Pedestrian Killed by SUV Driver Trying to Park on Upper East Side

Photo: Gersh Kuntzman
Photo: Gersh Kuntzman

An Upper East Side pedestrian was run down by a driver who was going in reverse to get a parking space on E. 91st Street on Tuesday, police said.

According to the NYPD, Mei Zhuan, 64, “entered the street behind a late model Audi SUV that was attempting to reverse into a parking spot” in front of 121 E. 91st St., between Park and Lexington avenues, in the tony Carnegie Hill neighborhood at around 9:20 p.m.

The driver of the SUV hit Zhuan, knocking her to the ground. She was taken to Lenox Hill Hospital, where she died. The driver remained on the scene and was not charged.

“The investigation remains ongoing,” police said in a statement.

It is unclear why the driver was not issued a citation given that he or she — police did not release the driver’s name — was moving in reverse, which typically puts an even greater legal responsibility on the driver.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, more than half a million backing crashes happen each year, causing 30,000 injuries and roughly 300 deaths. Many of these crashes could have been avoided if the drivers were more aware of the dangers of driving in reverse and knew the appropriate techniques to offset the hazards, said Tony Douglas, president and CEO of Smith System, a driver training course.

“Backing crashes are one of the most common because drivers tend to let their guard down when driving in reverse,” said Douglas said recently. “Since they’re not traveling at a high rate of speed, drivers often lose their focus, and focus is always critical for safety. Backing and parking are moments when drivers need to focus their full attention on the driving environment.”

The NHTSA report stated that drivers of vehicles with high back ends such as an Audi SUV have much longer blind spots than drivers of smaller cars.

“Pickup trucks and utility vehicles are overrepresented in backover fatalities and injuries when compared to non-backing traffic injury crashes,” the report stated. “In fact, utility vehicles and pickups are involved in an estimated 61 percent of backover fatalities even though they only account for 29 percent of vehicles in non-backing traffic injury crashes.”

  • Another dead body. Another uncharged driver.

    And another instance when de Blasio says nothing.

  • Any late model SUV is equipped with a rear camera.

  • JarekFA

    Could you imagine the quality of the back-up video camera in a late model Audi SUV. You can probably see infrared heat signatures in addition to all the incessant beeping.

    But if you drive a Big Luxury SUV in this city, then you are effectively sensorily isolated from the street in which you are a hazard. It just all seems so abstract. Physical contact with my car? Zooming in reverse at speed . . . what could go wrong.

    To think that there are seniors getting all whipped over fucking bike lanes when this happens regularly!

  • walks bikes drives

    Everyone is so quick to judge here. But based on the story, it seems like the driver was pulling into the parking space when the incident occurred. It is a completely idiotic thing to do to step behind a vehicle that is actively reversing into a parking space. With or without a backup camera, when you are parking, your attention is necessarily 360 around your car – you have to be attentive to where the front end is so you are not contacting the car in front of you, for example. While it is a slow motion action, you have little to no reaction time when a pedestrian crosses the street through the conveniently larger opening of an empty parking space, where they should not be, nor should they ever be. Adding to the shortened reaction time by being that much closer to the curb, the other cars parked fore and aft block and degrade the drivers’ view of pedestrians on the sidewalk, making it impossible to even predict the actions of the pedestrian before they would step out. If indeed the vehicle was actively pulling into the parking space, I would put the full onus of the fault on the pedestrian for stepping into the situation. Now of the driver struck a pedestrian on the sidewalk, or if they were backing up down the street to get to a parking space they had passed by, that is a completely different story.

    Try this example: if a pitching machine operator was loading balls into the machine as it was pitching to a batter, throwing 100mph fastballs, and was looking down at the machine the moment it threw, and some random person who had been hanging out, watching the batter hit, decided at that exact moment to run across the batting cage, got struck in the head by a ball and was injured/killed, would you blame the operator? Add the idea that the rules of the batting cage prohibit the crossing of batting cages through the center at any time, whether the machines are operating or not.

  • AnoNYC

    And an Audi would have that loud beeping feature if anything is in front of the radar sensors.

