Turning Driver Kills 89-Year-Old on Upper East Side, NYPD Blames Victim

A driver makes a left turn into the crosswalk at E. 61st Street and First Avenue, where John Torson was fatally struck Thursday. NYPD said the 89-year-old victim was "outside the crosswalk" when he was hit. Image: Google Maps
A driver makes a left turn into the crosswalk at E. 61st Street and First Avenue, where John Torson was fatally struck Thursday. NYPD said the 89-year-old victim was “outside the crosswalk” when he was hit. Image: Google Maps

For the second time in a week, a turning driver has killed a senior on the Upper East Side. Police blamed the victim in the press.

John Torson, 89, was crossing E. 61st Street north to south at around 7:19 p.m. Thursday when a 56-year-old woman drove a Lexus SUV into him while turning left from First Avenue, according to NYPD and published reports. Torson, who lived on E. 63rd Street, was declared dead on arrival at New York Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center, police said.

The crash occurred in the 19th Precinct, where a cab driver fatally struck 76-year-old tourist Amelia Sterental on May 9. As of March, 19th Precinct officers had issued just 10 speeding tickets in 2015.

From the Post:

The driver, who remained at the scene, said Thorson “just hobbled into the middle of the street.”

“I did my best to put on the brake, but he ran into my car,” said the shaken driver, who did not want to give her name. “I feel bad for him. I hope he’s okay. But I’m so worried.”

An NYPD spokesperson told Streetsblog that, according to the Collision Investigation Squad, Torson was “outside of the marked crosswalk” when he was struck. Anonymous police sources told the Post Torson “was not in the crosswalk,” and the Daily News reported that, according to unnamed sources, the victim was “a few car-lengths west of the crosswalk.” A photo of the scene published by the Post shows the SUV sitting on 61st Street, the rear tires a few feet from the crosswalk, indicating Torson probably would not have been far from the corner.

After the Right of Way Law made it a misdemeanor for drivers to harm pedestrians who are walking with the right of way, NYPD began blaming deceased victims in the press by saying they were “outside the crosswalk” when they were hit.

While the CIS description of the crash blamed the 89-year-old victim for walking outside the lines, NYPD had no information on driver speed, or who had the right of way. There is a left turn lane and a separate signal for drivers turning left from First Avenue onto E. 61st Street, but it’s not clear if there is an exclusive turn phase.

NYPD said CIS is still investigating the crash, though the Daily News reported the driver, whose name was not released, “was not charged and cops did not suspect any criminality.”

New York City drivers have killed at least four seniors in the last week — two in Manhattan, one in Brooklyn, and one in Queens. No charges were filed in any of those crashes by NYPD or district attorneys Cy Vance, Ken Thompson, and Richard Brown.

John Torson was killed in Community Board District 8, and in the City Council district represented by Ben Kallos, who supports a bill that would exempt MTA bus drivers from criminal penalties for striking pedestrians and cyclists who have the right of way.

  • HamTech87

    Please, NYPD CIS, investigate what the driver was really doing, because something does not add up with her statements. She said the deceased “hobbled” into the street, but then also “ran” in front of her car. Hobbling is not running.

  • J

    #VisionZero = NYPD continuing to blame deceased victims, based primarily on the testimony of the person that killed them. To say this is problematic is a gross understatement.

  • rao

    Sounds like the driver is well versed in the technique of blame deflection. “A stationary vehicle collided with my car.”

  • Neil W.

    Ran into my car = I hit him

  • scastro87

    No pedestrian has ever contributed to any crash between an automobile and a pedestrian. Drivers are 100% at fault and the NYPD needs to realize that and arrest them and DAs should try to indict every one for vehicular manslaughter every single time.

  • Some Asshole

    No idea how what is apparently a slow moving elder would manage to run into a vehicle. My theory is this person tried to gun it in front, because waiting a few seconds to make a turn is tantamount to torture, and misjudged badly. Would be nice to see if there’s any information out of this one. I am not optimistic.

  • Some Asshole

    Not sure if trolling….

  • Larry Littlefield

    This is the second case in which a dead pedestrian was blamed for walking outside the crosswalk, away from the corner.

    Away from the corner ought to be safer, because the driver has more time to see — unless they are whipping around the turn or looking at their phone.

    It’s as if they are seeking an excuse to blame the pedestrian.

  • scastro87

    We must punish this traffic violence swiftly and strongly.

  • Some Asshole

    I would agree. With that, we would need real investigation. This, unfortunately, is lacking.

