Motorist Fatally Strikes “Very Small” Pedestrian in Chinatown [Updated]

Canal Street, looking west, at Elizabeth Street, where a driver struck and killed a senior this morning. NYPD and a witness says the victim was crossing south to north (left to right) when the driver waiting at the light accelerated into her when the signal changed.  Image: Google Maps
Canal Street, looking west toward Elizabeth Street, where a driver struck a senior this morning. Image: Google Maps

Update: The victim was identified as Sau Ying Lee, 90. Though NYPD said Lee had the right of way, according to Lee’s son no charges were filed against the driver by NYPD or Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance.

NYPD has filed no charges against a driver who killed a senior in Chinatown this morning.

The victim, believed to be in her 70s, was crossing Canal Street at Elizabeth Street at approximately 4 a.m., when the motorist hit her with a Jeep SUV, according to NYPD and published reports. Based on media accounts and information provided by police, it appears the victim was crossing Canal south to north and was struck when the driver, westbound on Canal, accelerated when the signal changed.

From the Daily News:

“I didn’t see her, she was very small,” said the 64-year-old driver, who was heading west on Canal St. but immediately stopped the car after the collision.

The man, who did not give his name, was in shock when he realized what had happened. “My heart, it’s pounding.”

Armando Noreles, 43, was stopped at the red light in his delivery truck beside the Jeep moments before the SUV slammed into the woman.

“We were waiting at the red light. When the light changed he started driving, and he didn’t see the lady and he just hit the lady.”

NYPD has not released the victim’s identity, pending family notification. She died at New York-Presbyterian Lower Manhattan Hospital. “We saw her every day, every morning,” Norales told the Daily News. “She was so cute. Early in the morning, she tried to get money collecting cans.”

As of this morning, an NYPD spokesperson said there was “no criminality.” Police had no information on who had the right of way, and said the Collision Investigation Squad was still working the crash.

“Council Member Chin’s office is actively reaching out to NYPD on this and will be closely following the investigation in this case, especially given that this is the third pedestrian fatality in our district in less than two months,” said Chin spokesperson Sam Spokony via email. “We’re taking these pedestrian deaths very, very seriously.”

Drivers have fatally struck three pedestrians, all seniors, in Chin’s district since late summer. A motorist hit three women on South Street, killing 82-year-old Shu Fan Huang, in August. In September a commercial van driver hit Sui Leung, 82, as she crossed in the crosswalk at Kenmare and Elizabeth Streets. Chin said the crash report indicated Leung had the right of way, and she and other council members asked NYPD to pursue charges under Section 19-190, a law that makes it a misdemeanor for drivers to injure or kill pedestrians and cyclists who have the right of way. Police have filed no charges in either crash.

Update: Chin’s office issued a press release, excerpted below, which contains new information on how today’s crash occurred, along with a statement from Chin calling for the prosecution of the driver.

The pedestrian was lawfully walking with the signal (“blinking hand”) as she crossed, and was still within the crosswalk when the signal changed and the light turned green for cars, according to the NYPD.

At the moment the light changed, while the pedestrian was still in the crosswalk, the driver of a 2003 Jeep Grand Cherokee began driving forward and struck the pedestrian, leading to her death moments later, according to the NYPD.

Chief Chan’s office told Council Member Chin’s office today that no charges have yet been filed against the driver, although the NYPD’s Collison Investigation Squad is currently investigating the incident.

Council Member Chin released the following statement:

“Yet another tragedy has stuck Lower Manhattan. This is the third pedestrian death in my district in less than two months. And in each case, I have found myself saying the same thing: Why is the right of way not being respected? The truth is that excuses mean nothing when someone is killed as the result of negligence. If a pedestrian is within a crosswalk, they have the right of way. Period. If you are a driver, it is your responsibility to understand that a moving car is an extremely dangerous machine, and that you must be aware of your surroundings at all times. Period.

