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

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 did not stop.

Cy Vance. Photo: Manhattan DA

Video showed 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” prior to the collision, according to Downtown Express. DNAinfo reported that the driver barely missed hitting other people, including children, who were able to get out of her path. The crash occurred near Spruce Street School, where, according to parents who have kids there, it’s not unusual for motorists to use the sidewalk to drive around traffic.

Police said the same car was involved in a second hit-and-run crash, involving a pedestrian in Brooklyn, shortly after Hensl was hit.

Earlier this month, Hensl said NYPD was prepared to close the case without filing charges because the woman identified as the vehicle’s owner lives in New Jersey. Police also said they were unable to find a witness who saw the driver through the vehicle’s tinted windows.

But on Wednesday the alleged driver, Tiffany Murdaugh, appeared in New York Criminal Court on multiple charges, according to Downtown Express and court records. Vance charged Murdaugh with assault, reckless endangerment, and leaving the scene of an accident, court records say. Assault and reckless endangerment are both class D felonies, with penalties ranging from probation to seven years in prison.

From Downtown Express:

According to the complaint, on Tuesday evening at the First Precinct, Murdaugh was shown video of the incident and identified the 2013 white Dodge Challenger in it as her vehicle. She also told police that “she had taken the Holland Tunnel into Manhattan that morning and that no one else had driven her vehicle that day,” according to the complaint.

“I’m very relieved,” said Hensl in a phone interview. “I’m glad that she is in jail right now and not on the street.”

Hensl said the assistant district attorney who called her felt confident in the case and she will testify before the grand jury.

It’s not out of the ordinary for a New York City district attorney to file charges against a suspected hit-and-run driver, but felony charges are relatively uncommon. Even less typical is a D-level felony charge (homicide, for example, is a class E felony in New York State — a less serious charge than assault), particularly for a crash that did not result in death.

This is the third case in recent memory in which Vance has pursued felony charges following a pedestrian-involved hit-and-run crash. Vance charged the drivers accused in the deaths of Robert Perry and Charity Hicks with manslaughter, a class C felony. Both cases are in progress.

Murdaugh was held on $5,000 bond, according to court records. Her next court appearance is scheduled for tomorrow.

  • Some Asshole

    *slow sarcastic clap*

    It’s good that there will be an investigation into this matter. The only true way to decrease this is to make sure people know that this type of reckless behavior will not be tolerated.

  • Maggie

    It’s such a relief to see this. Strange that it comes as a surprise when charges are actually filed for such dangerous behavior. Thank you to Cy Vance for appearing to get this right.

  • Joe R.

    I’m happy to see this BUT regardless of whether or not the charges stick she should lose her driving privileges permanently. Why can’t that be automatic in cases like this? In fact, driving on the sidewalk, period, should merit permanent loss of your license even if nobody is hurt.

  • stairbob

    I’m glad to see this hit-and-run charged as felony assault. Have there been any hit-and-stay cases of reckless driving that resulted in the same? Because hitting someone should be considered at least as bad as running.

  • Brad Aaron

    Not counting police chase crashes, I know of three cases in the last four years where a sober driver who killed a pedestrian and remained at the scene was charged with a felony.

  • stairbob

    Thanks. This is the next Vision Zero law we need. If you are breaking any law (especially speeding) and kill someone it should be a crime. (Of course we’re still dealing with the backlash from the shockingly revolutionary idea that you can’t hit someone who has the right-of-way, so not holding my breath.)

  • Dave

    Can you get the video, streetsblog?

  • Brad Aaron

    Don’t know. Downtown Express reported that, while they were able to see it, NYPD told the guy who took it he couldn’t share it. Not sure how that worked but it made it seem like police basically confiscated it.

  • Tyson White

    I wonder if this would have been done without the vision zero watchdogs speaking out about this.

    P.S. Is her name pronounced Murdaugh as in Uncle Murda?

  • JohnDoe

    “The crash occurred near Spruce Street School, where, according
    to parents who have kids there, it’s not unusual for motorists to use
    the sidewalk to drive around traffic.”

    And where is the enforcement of traffic laws? Every one of those people who willingly maneuver their car onto a sidewalk to drive around a traffic jam should have their license revoked, at a minimum.

  • AndreL

    That threshold is unacceptable. Suddenly, if you have a broken light, your legal incident becomes a felony. Zero chance of approval.

    The “lock’em all” Streetsblog brigade (which is just small a part, but an authoritarian obnoxious part of the community) that wants to make driving, essentially, a crime or an act that carries very much the risk of making you commit a crime, is frightening.

  • Kevin Love

    Car drivers launch lethal cancer poison attacks upon the people of the entire city. Children are particularly vulnerable to death and injury as a result of these lethal attacks.

    So yes, attacking people with lethal poisons is a crime.

  • lop

    What if you limit the threshold to when the infraction could plausibly have contributed to the collision? For example, speeding or headlamp out might have reduced the ability of the car and its driver to see and be seen, if the driver was aware or should have been then there would be some criminal penalty. But if the only infraction someone could put together is that the driver had a broken tail light, or his license was suspended the day before, unbeknownst to him, because he didn’t pay his alimony, then that infraction wouldn’t trigger any criminal penalty.

  • stairbob

    Your contempt of common sense is despicable.

  • Joe R.

    I’ll just settle for permanent license revocation if you kill or injure someone through negligence, recklessness, or incompetence. Putting people in jail puts a very high burden of proof on the state. Revoking their license for good really doesn’t. While we’re at it, permanently revoke licenses of people who drive drunk, drive on sidewalks, or drive with a suspended license. And make the penalty for unlicensed driving forfeiture of the vehicle you’re driving.

  • neroden

    I’m going to give full credit to Cy Vance, and more credit to the Assistant District Attorney who plans to do the prosecution.

    Thank you, Cy Vance and anonymous assistant DA. Prosecuting these most egregious cases of reckless driving DOES have a deterrent effect — especially when they’re publicized. It should be a bit safer to walk on the sidewalk (!!!!) now.

  • neroden

    I agree. We don’t necessarily need to put every reckless driver in jail, which is expensive and wasteful…
    …but we do need to revoke their privilege to drive cars, so that they *won’t drive recklessly again*.

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