Yesterday's fatal East Village crash is another example of how NYPD and the press blame deceased pedestrians and cyclists based mostly on the word of the drivers who killed them.
"Woman, 47, crossing against light in NoHo struck by car, killed on Thursday," read the Daily News headline. But the only evidence presented that Lisa Julian was crossing against the light came from Oliver Parris, who hit her with an SUV as she crossed Third Avenue at St. Marks Place at around 6:30 a.m.
Here's Parris, as quoted by the Daily News:
"I was trying to swerve from her and I couldn't do it in time," said Parris, who said that Julian was crossing against the light. Parris was on his way home from his job as a newspaper deliveryman at the time of the accident.
"She was walking," he said. "I don't think she was paying attention."
"She was crossing against the light. I had a green light," he said sadly.
"I tried to avoid her. I swerved."
Julian was pronounced dead at Beth Israel hospital. "She was a loving, upbeat, and interesting person," Alexander Rubinstein, the victim's boyfriend, told the Post. "She was very happy. It’s tough to talk about her right now."
Reporters for the Daily News, the Post, and DNAinfo take care to note that Parris was upset, and that he did not flee the scene. These details cast Parris in a sympathetic light, and are offered in lieu of critical analysis. Not only do reporters accept Parris's word that it was Julian who disregarded the signal, they don't question whether Parris himself was "paying attention," though state law requires motorists to exercise due care to avoid running people over.
Assuming that Julian did cross against the signal raises other issues. If reports are correct that Parris was driving straight ahead, why didn't he see Julian in the street in front of him? How close did he get before he saw her? Why did he have to swerve in the first place? This information is critical to determining how the crash occurred. While it may be too early to expect answers to all these questions, it's also premature to accept the driver's account as definitive.
Though data consistently show drivers are usually at fault in crashes that injure and kill NYC pedestrians, NYPD and the press are quick to assign responsibility to those who can't speak for themselves. NYPD blamed cyclists Rasha Shamoon and Stefanos Tsigrimanis for their own deaths based largely on the drivers' version of events. Shamoon was vindicated by a civil jury, which found the motorist almost completely culpable for the collision that took her life. Investigators didn’t visit the Tsigrimanis crash scene for 46 days, but still concluded he ran a stop sign based on the recollections of two drivers, including the one who struck Tsigrimanis, even though both drivers admitted they did not see him until the moment of impact.
Parris was not immediately charged by police or Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance, and if tradition holds, he won't be. As far as the public knows, Lisa Julian was one more pedestrian who died because she failed to look out for an unwitting motorist.
Brad Aaron began writing for Streetsblog in 2007, after years as a reporter, editor, and publisher in the alternative weekly business. Brad adopted New York's dysfunctional traffic justice system as his primary beat for Streetsblog. He lives in Manhattan.
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