“I will continue to work with the Department of Transportation to make our streets safer, but I will also continue to advocate for charges to be filed against drivers who hit and kill pedestrians in a crosswalk. So I’m calling for charges to be filed as a result of today’s incident, and I will remain in touch with the office of NYPD Transportation Chief Thomas Chan to closely follow the NYPD’s investigation into this tragic death.”

  • Mark Walker

    In this case — another driver saw the victim — “I didn’t see her” is not a defense. It’s a smoking gun.

  • QueensWatcher

    This is absurd. Think of the mechanics of this: Had he been keeping a proper lookout he [sitting in the westbound lane on the north side of the street] should have seen her approaching from his left [as she crossed from south to north, first crossing over the eastbound lane]. He would have had a completely unobstructed view of her. To say that she was too small, therefore, he didn’t see her over his hood, completely ignores all the time he had to see her had he been paying attention to his surroundings. Instead he was watching the light so that the very second it changed he could gun it in an attempt to reach his destination a few seconds sooner; and that’s all it takes, a life is lost.

  • sammy davis jr jr

    Was she too small, or was his SUV too big for a crowded city?

  • Joe R.

    And that’s exactly why traffic signals don’t improve pedestrian safety. The driver’s attention is focused solely on the traffic signal, not on what’s in front of them as it should be.

    And then you also have the “right-of-way” defense (i.e. if the light was green for the driver then they’re usually absolved because the pedestrian was breaking the law). That wouldn’t exist either without traffic signals. Neither would speeds much over 20 mph. You just can’t drive faster than that without seriously risking collisions in the absence of traffic signals.

  • lop

    Which lane was he in? Whenever there is a larger vehicle next to me, especially if they are stopped a foot past me, they completely block my view of the crosswalk on the near side, and partially on the far side. It’s important to accelerate slowly then, letting the other vehicle go first to signal to you that nobody is crossing the street late, and no cars are running the red.I wonder if he hit the gas then turned around to see if he had room to change lanes and get in front of the truck. Or maybe it was 4am and he was half asleep, not paying attention.

  • SteveVaccaro

    When the driver accelerated, was he positioned behind the applicable “stop bar” ahead of the crosswalk where he should have been waiting for the light to change? That is one of the reasons for stop bars.

    Shouldn’t Jeep be equipping its high-riding SUVs with crossover mirrors?

  • WalkingNPR

    I nearly witnessed an over-sized pickup truck (the big, overmuscled kind, not just the utilitarian kind) hit a schoolkid crossing 169th right in front of me just this morning and that was exactly my thought–a vehicle like that has no place in Manhattan. If we’re going to talk about what kind of bike a bicyclist had and banning racing-style bikes, we should ban unnecessarily large, overpowered cars by the same thought process.

  • J

    Precisely. Cars are the proverbial bull in the china shop and should be treated as such. It is the obligation of drivers to be as cautious as humanly possible, given the deadly potential of the vehicle they control.

  • lop

    Plenty of pedestrians die in the crosswalk at unsignalized intersections. Maybe roundabouts in this country are poorly designed, but they’ve always been hazardous to cross on foot.

    Was the jeep even going 20 when he hit her? Who says people won’t risk a collision and drive faster?

  • dporpentine

    Imagine this:
    Daily News reporter to confessed murderer: “What’s your name?”
    Confessed murderer: “I don’t want to give you that!”
    Daily News reporter: “Okely-dokely!”

  • Joe R.

    My larger point is without signalization the driver runs out of excuses if they hit someone. The lack of any real consequences when motorists run down people in this city is the primary reason why dangerous driving persists. Traffic lights give both a distraction and a ready excuse (i.e. the person was crossing when I had the green). Unsignalized intersections are certainly no guarantee speeds will always be under 20, but if a driver hits someone at such an intersection it can only mean they weren’t looking or driving at a speed appropriate for conditions. That in turn would mean consequences for the driver. Once events like this have consequences, maybe motorists will actually realize the objects moving slowly in front of them are real people with real families, not “obstacles” which only exist to slow them down.

