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.”

  • Stanley Greenberg

    So why do they call this an “accident”?

  • Ian Turner

    Bollards.

  • AlexWithAK

    So now you don’t even need to stay at the scene of a crash to get off without even a slap on the wrist? The NYPD disgusts me. This is a combination of apathy and laziness on their part and it’s insulting to the public they barely pretend to serve.

  • Zulu

    You read my mind. Just make sure they’re concrete filled.

  • I don’t get this, a city which is seriously concerned about sidewalk cycling, but cars routinely drive up the sidewalk to avoid traffic. Utterly insane.

  • Reader

    This would end if someone, perhaps the mayor, made a point of making it end. But I guess you can’t tell the NYPD what to do because unions or votes or something.

  • Joe R.

    I was thinking the same thing. NYC is pathologically obsessed with sidewalk cycling even though the statistics say it’s just about never dangerous. And yet when drivers severely injure people driving on sidewalks we turn a blind eye. My guess is some of the higher ups who think they’re too good to wait in traffic with the masses want to retain the option of using the sidewalk as a defacto traffic lane.

  • armyvet00

    Imagine if this was a motorcycle or bicycle that went on a curb to go around traffic and hit someone- people (car drivers, the media) would be bringing out the pitchforks! But let it be a car and nothing to see here….

  • qrt145

    I wonder, has there ever been a case of a cyclist killing someone on a sidewalk? Anywhere on the planet? I bet there has been, but I haven’t heard of it. And yet we have at least a dozen pedestrians killed by cars on the sidewalks of NYC every year.

    I’ve read some plausible arguments, however, that sidewalk cycling can be dangerous to the cyclist because of the increased risk of getting hooked while crossing the street. Turning motorists don’t expect anyone getting off the sidewalk faster than walking speed.

  • BBnet3000

    Probably a lot more people are injured slipping on sidewalks in the winter than by people cycling on sidewalks.

  • BBnet3000

    Police told Hensl there was a “jurisdiction issue,” since the owner of the car lives in New Jersey.

    People from Jersey can’t be charged for crimes committed in New York? What is wrong with our law enforcement agency?

  • Mark Walker

    Perhaps someone with a legal or law enforcement background can explain this: Why can’t the NYPD simply go to New Jersey and arrest this driver? Or bring her in for questioning? And if they cannot, why can’t a New Jersey police officer arrest her and bring her to New York at the request of NYPD? Am I missing something here?

  • Joe R.

    I think there have been a few nationally but I can’t recall one in NYC. Yes, to a cyclist with poor situational awareness sidewalk cycling can be dangerous for the reasons you say but then again a protected bike lane puts cyclists in essentially the same position relative to turning cars. As a matter of course I watch for turning vehicles both when walking, and the very rare times I ride on sidewalks.

  • Andrew

    I wonder, has there ever been a case of a cyclist killing someone on a sidewalk?

    Not a sidewalk, but a pedestrian lane, if that’s close enough for you.

    http://www.streetsblog.org/2014/08/13/irving-schachter-killed-by-cyclist-in-central-park-earlier-this-month/

    In either case, I agree that it’s exceedingly rare.

  • lop

    Turning motorists don’t expect anyone getting off the sidewalk faster than walking speed.

    Sometimes they don’t expect anyone leaving the sidewalk period.

    But yes, much has been written on the danger of ‘side paths’

  • lop

    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/29/nyregion/29young.html?_r=0

    Citing cases dating back as far as 1928, a judge has ruled that a young
    girl accused of running down an elderly woman while racing a bicycle
    with training wheels on a Manhattan sidewalk two years ago can be sued
    for negligence.

    Sometimes the menacing sidewalk cyclists start their assaults at a young age.

    I know a certain former queens elected who used to run lights and sirens and drive the wrong way down roosevelt to get to mets games. Don’t know of any that drive on sidewalks to skip traffic jams though.

  • lop

    http://transalt.org/news/releases/1777

    Guess it has happened.

    The danger of sidepath/sidewalk cycling is magnified when visibility is minimum and cyclists are few. Much less of an issue with the protected lanes in Manhattan. Not ideal, and I’m not sure they are safe at 25 mph, but at a more relaxed 10-15 mph I feel I’m going slow enough to look around for turning cars.

  • qrt145

    Thank you for the example. Now knowing that it has indeed happened, infrequent as it might be, I can see how it was insensitive of me to put it that way.

  • Joe R.

    After this incident my blood was boiling listening to Bratton talk on NY1 about how he needs 1,000 more cops. 1,000 more cops to do what, ticket sidewalk cyclists or people in parks after dark? Try getting the cops we have to do their jobs first, starting with sanctioning drivers who kill or injure people on sidewalks or in crosswalks.

  • Andres Dee

    “Didn’t you read? The lady was TEXTING? Don’t you know that texting while walking (even on the sidewalk) causes care to go out of control?” (/sarc)

  • This isn’t true for a well designed cycle path. Doubly so for uni-directional cycle paths.

  • I don’t think whatever minor insensitivity to the rarest of individual and their family who’s been killed by cyclists on sidewalks (where the cyclists no doubt found themselves in quite a bit of trouble) compares even slightly the abhorrent disregard for human lives shown by the NYPD in this example.

  • Because there’s nothing that driver could have done, they were utterly doing their best when they chose to drive up a sidewalk and run people over. /s

  • neroden

    It’s just bullshitting by the police — or, more accurately, it’s a *conspiracy to obstruct justice* by the police of the 1st precinct.

    If this were a real police department, they would go to a judge, have an arrest warrant issued, have an extradition order issued. and then pass it off to the appropriate New Jersey jurisdiction, who would arrest her and extradite her to New York. Or, more typically, they could just call the assailant and ask her to voluntarily come in so as to avoid all that court procedure.