  • Wtf, how does a driver claim that a victim “ran into my car”. I have run into cars before, and its not a fatal incident. If the victim was killed, it was the car who ran into the victim.

  • It makes sense if you’re driving a car and you’re the center of the universe.

  • Yes, this person is ridiculing readers who are angry that a driver killed an old man, said it was the old man’s fault, and got the police to go along with it.

  • MattyCiii

    “I watched him long enough to be able to characterize his gait but not long enough to stop, swerve or slow”

  • Andrew

    As if?

  • MattyCiii

    So the all-seeing NYPD knows the deceased’s location at the time of impact how? Because when hit by a fast moving car you don’t land near where you started.

    Oh CIS, do us all a favor and read the killer’s car’s black box, and work backwards from there

  • Daniel S Dunnam

    I passed this incident soon after it occurred, and the victim was on the ground with paramedics. They were not in the crosswalk, but they were close to it. The back of the SUV was still slightly in the crosswalk, I think, and the body was a few feet in front of the vehicle. It seemed entirely possible that the person had been struck while in the crosswalk and pushed forward but I couldn’t really tell. I snapped a photo as I looked back.


  • Plunkitt_of_Tammany_Hall

    Despite the disingenuous claims of the article, it is very clear who had the right of way: the motorist did. New York City Traffic Rules section 4-04 (c) plainly says:
    “(c) Restrictions on crossings.
    …(2) No pedestrian shall cross any roadway at an intersection except within a crosswalk.
    (3) No pedestrian shall cross a roadway except at a crosswalk on any block in which traffic control signals are in operation at both intersections bordering the block.”
    There are signals at 61st and Second, and 61st and First. Thus, no pedestrian is allowed to cross the street on that block anywhere except in the crosswalk. No one has a right (including the right of way) to do anything when the action is explicitly prohibited by law.

  • Emmily_Litella

    This is amzaing evidence. Even after being struck at a speed at which the driver could not react to a hobbling senior, the point of impact was still one car length or less from the crosswalk. Yet people discuss this as if it was someone rushing out between cars mid-block into traffic that is plausibly going the speed limit.

  • Andrew

    Perhaps it is “very clear” to you that Mr. Torson was crossing outside the crosswalk, but from the photos I’ve seen, it’s not clear at all. What is clear, however, is that, if he was outside the crosswalk, he was only outside it by a few feet.

    Why did you stop reading after section 4-04(c)? How about moving on to 4-04(d)?

  • HamTech87

    Oh please. It is a freaking side street.

  • Yeah, you’re right, murder is justified so long as the victim was jwalking. /s That’s disgusting.

  • Joe R.

    It doesn’t matter if a pedestrian does or doesn’t have the right-of-way. A motor vehicle driver must make every reasonable attempt to avoid hitting a person in the street, even if they darted right in front of their vehicle. Absence of evidence that the driver at least tried to avoid hitting a person who ran in front of them, even if they couldn’t, may constitute guilt in the eyes of the law. For example, if someone darts ten feet in front of you while you’re traveling 40 mph you obviously can’t stop in time. However, if there are skid marks showing you at least hit the brake, or tried to swerve, you would likely not be found at fault unless you were going over the speed limit. If you were in fact going slow enough to stop but didn’t then you can be found at fault. You are also at fault if you start moving when someone is still in a crosswalk, even if you have the green light.

    The bottom line here is right-of-way isn’t absolute. It basically means you may proceed if you can safely do so, not you may proceed even if it means you run someone over who might not technically have the right-of-way.

  • Joe R.

    This is analogous to the police going to someone’s house after neighbors heard a domestic quarrel, finding one person holding a gun next to a dead body, and believing a story like “Officer, my husband/wife was in front of my gun when I lost control of it and it accidently fired”. To which the police respond: “Don’t worry, we believe you. Now you better get some counseling because you must be really traumatized by such a tragic accident.”

    Replace gun with car and this is pretty much what’s going on here. Disgusting.

  • Bolwerk

    Obey the law. Obey authority.

    If the built environment kills you, make sure it’s done in such a way as *other* people’s insurance pays your funeral expenses. Have a nice day.

  • chekpeds

    Do you really think a frat 89 years old pedestrian would be outside the crosswalk? Seniors are petrified of crossing the street and usually stay carefully with the light and in the crosswalk believing erroneously that the law protects them … Better check all the cameras..

  • neroden

    We need to name the individual police who are slandering the poor victim.

    I mean, obviously you can’t do anything with “anonymous police sources”, but “the Collision Investigation Squad” is run by a specific named person, and “an NYPD spokesperson” is too.

    Stop protecting criminals in public office by giving them anonymity.