    And yes, most roundabouts I’ve seen in the US are very poorly designed. I saw one in NJ a few weeks ago, or maybe it was a rotary. That thing was hazardous to drive through. I couldn’t imagine going through it on foot or by bike.

  • lop

    No it means the pedestrian darted into the street. If they didn’t dart into the street, the responsible driver would have seen them, so no criminality suspected. /s

    Something like a quarter of pedestrian KSI crashes the pedestrian is in the crosswalk at an unsignalized intersection. Where do you get the idea that NYPD will stop letting drivers off the hook when there’s no light?

  • Joe R.

    Aren’t most of those crashes at unsignalized intersections failure to yield while turning? That happens all the time at signalized intersections, too.

    By the way, when I say unsignalized, I don’t mean what NYC usually does-stop signs on the minor street and nothing on the arterial (or less commonly 4-way stops). I mean unsignalized, uncontrolled intersections, as in nobody has the right-of-way. Those seem to work great wherever they’ve been tried.

    Regardless, I strongly feel we need cameras at all intersections, signalized, unsignalized, uncontrolled. The police shouldn’t be taking a driver’s word at face value. I think if we had video, it would be difficult for police to let culpable drivers off the hook.

  • Brad Aaron

    I didn’t go into it in this post, but the Daily News story is rife with apologetic language to the driver’s benefit. He “immediately” stopped (after he ran the victim over). He was “in shock” (but not too upset to withhold his name). As usual the reporter/editors clearly empathize with the motorist.

  • lop

    Are they?

    http://www.streetsblog.org/2014/10/06/brooklyn-da-ken-thompson-500-fine-for-unlicensed-driver-who-killed-senior/

    Video doesn’t do much. Your solutions don’t change the core culture problem. Get rid of one excuse and NYPD will come up with another to not hold drivers responsible or pro actively go after dangerous behavior.

    Some parts of this country have a lot of intersections like that. Drivers barrel through the crosswalk, they don’t expect to stop until they get to the roadway past it. They aren’t the panacea for pedestrians you imagine. Roundabouts and uncontrolled intersections sometimes lead to an increase in crashes. For drivers this is still good, since the crashes are less severe. Still severe enough to maim and kill vulnerable street users though.

  • Joe R.

    The core culture problem is that the NYPD is mostly composed of people from Long Island. That can be fixed with a residency requirement for all new hires (and a grace period of a year for all current police to take up residence in the five boroughs). The police come from places where most people drive, so they naturally empathize with drivers.

    Yes, roundabouts and uncontrolled intersections lead to less severe crashes. That’s really the point. 20 mph may still maim vulnerable users, but it’s a lot better than killing them. By their nature, with roundabouts you won’t get people barreling through intersections at 40, 50, 60 mph as I’ve seen them do when trying to make the light. Part of reducing street carnage is undoubtedly a culture change at the NYPD. Another part is major infrastructure changes. NYC has had an over reliance on traffic signals. This is bad because it dilutes red light compliance. It also causes more stopping than needed, which in turn leads to aggressive driving to make up for what was in the driver’s view “lost time”.

    Video could do a lot if it’s public video streamed to public servers. The police couldn’t try to hide it or “lose it” or disregard it when one of their own was involved in a crash.

  • KeNYC2030

    In a better world, the driver of an SUV who kills a pedestrian or cyclist would automatically be assumed to be at fault. Due to their size, SUVs limit the view of the area surrounding the vehicle, the point of impact is at a pedestrian’s upper body or head rather than the knees, and the vehicle’s width allows less room for error. In an even better world, they would be illegal.

  • qrt145

    The driver also has the advantage of being alive, which can help in building rapport with the reporters (or is it report with the rapporters?)

  • lop

    Plenty of car dependent places in the city for them to live. Plenty of cops live in staten island, breezy point etc… How’s that solve anything? Why won’t drivers go 40 midblock, slow to 20 to use the roundabout, and then hit the gas to make up for slowing down?