  • You are going to get roasted for “victim blaming” but I see this as a problem as well. Last week I was riding and saw a man standing just off a curb waiting to cross, he was just kind of staring into space, meanwhile right behind him is a cargo van with reverse lights on. So I hollered at him to pay attention. People are so trusting of people behind the wheel. Same behavior as stepping off a sidewalk while still looking intently at smartphone. Most of the time that trust is validated, drivers see pedestrians, and refrain from killing them. Most of the time.

  • walks bikes drives

    Yeah, I totally know I will. But that becomes part of the problem. The idea that a pedestrian can do no wrong is just plain wrong. And too many times here, both in the comments and in articles themselves, drivers are castigated just because they are drivers. I see all sides. In my travels around NYC, I travel more miles on foot than any other mode of transportation. I put more miles on my bike annually than I do on my car. But the only way to completely eliminate the chance of a driver harming a pedestrian, when pedestrians are allowed to make stupid actions, is to make sure no cars move.

    Wait, not true. While waiting to cross the street one day, I did once actually watch a pedestrian, while staring at his phone, cross the street and walk directly into a legally parked car, fall, and require medical attention.

  • Learned Hand

    As a driver, you still need to be able to stop if someone does indeed step in behind you.

  • I’ve contemplated the matter, and I think I understand at the end of the day why advocates and advocacy groups in particular have to be one-sided on certain issues, especially this one. The scales are already so tipped in favor of motorists I guess. But yeah, I never liked this notion that we all go out into the city with little to no control over our destinies, that at any moment we could be flattened by some errant vehicle or another. Awareness is everything. Gotta look both ways before crossing a one-way street.

  • djx

    Yup – stepping off curb into the parking space while the car is entering that space – that’s the pedestrian’s responsibility.

    “Now of the driver struck a pedestrian on the sidewalk, or if they were

    backing up down the street to get to a parking space they had passed by,

    that is a completely different story.”

    Yup. That’s on the driver.

    I walk bike and drive too.

  • djx

    “I did once actually watch a pedestrian, while staring at his phone,
    cross the street and walk directly into a legally parked car, fall, and
    require medical attention.”

    Am I bad person for laughing at this?

  • Robert Lancer

    They clearly accelerated when reversing and should be put in jail for reckless driving.

  • Joe R.

    I completely agree. Stepping behind a car parking is something I NEVER do. The odds are against me if the driver fails to notice me. Besides, there’s not much to be gained by this. If I’m crossing midblock, I’ll just start crossing one car length over between cars which are parked, driverless, and stationary. Walking an extra 20 feet for safety seems like a no-brainer to me.

    We have to acknowledge that while pedestrians should be at the top of the food chain, that doesn’t mean they’re never responsible for their own safety.

  • Daphna

    I was nearly hit by an off-duty FDNY employee who was rapid backing the whole length of a block in order to snag a free parking spot on Broadway in upper Manhattan. He did not apologize for driving in reverse the wrong way at high speed but instead said “F**KING CYCLISTS”. After getting his free spot in this dangerous manner, he then put his FDNY paraphernalia on the dashboard to serve as a make-shift parking placard.

    One bad behavior after another prompted by feelings of entitlement about using curbside space at his convenience for free.

  • Andrew

    Is it not conceivable that both the pedestrian and the motorist are at fault here?

    I don’t know how carefully the motorist was watching, and I don’t know how fast the motorist was going. Both of those questions, I think, factor heavily into the motorist’s culpability. Based on the facts I’ve seen, I’m not going to immediately jump to the conclusion that the motorist was at fault, but I’m also not going to immediately jump to the conclusion that the motorist wasn’t at fault.

    It’s frankly less interesting me to what extent the pedestrian was at fault, since the pedestrian has already received the death penalty for her actions, and she’ll never be making the same mistake again. The motorist, on the other hand, should be penalized if he was in the wrong, so that he has an incentive to drive more carefully in the future – otherwise he, and others watching this case, will undoubtedly reach the conclusion that backing up at high speed (if that’s what happened) and failing to exercise due care (if that’s what happened) are no big deal, even if they kill someone.

    One of the core principles of Vision Zero is that a momentary lapse in judgment on the part of a pedestrian should not be fatal.

  • Andrew

    Just curious, is this batting cage on a public street?