    Thank you for reminding us of the names of the criminal DAs, and of the totally irresponsible City Council member Ben Kallos.

  • neroden

    The NYPD have just slandered the victim of manslaughter.

    They shouldn’t do that. Is there a reason the NYPD hasn’t been shut down? Because at this point I can’t think of one…

  • neroden

    NYPD are the big criminals here. Because they’re the ones engaing in the *coverups*.

  • Some Asshole

    Much less someone that’s 89 years old. But you never know, he could have been one of those super elderly folks you hear about in the news, the type that run marathons and lift giant slabs of stone and such. Those guys. /s

  • MatthewEH

    I’m pretty certain that all of the lights on 1st Avenue going uptown that have red and green left turn arrows are set up as follows:

    Pedestrians and bikes in the protected bike lane get a half-cycle of the light first, with the left turn arrow red. Bikes and peds then get stopped (red bike signal or red hand), and then the green turn arrow for motorists comes on for the rest of the northbound cycle of the light.

    There are other intersections where the phase for straight-through peds/cyclists and turning traffic is not split, and instead shared, but there are no left turn arrows at these intersections.

    So, even if the 89-year-old pedestrian was in the crosswalk, it seems quite possible that he was crossing in spite of a red hand and did not have right of way. Now granted, the driver should have been alert to this possibility and exercised more caution, and if at all possible not, you know, be mowing people down. But it would not, strictly speaking, be a violation of the Right of Way Law.

    Some other tenable possibilities:

    * The pedestrian started crossing with the walk sign, but was very slow and did not complete crossing before the signal changed.

    ** The motorist turned during the first half of the phase, when she was facing a red arrow.

    In the latter scenario, the driver would have effectively run the red light. This is, I think, the second-most-likely thing that happened. Sometimes motorists see the green lights turn on for traffic in adjoining lanes and miss the detail that there’s a special red arrow just for their lane that enjoins any movement just now. This is actually a consistent problem in the 8th & 9th Avenue lanes — I used to work on a building between 8th and 9th — where, unlike in later realizations of the protected bike lane design, *every single intersection* where cars could turn left gets this red/green arrow treatment. Later versions of the protected lane design, like on 1st Ave, or on 2nd Ave further downtown, do not do this at most intersections, just at major ones.

  • MatthewEH

    Joe R – I agree with the substance of what your saying about left turns… *in the case where the road that you are on is two-way*.

    1st Avenue is not two-way, it is one-way northbound.

  • Joe R.

    There’s a great case to be made for making the Manhattan Avenues (and the side streets) two-way. It would get speeds way down. On the side streets there would no longer be room for parking (hence providing a disincentive for driving). With everything two-way, you could effectively ban left turns. It would be a big win all around.

  • qrt145

    I haven’t been to that intersection lately, but as far as I can tell from looking at Google’s street view, this intersection does not have left turn arrows. The latest imagery is from 2014.

  • MatthewEH

    I checked up on this, and the Street View imagery actually predates full installation of the protected bike lane; it’s too old to be of use here. (I’m seeing a date of August 2013 on the imagery around here. As of August 2013, the protected lane started north of 61st Street; the block between 60th & 61st only got built out later, and then the bidirectional path between 60th and 59th last of all, if memory serves.)

    I can’t swear to this detail personally, but the writeup says “there is a left turn lane and a separate signal for drivers turning left from First Avenue onto E. 61st Street, but it’s not clear if there is an exclusive turn phase.”

    What I’m chipping in here is that if the first part of that reporting is true — that there is a turn arrow — then it almost certainly follows that there is an exclusive turn phase of the light where pedestrians are enjoined from crossing and technically don’t have the right of way.

    1st Ave isn’t on my most frequent bike routes, but I probably go this way 1-2 times a month. I’ll make a point of checking up on it tomorrow to verify the Streetblog reporting.

  • Tyson White

    Her testimony indicates she saw him before she drove into him. Unless she claims the almost 90-year old “darted out” in front of her car, it means she was was making the typical speeding turn you see all the time. But she said he “hobbled”.

  • MatthewEH

    By the way, I went up this part of 1st Ave on my way from the QBB yesterday. 61st Street does, indeed, *not* have a separate turn arrow or signal phase for left-turning northbound traffic. If the driver had the green, the pedestrian also had a walk signal, or at worst a flashing hand.

  • qrt145

    Thanks for the update!

  • Dotsam

    To hell with the law. Don’t kill with your stupid Lexus SUV. Keep it in Jersey. This person was an interesting New Yorker, a dying breed.