  • Andres Dee

    Driver who says he did not see victim should be taken off the road immediately and given full toxicology and medical exam before being allowed to drive again.

  • Joe R.

    I live in a place which is technically car dependent but it’s also somewhat walkable. The same thing with most parts of NYC, even the car dependent ones. People may drive a lot, but they’ll also sometimes walk. That’s usually not the case on LI where you have to drive literally everywhere. When people walk, even a little, they’re a bit more in tune to the needs of those other than drivers.

    Sure, people absolutely can go 40 in between roundabouts. They do even in Europe. But most people cross streets at intersections, not midblock, so 40 mph midblock doesn’t present a safety issue, except to cyclists (and that can be dealt with by protected bike lanes). If intersections where made safer by lower speeds, many of those who cross midblock sometimes like me will have an incentive to just cross at an intersection. In the end we won’t know if any of this will work until we try it. We do know what we’re doing now isn’t working out all that great.

  • Inspector Spacetime

    Best way to start any debriefing: “I speak without fear of contradiction.”

  • Mark Walker

    Council member Chin is an exemplary public servant. Others should follow her example.

  • dporpentine

    If your soul is not filled with horror at the idea that you could do anything other than stop “immediately” after running over another human being . . . you must be a Daily News reporter, I guess.

  • It’s also the law, but neither the PD nor any judge wants to hold other drivers accountable for mowing down pedestrians/cyclists because they, themselves are drivers and are loath to set a precedent of punishing negligent drivers. And so it is a fact that best way to murder someone in the US and get away with is to use a motor vehicle. Then you can plow someone down, back up a few times and provided that you don’t drive away and then utter the magical statement, “I didn’t see X.” You immediately are given a get out of jail free card.

  • Kevin Love

    “…did not see victim” should be treated as the confession of guilt that it is.

  • walks bikes drives

    Or the Post.

  • MatthewEH

    At the risk of initially sounding like I’m blaming the victim, which I am not:

    It does make me sigh with resignation a little bit when I see pedestrians acting very casual about crossing an intersection with a flashing hand, even so late that there’s no way they’ll make it across before intersecting traffic has the green. As a walker I’m careful not to do this myself, which sometimes calls for hurrying up so as to avoid causing anyone inconvenience. It’s particularly annoying when I’m cycling and properly waiting for my green, and I really want to get out in front of the traffic at the light behind me, right after it changes, for safety and visibility purposes, but a late-to-the-scene pedestrian blocks my way.

    That said, I consider this an annoying behavior, no more, and an annoyance that everyone on the street should be alert to, anticipate, and deal with. Even on right-of-way grounds, you don’t have right-of-way until the intersection clears, whatever the reason it isn’t clear yet.

    I also understand that seniors are likely slower than I am and particularly may have more trouble hurrying than I do. They may not have reasonable alternatives to getting caught out like this, at least sometimes.

  • neroden

    Good for Chin. And…. what precinct is this in? Because the precinct captain is blatantly violating the law by refusing to report this crime.

  • neroden

    It should be illegal for currently-serving NYPD officers to live outside the city.

    It is a basic requirement for any police force that it be composed of *locals*. Failure to enforce this means that you have an *outside military occupation force*. How do people usually respond to outside military occupation forces? They, quite rightly, kill them. NYC citizens have been *very restrained*.

  • Juke Box

    Even if the light turns green, it’s no excuse to run someone over. I bet you this asshole though nobody would see him at 4 am and only stopped because of the witness. NYPD go around ticketing anyone sleeping in train cars, arrest and beat people for minor infractions (sometimes not even an infraction) yet they never press charges against wreckless drivers.

  • Juke Box

    All the victims mentioned in the article were elderies, maybe she couldn’t walk fast enough. Still, they’re in the street where they are clearly in sight which makes it so much worse that this asshole would speed up and use the “she was too little” excuse.

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