Will NYPD Charge Driver Who Rammed Woman on Sidewalk and Left Scene?

Beekman Street, with Spruce Street School and New York Presbyterian Lower Manhattan Hospital at right, where a driver hit Heather Hensl on the sidewalk and left the scene. Parents say motorists routinely drive on the sidewalk in front of the school to get around traffic. Image: Google Maps
Beekman Street, with Spruce Street School and New York Presbyterian Lower Manhattan Hospital at right, where a driver hit Heather Hensl on the sidewalk and left the scene. Parents say motorists routinely drive on the sidewalk in front of the school to get around traffic. Image: Google Maps

A motorist who deliberately drove down a Manhattan sidewalk, rammed a pedestrian, left the scene and reportedly hit a second person in Brooklyn might not be charged with a crime, according to one of the victims.

Heather Hensl was walking on Beekman Street near William Street on April 13 when a motorist struck her, knocking her to the ground, lacerating her head and fracturing her leg. The driver did not stop. In an email to Downtown Express, Hensl, a 37-year-old physician assistant, said she is on crutches and may require knee surgery, in addition to physical therapy.

The crash occurred near Spruce Street School. Parents of kids who attend the school say it’s not unusual for motorists to use the sidewalk to drive around traffic.

From Downtown Express:

Video viewed by Downtown Express shows the driver backing up several times in order to be able to make the turn onto the sidewalk and head west past a traffic jam.

Captain Mark Iocco, the First Precinct’s commanding officer, said the same car was involved in an accident in Brooklyn about 30 minutes after that incident. The car was pulling into a parking spot and hit an elderly lady, he said at last week’s meeting of the First Precinct Community Council. The elderly woman couldn’t identify her, and could only confirm that the driver was a female, he said.

The suspect has filed an insurance claim. The police are working with the insurance company and they are “investigating her up and down,” said Iocco.

The driver barely missed striking other people on Beekman, including children, who were able to get out of her path, DNAinfo reported. “[The driver] drove on the sidewalk as if it was a lane,” one witness said. “So fast that I turned my head and I didn’t see the car.”

At a precinct community council meeting, Iocco said detectives were having trouble finding a witness who saw the driver through the vehicle’s tinted windows, according to the Tribeca Tribune. “We want to have a solid case when we bring this to the DA,” Iocco said. “Our detectives, they’re doing so much with this. There’s a lot of pressure on the detective squad.”

Hensl told Downtown Express it took police over a week to trace the license plates, which led them to a woman in New Jersey. Hensl said the owner of the car told her insurer the car had not been stolen, that she was the car’s only driver, and that she was driving the car in Lower Manhattan on the day of the crash.

But Hensl said NYPD is about to close the case without filing charges. Police told Hensl there was a “jurisdiction issue,” since the owner of the car lives in New Jersey. And police said the driver’s actions weren’t serious enough for them to pursue a case — though according to Hensl officers from the 1st Precinct said the charges would be felony reckless endangerment and leaving the scene.

“They say this is not enough,” wrote Hensl. “My lawyer received a call on Saturday from the detective handling the case. They have requested the owner of the vehicle to come in for questioning … but if she fails to come in, which she is perfectly allowed to do, they will likely be closing the case.”

“It is terribly disheartening to hear that your life and your injuries don’t matter enough,” Hensl wrote. “I can tell you they are mattering to me, my patients whom I cannot care for, and to my family — specifically my 3- and 6-year-old daughters, who see me struggling daily to be the momma they are accustomed to having care for them.”

Hensl was hit on the same block where a curb-jumping motorist killed UPS worker Mike Rogalle in 2012. NYPD and Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance filed no charges in that case. Streetsblog recently filed a freedom of information request for NYPD records pertaining to the crash that killed Rogalle.

Spruce Street School parents had asked DOT for improvements to Beekman before Rogalle was killed. DOT has installed traffic lights at the intersection of Beekman and Nassau Street, which the agency said had nothing to do with the recent hit-and-run, and the 1st Precinct has stepped up enforcement, according to Downtown Express. But parents still fear for their children’s safety.

“If [drivers] can’t make the turn, they just jump the curb,” one parent told the paper. “It’s a real big danger.”

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