  • neroden

    The NYPD can go to a judge, have an arrest warrant issued, contact New Jersey and tell them about it, and have a New Jersey police officer arrest her. Then the NYPD can have an extradition order issued to have her transferred to New York. It’s perfectly straightfoward and the procedure has been the same for *over 200 years*.

    The 1st precinct is bullshitting, or more accurately they are committing “conspiracy to obstruct justice”.

  • neroden

    Given that the cops refuse to arrest dangerous drivers, Bratton needs 1000 FEWER cops. Fire 1000 of these slackers and maybe some work would start getting done.

  • neroden

    At this point, with an utterly corrupt DA (who belongs in prison) and utterly corrupt police (who belong in prison), the only option I’m seeing for justice in NYC is private prosecution. It’s still legal in New York as long as it isn’t done by the victim; there should be a charitable foundation.

  • Bolwerk

    Crime has been dropping since before the current crop of of police were even born.

    “Liberals” are really more obnoxious than “conservatives” sometimes. Cons just hate cities, hate minorities, hate freedom, hate anyone different from them. People like Melissa Mark-Viverito actually think they’re doing us a favor, and pride themselves on oppressing us for our own good.

  • stairbob

    HOW MUCH DOES A FREAKING BOLLARD COST?

  • stairbob

    Has anyone ever died by being jostled by a jogger on the sidewalk?

  • com63

    foiled by tinted windows!

  • Matt

    Mentally ill man runs around midtown hitting people with a hammer, it’s news, he’s found and gunned down. Woman drives a 2 ton machine directly into people and runs away and likely does the same elsewhere, it’s not really news and NYPD probably won’t even charge her.

    Fucking priorities.

  • JudenChino

    Why do you think he’s corrupt and deserves to be in prison? I think he’s politically weak and is doing the public a disservice.

    But I’d have to say the Brooklyn DA is worse: http://gawker.com/blueprint-of-a-subway-shooting-1703682729 That guy hunted down a young man who gave him shit (and punched him most likely) and followed him and killed him, but since the killer is a former CO, the DA won’t touch it.

    Our issue with Cy Vance, is that, he’s a politician and there’s little glory in being #1 on street violence issues when there’s all sorts of incentives to be aggressive on Cyber crimes, terrorism and other naval gazing bullshit that the local news gets all excited over. Interestingly, Cy is weak on financial crimes as well. But since he’s a politician, it’s our job to call him the fuck out, so, let’s keep doing that.

  • Maggie

    from the Downtown Express:
    “Hensl said that the police investigation has “moved very slowly.” It took a week and a half to run the plates, she said. The partial plate was traced to a woman in New Jersey. The police, she says, also have footage of her car on the Brooklyn Bridge.”

    Is NYPD really saying that all it takes to defeat all the counterterrorism measures we’ve installed on the Brooklyn Bridge is a car with tinted windows and New Jersey license plates?

    Or that NYPD will flood the zone with an incredible array of police resources to catch anyone who runs a silly joke flag on the top of the bridge, but they’re not up to catching a maniac who just ran over a woman on the sidewalk and another woman in Brooklyn?

    Come on guys. Fucking pathetic. SMH…

  • GuamTippedOver

    So can I assume she is the wife of a cop?

  • walks bikes drives

    Likely, they are saying the crimes are not worth their effort to pursue extradition. However, they can always have an arrest warrant issued and if she ever gets stopped by a police officer in any jurisdiction in the state of New York, she can be arrested, up until the statute of limitations.

  • dozr

    soccer moms arent scary.

  • Maggie

    Who would be responsible for obstruction of justice charges against the NYPD, if it came to that unbelievable extreme? Is it DoJ?

  • neroden

    Ooh, good catch. It’s worth finding out who the murderous motorist is because she probably *is* politically connected.

  • neroden

    The DA is, legally, *not* supposed to be using his discretion to let violent criminals go scot-free, when there are strong cases against them.

    I think whenever a DA does that, it is corruption, period. Corruption doesn’t just mean bribery — it means not even trying to do your job honestly. Making choices based on currying political favor, even if they mean ignoring your sworn duties — that’s corruption.

  • neroden

    DOJ could do it. Could also be done by the state attorney general. Or any grand jury with jurisdiction over the First Precinct (so, a Manhattan grand jury).

  • Kevin Love

    When it takes no less than five of them to beat bloody an 80-year-old man, we obviously need a lot more.

  • Maggie

    I was just thinking yesterday how absurd and sad it is that an elderly man accused of jaywalking at 96th Street was treated more severely by law enforcement than the driver who fatally struck Jean Chambers in the crosswalk, six months later and two blocks away.

    The jaywalking initiatives didn’t save her life when she crossed legally, or keep NYPD from reflexively blaming her for her own death, or lead them to hold the driver accountable for killing a local neighbor in the crosswalk.

    I guess what I’m saying is, I’m fed up with this from law enforcement.

  • Kevin Love

    Yes, it is called systematic bigotry. Serious reform of NYPD is needed so that they concentrate upon violent, dangerous criminals instead of harmless innocent people. Systematically enforcing the laws against violent, dangerous criminal car drivers would make the city safer for all its people.

  • Tyson White

    Depends where you put them. If you put them at the intersection and block the whole street off for cars, you will only need 2 bollards. A lot cheaper than putting many of them along the whole street.

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Cy Vance Files Felony Charges for Beekman Street Sidewalk Hit-and-Run

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Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance has filed felony charges against a woman accused of driving onto a downtown sidewalk, striking a pedestrian, and leaving the scene. 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 […]