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Pedestrian Killed by Fuel Truck Driver in Murray Hill

3:32 PM EST on February 15, 2019

What the mess of Third Avenue at 37th St. typically looks like. Photo: Google

An oil truck driver is facing virtually no jail time for killing a 27-year-old pedestrian crossing E. 37th Street with the light on Friday morning.

Police say driver Steven McDermott failed to yield to Sarah Foster, fatally striking her as he made a left turn from Third Avenue as she crossed E. 37th at around 5:49 a.m. Cops arrived to find Foster lying in the roadway, with extensive trauma. She died on the scene. McDermott, a resident of Bay Ridge, remained at the crash site and was charged with failure to yield and failure to exercise due care — charges that even in the best cases carry maximum jail time of 30 days.

Such charges are very rare, and rarely lead to guilty verdicts. And when the driver is found guilty, he or she often does little or no jail time. The bus driver who killed Citi Bike rider Dan Hanegby, for example, went to jail for 30 days on his failure to yield ticket — and many activists believe the case would not have even been prosecuted but for intense media scrutiny and the widespread publication of a video that exonerated the blameless cyclist.

Street safety advocates slammed the city for not improving road conditions through better design.

Transportation Alteratives' Interim Executive Director Ellen McDermott called the death "a shocking, preventable tragedy."

Third Avenue is a six-lane highway running through a pedestrian-dense and largely residential part of Manhattan, with no visible traffic-calming measures in place," she added. "If the New York City Department of Transportation had installed simple, commonsense, low-cost improvements to this dangerous street, this woman would be alive today. Pedestrian refuges, protected intersections, and daylighting — removing parking spaces at intersections to improve turn visibility — cost next to nothing and protect every New Yorker as they cross the street.

Drivers of large vehicles and professional working drivers, like the truck driver who killed this 27 year-old, bear a great responsibility to travel with caution in crowded urban environments. But the best way to force every driver to travel with care is to design streets that mandate safe behavior. As a nearby resident, this crash is a terrifying wake-up call. It's long past time for Mayor de Blasio to make Third Avenue safe, before another New Yorker is killed or injured.

DOT spokesman Brian Zumhagen responded that the agency "takes every fatality on our roadways seriously, and has a proactive program of redesigning streets to reduce tragedies like this one."

"As with all locations where a fatal crash occurs, DOT will evaluate the design of the street and the circumstances of the crash in order to improve the safety of that location," he added.

The oil trucking company, Approved Oil, confirmed to Gothamist that it was a company truck.

"From what I understand the driver did have the right of the way," company spokesperson Chris Fazio foolishly said hours before the driver was, in fact, charged with failure to yield. "Our thoughts and prayers go out the family."

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