  • Sasha

    Pedestrian jaywalked onto the street in the middle of the block and didn’t look to see a car backing up to parallel park. Tragic mistake.
    What exactly are you wishing (and you clearly do) to see the driver charged with, Streetsblog?

  • JL

    True that Sasha ! ..there are no tickets given even when drivers kill children at crosswalks with right of way. Drivers rule!
    If the woman Elaine in the video is correct, (the edits suck btw) the impact shattered the rear wind shield. Which likely means the driver hit her during the backing up part rather than the “parking” part. Damn bike lanes…

  • No, it is not conceivable. The driver is 100% at fault, by the very nature of the interaction.

    The only possible setting in which a driver would not be at fault for striking a pedestrian would be on a limited-access highway, where pedestrians are prohibited. There and only there may a driver reasonably proceed without taking into account the possibility of the sudden appearance of a pedestrian.

    In any other circumstance, a driver hitting a pedestrian constitutes conclusive proof of that driver’s failure to use appropriate care. If a driver cannot stop in time at the sudden appearance of a pedestrian, this means that the driver was going too fast for conditions, or was not paying sufficient attention, or both.

    We need to fight to have this principle enshrined in law. But, from the standpoint of morality, it is iron-clad.

  • Andrew

    Driving laws don’t suddenly vanish if a jaywalker happens to be present.

    Was the motorist in violation of any driving laws? Might those violations have contributed to the fatality? If so, the motorist was, at least in part if not in full, at fault.

  • William Lawson

    I cannot tolerate fucking idiots like you any more so no apologies for the language. First of all, you do not know that the pedestrian “jaywalked onto the street.” For all you know, she might have been trying to get to her own car. Is everyone who “enters the street” to get to their car a jaywalker who is asking to be run over? No. So unless it has been proven that she was actively seeking to cross the road to the other side mid-block, then any jaywalking claim is nothing but pure speculation.

    Particular care and attention has to be taken when operating a vehicle in reverse, especially when you’re not in the middle of the road and you’re reversing in a part of the road that people frequently stand for various reasons, including perfectly legitimate and legal ones. If you reverse and you’re not paying due care and attention and you hit someone standing in the street with enough force to shatter the rear windshield, then there are grounds for a reckless driving arrest.

  • William Lawson

    Similar thing happened to me when biking up Avenue A last summer. A moron in a giant pickup with Monster Truck sized wheels pulled off a stupid u-turn maneuver in the middle of the intersection against the light, almost hitting crosstown traffic, then sped up A in the bike lane. He stopped and then reversed at speed almost down the full length of the block and stopped in the bike lane in front of me. I’d had to hang back a full block to let him get his sub-intelligent shenanigans out of the way without being killed. As I cycled past him I saw his FDNY placard and stopped to take a photo. He came sprinting out of the deli he’d gone in to yell threats and menace me. “GET OVER YOUR FUCKING SELVES, THIS IS NEW YORK, PEOPLE DRIVE” was his response. He was such a prick I actually found myself fantasizing about him being trapped in a fire at work.

  • William Lawson

    1) You have no idea that the driver had started parking when the lady stepped out. For all she knew, it was no more than a double parked car

    2) If your attention is not BEHIND your fucking car when you’re REVERSING then you are a reckless driver and anyone you kill was killed in an act of negligent manslaughter. You do not have to have “360 degree” awareness when you’re reversing. Your full attention should be at the rear of the vehicle at all times. Stop making excuses for and trying to normalize shitty driving.

    3) Your pitching machine analogy is so unbelievably irrelevant to driving I don’t even know where to start. One thing’s for sure – it does betray your complete and utter ability to apply reason to an argument.

  • William Lawson

    Don’t confuse the idiots with logic.

  • William Lawson

    You’re not “seeing all sides” at all. You’re just automatically taking the driver’s side because of your perception that “drivers get a bum rap in the comments” of stories like this. You’re trying to make amends for what you see as a bias, and you’re doing it very clumsily and irrationally, using ridiculous batting cage analogies which aren’t anywhere close to being legitimate analogies.

