Pedestrian Killed by Fuel Truck Driver in Murray Hill

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

  • AMH

    This is so incredibly awful. Shocking and preventable is right. There is absolutely no reason to have a six-lane highway in Midtown, let alone anywhere in Manhattan. Widen sidewalks, cut the road down to one lane in each direction (plus turning lanes and loading zones), put a protected bike lane on each side, and the avenues can return to being a local circulator instead of the traffic sewers they have been used as for decades.

  • Twofooted

    DOT “takes every fatality on our roadways seriously, and has a proactive program of redesigning streets to reduce tragedies like this one.”

    What a joke. Proactive? They spelled “tragically incremental” wrong.

  • SBDriver

    Shocking, no. Preventable, yes.

    Transportation Alteratives’ Interim
    Executive Director Ellen McDermott seems to miss the mark. Third Ave
    is not a “six lane highway”. In this spot it is six lanes wide,
    with daytime commercial only parking and night time parking in both
    outer lanes, and a bus lane in the second lane on the east side. That
    leaves 3 lanes of traffic on a street that is typically clogged
    during much of the day. Taming this “six lane highway” would do
    nothing to protect someone crossing E 37th St, a three
    lane road with parking on either side except for 7-10 AM when it
    practically a parking lot. A truck such as this oil truck is not
    whipping around a 90 degree corner at significant speed. Daylighting
    to improve turn visibility? Lack of turn visibility from parked
    vehicles is generally not an issue for large trucks.

    “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.”

    This is the part that she gets right.
    No amount of road diet is going to correct unsafe driving practices.
    Truck drivers should be checking their mirrors while in the process
    of turns, and many do not. Same goes for yielding to pedestrians,
    particularly in crosswalks.

    The focus should not be so much on road
    improvements that will do little to protect from poor driving habits,
    but on changing driver awareness and attitude through training and
    enforcement. Too many truck drivers (and car drivers for that
    matter) do not realize or forget that they are piloting a lethal
    weapon. Consistent enforcement targeted at heavy vehicles for
    reckless driving infractions including failure to yield would be a
    good start and easy pickings for the lazy NYPD.

  • YungEarthling

    Not sure what this truck’s model is but truck design to allow better visibility is also important. Not just city vehicles but all commercial vehicles.

    https://usa.streetsblog.org/2018/12/10/safety-officials-to-cities-stop-buying-such-huge-trucks/

  • Correcting driving habits is near impossible. Installing a split LPI signal is very easy and very effective . DOT will probably do it. What we need is a wholesale preventive installation of such features so that no one gets killed and no one goes to jail. A win win.

  • KeNYC2030

    It should be illegal to make a left turn when pedestrians have the walk signal, anywhere in the city, period. How many deaths and injuries would that prevent? A lot.

  • Daphna

    Split signals as suggested by CHEKPEDS and KeNYC2030 are often resisted by traffic planners because they make the whole signal phase of the intersection longer. Installing split phases so that pedestrians crossing have one phase and vehicles turning have another phase, would mean a complete redesign of the signal timing on the whole surrounding grid area.

    I would like to see a combination of street design improvements and enforcement. Even if street design improvements might not have affected this particular tragedy, they would help many other instances of crashed by shaping driver behavior differently.

    London reduced traffic by 30% with congestion pricing. If NYC implemented congestion pricing and similarly reduced traffic, then the split signals phases suggested would be more feasible.

  • vnm

    I’d also add right turns.

  • KeNYC2030

    Absolutely, but lefts are more dangerous so that’s a good place for a city loath to inconvenience drivers in any way to start.

  • Split LPI do not make the cycle longer and do not require a grid redesign. They only require the installation of an arrow, which stays red to stops the turning traffic for 10 seconds and then give a blinking orange arrow to turn wiht caution. teh cycle reminds the same for the thru traffic and the cross street traffic. This is very effective

  • Daphna

    Thank you for that information.

  • qrt145

    The DOT has been installing LPIs wholesale, arguably. According to the table on their website there were 2237 LPIs as of November 2017, and according to the Vision Zero View map many more were added in 2018. Maybe progress is not fast enough, but it’s not a case of “let’s add one LPI each time someone gets killed” (which often seems to be the case with bike lanes, unfortunately.)

    https://www1.nyc.gov/html/dot/html/infrastructure/leading-ped-intervals.shtml

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