1:19 PM EST on January 26, 2011

Margaret Fisher was killed crossing W. 93rd Street at Amsterdam Avenue last November. Photo: Daily News

A motorist who ran down a retired nurse to allegedly avoid stopping for a red light on the Upper West Side has been indicted for manslaughter.

According to court documents, last November 26 Jessica Altruz of the Bronx was driving her Dodge Charger at a high rate of speed on W. 93rd Street toward Columbus Avenue, where Margaret Fisher was crossing on the west side of the intersection. Rather than hitting the brake, prosecutors and witnesses say, Altruz laid on the horn before striking Fisher with such force that one bystander reportedly thought she had happened upon a film shoot. Altruz continued driving on W. 93rd until she reached Amsterdam Avenue, where she was stopped by another driver and a pedestrian witness.

Fisher, knocked some 70 feet by the impact of the collision, was pronounced dead at St. Luke's-Roosevelt. She was 67.

Altruz, 24, was initially charged only with leaving the scene. Further investigation by Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance's office, which included gathering witness accounts and obtaining surveillance video, led to a charge of second degree manslaughter.

“The defendant’s reckless driving ended the remarkable life of a retired nurse who, on the day after Thanksgiving, was doing nothing more than walking home with her groceries,” said Vance in a statement issued Tuesday. “Importantly, New Yorkers who provided eyewitness accounts of the crash to our Vehicular Crimes Unit were instrumental in helping the Office obtain an indictment on more serious charges than at the time of the defendant’s arrest. We are extremely grateful that they came forward to provide critical evidence.”

A tearful Altruz, who at the scene protested that she "had the light," pleaded not guilty in Manhattan Supreme Court Tuesday. She is being held on $100,000 bail and faces up to 15 years in prison. "(She was) hell bent on making a traffic light and for her Margaret Fisher was simply an inconvenient obstacle," said ADA Jordan Arnold, as quoted by the Daily News.

Taken in isolation, Cy Vance's prosecution of Jessica Altruz should be encouraging to most anyone who walks the streets of New York. Consider, for instance, the stark contrast between the handling of this case and the Florence Cioffi travesty, which unfolded under the leadership of former Manhattan DA Robert Morgenthau, when a speeding drunk driver who left the scene of a fatal crash received 16 days in jail and 250 hours of community service.

Streetsblog will be watching the outcome of the Fisher case, which seems on track to rest in a jury's hands. We'll also be following Vance's office to see if the dogged prosecution of apparent deadly recklessness is applied consistently in future cases where traffic violence harms New Yorkers.

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