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Traffic Justice

What Happens to an Injured Crash Victim After Police and the Press Move On

Every day some 40 pedestrians are wounded by drivers in NYC. Victims are often left with serious injuries, but rarely is the public made aware of anything beyond the basic immediate circumstances of a crash -- where it occurred, the condition of the victims when transported from the scene, and whether the driver was (a) intoxicated or (b) immediately cleared of wrongdoing by NYPD.

Shirley Shea

Injury-causing crashes are so common that, even if they wanted to, the city's innumerable media outlets would have difficulty reporting them all, much less keep up with the story of each victim's recovery, or eventual death. In the words of "Killed by Automobile" [PDF], the seminal 1999 report on city traffic fatalities, these incidents "flicker briefly across the city's consciousness and then flutter away, leaving in their wake only grieving families and friends."

Susan Shea-Klot is the daughter of Shirley Shea, who was struck by the driver of a yellow school bus on the Upper West Side on February 17, 2012. Media coverage was scant. Shea's name was not cited in the only report we could find, a brief WABC item that seems to exist only because the crash happened near the station's studio.

A woman was struck by a school bus Friday afternoon on the Upper West Side.

It happened around 4 p.m. at the intersection of 67th Street and Columbus Avenue, right outside the Eyewitness News studio.

The victim was rushed to St. Luke's Roosevelt Hospital by ambulance.

She is said to have serious head and leg injuries.

Shea, 78, was indeed seriously hurt. She died on December 7, after 10 months in the hospital, during which time she was largely incapacitated and unable to speak.

The collision that killed Shea was notated as a pedestrian injury by the 20th Precinct in the February 2012 NYPD crash report, along with two other incidents at the same intersection. According to Shea-Klot, the driver was not charged by NYPD or Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance. "The district attorney’s office never contacted my father or anyone in my family," says Shea-Klot.

This crash was one of an untold number of cases where a pedestrian or cyclist suffers fatal injuries, but a death is not reported by the press. It's also one of thousands of crashes that happen every year in which a victim and loved ones are left to deal with the terrible life-altering consequences of an act of recklessness by a motorist who is free to keep driving. And since Shea lived for months, it is unlikely that the crash was investigated by the NYPD Accident Investigation Squad.

We learned of her mother's death from a comment posted by Shea-Klot, who was kind enough to provide us with an account of her mother's life, including the agony she and her family endured after the crash. We originally planned to publish passages from this account, but it is so eloquent and moving that we decided to run it verbatim. It appears in full after the jump.

My mother, Shirley Shea, was treated with great kindness and professionalism by the responders to the accident. As you know, she was struck by a privately owned yellow school bus as she was crossing 67th street at Columbus Ave with the light, only a block away from her home on February 17, 2012. The bus driver turned right onto 67th from Columbus and struck her with the rear wheel, knocking her down and rolling over her left foot and leg. Unfortunately, no one was with her at the time of the accident. My father, who lives across the street on 66th Street and Columbus, did not hear of the accident until she was already en route to St. Luke’s Roosevelt Hospital on 114th St. When my father arrived at the hospital she was being treated in the emergency room. Police investigators were questioning her, and she was able to answer all their questions despite severe injuries to her foot, lower leg and head. My father reports that the investigators stayed with my mother and treated her very kindly, going out of their way to help her.

As to the investigation, according to my father, the police completed the investigation and issued a report which stated that the driver claimed not to have seen my mother in the crosswalk. No charges were filed against the driver by anyone. We heard later that the bus driver was fired by the bus company, but of course he could still be driving for another company by now. That is very disheartening to think about.

My mother spent the remainder of her life in three different hospitals. In June, she seemed to be improving, having successfully undergone skin grafting on her left foot and lower leg. She finally came off the ventilator, and it was decided to place her in the rehabilitation center at Mt. Sinai. There, she made progress with speech and walking. However, it was clear that she had suffered brain trauma, and was finding everything tremendously difficult. She was unable to swallow or eat and continued to need a feeding tube and dialysis. In July, she suffered a relapse due to aspiration of food during a rehab session. She never fully came off the ventilator after that, and continued to need dialysis. Finally, she developed an infection in her bowels which was untreatable and killed her. Throughout this ordeal, she smiled at us all the time and continued to be the sweet and stoic person she always was. My father visited her in the hospital almost every day for 10 months. My sister Sarah was also there almost every day in the last five months. Although I have school age children, I was able to visit every other week. My brother Michael, who lives in New Jersey, also visited frequently. I cannot describe the torment that my mother and my entire family suffered during this time. During the entire 10 months, I never was able to really speak with her. Except for a short time in June, she was unable to speak during all of her hospitalization. I know that it caused her a lot of pain not to be able to communicate with us.

As you can see from the picture, my mother was a beautiful, vibrant person. She kept the whole family connected and was the kind of mother who made you feel special and loved. Shirley Ashton was born in 1934 in Chesterfield, England. She went to Oxford University where she studied medieval French and received her bachelors and masters degrees. She married my father, George Shea, in 1956 and had three children, Sarah, Susan, and Michael. She taught French for many years at Fairleigh Dickinson University in Rutherford, New Jersey. She loved New York, and especially her neighborhood, the West Side. She loved the city’s restaurants, museums, plays, ballet, chamber music, and movies. She cooked wonderful meals for people and was a world traveler, visiting her family in England, accompanying my father to teach in Rome and Tokyo and to visit Europe, India, Peru, Alaska, all of the United States, and many other places. When she suffered her (eventually) fatal accident she was in good health for a 78-year-old, and would probably have lived many more years. I feel that she was stolen from us before her time. Her many remaining relatives, including a brother and sister and seven grandchildren, also feel this way. Her many friends feel this way.

The life of pedestrian in the city is held very cheap. I would like to see that bus driver held accountable, as well as all the other reckless drivers who killed people in the city this year. Is it too much to ask for justice when a life is taken this way? It feels like murder to me. Mayor Bloomberg and Raymond Kelly should know that they have blood on their hands for not insisting that police officers pursue criminal investigations for drivers like this. Knowing that they will not be prosecuted, reckless drivers will continue to kill people legally in this city until someone does the right thing, and insists that drivers be given tickets and summonses. In the meantime, speed limits of 30 mph or lower should be observed in the city and buses should not be permitted to make right turns when pedestrians are crossing. Why can’t we put people first; when did the rights of the automotive vehicle and its drivers usurp those of the more plentiful pedestrians? We in this city should be ashamed of ourselves and our acceptance of this nonsensical status quo. Enough!

Shirley Shea's name will be added to our 2012 memoriam post.

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