    In a comment above, you basically excused drivers for not paying full attention to the back of their car while reversing, suggesting that it’s reasonable that they look all around their car while doing so (360 degrees). Reversing into a parking spot is the one time you can ABSOLUTELY and SHOULD have 100% of your focus on the back of the car. Reversing into a pedestrian, regardless of the reason why they’re standing there, means you were NOT paying attention to the back of your car. You can try and spin this all you like. Perhaps you have another analogy you can amuse us with, this time involving lion tamers or parade floats.

  • walks bikes drives

    My take on your response to my comment is that you dont know how to parallel park. I’m not going to get into personal attacks.

    The one thing I will say is this: we need safer streets. But to get there, we need to make sure advocates are always on the right side, and dont shoot ourselves in the foot. Cars will never disappear from all city streets, although conceivably one day they will be banned from some portion of the CBD. And to always, immediately, jump to the conclusion that the villain and person at fault is a driver just because they were driving is just as bad as the NYPD initially putting the blame on a pedestrian or cyclist just because they were walking or biking. Possibly worse, because we are the ones who want something and are looking to make a change, and therefore actually have something to lose by making incorrect conclusions. We need to be better than the NIMBYs or those that are fighting to keep the status quo, not the same or worse. Otherwise, we are making our uphill battle that much steeper.

  • walks bikes drives

    We all know that cyclists have better awareness of our surroundings than drivers. But I would bet you any amount of money that, during one of your long bike rides through the city, I could pop out in front of you in a way that you would not be able to stop in time and would make contact with me. The laws of physics do not work in your favor for this argument because the only way to 100% eliminate the risk of a car coming into contact with a person in 100% of circumstances is if said car is not moving.

  • Joe R.

    I had the same thing happen also. Not an FDNY employee, but some jackass in an SUV.

  • Joe R.

    I was about to say the same thing. I’ll certainly grant that the number of circumstances where a driver is not at least partially at fault for hitting a pedestrian is extremely small. but instances do exist. As you said, the only way you can be assured of stopping in time if someone suddenly jumps in front of you is to not be moving in the first place.

    That said, there is a huge difference between hitting and killing a pedestrian. If drivers stuck to the speed limit or less, many hits would be nothing more than minor injuries.

    Finally, the fact the rear window was shattered tells me the driver is likely at least partially at fault for backing at too high a speed. I’m not inclined to give the driver a free pass without more information.

  • Joe R.

    It’s worth noting even in countries where they do enshrine this principal in law, namely that the driver is at fault if they hit a cyclist or a pedestrian, there are extremely limited circumstances where if a driver can prove they were already exercising reasonable caution and still couldn’t avoid the collision, they can avoid charges.

    Here’s a good read on the subject:

    https://bicycledutch.wordpress.com/2013/02/21/strict-liability-in-the-netherlands/

    And yes, a strict liability law similar to what exists in the Netherlands is certainly something I would support, but there will still be a small number of instances where drivers won’t be charged. Still, that’s better than the situation in NYC, where the rule seems to be that they’re not charged.

  • Alex

    Based on the video presented below, it is a possibility that this woman who was hit was in the street collecting cans. If so, either 2 things happened: she was in the street to begin with and the driver didnt bother checking before backing up into the spot, or the driver checked as he/she backed up and the victim walked into the street during the parking maneuver. I would assume the former happened, but I have been in instances where pedestrians have walked into the bike lane without checking and I was almost unable to stop in time. So its hard to say who is truly at fault unless eyewitness report or camera evidence is provided.

  • What I said about drivers — if you can’t stop in time at the sudden appearance of a pedestrian, you’re going too fast, not paying attention, or both — applies equally to bicyclists. A bicyclist has the same duty of care to pedestrians that a driver has, and is just as culpable in a collision.

  • AMH

    Backing and parking Driving in any direction are moments when drivers need to focus their full attention on the driving environment.”

  • AMH

    I’ve seen the same thing. They wait until no cars are coming and floor it, blind to all the cyclists and bystanders.

  • William Lawson

    Yes, I know how to parallel park. At no point does it involve reversing so blindly that you don’t see someone directly behind you.

  • AMH

    Those monster trucks are terrifying, especially when the giant wheels whiz past within inches of my elbows. They need to be banned yesterday.

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