A 6-year-old girl was killed by a reckless, wrong-way driver in Dyker Heights on Tuesday night, and the driver was held accountable with multiple charges, as Mayor de Blasio vowed to do more to prevent such crashes amid the bloodiest year of his tenure.
Some initial media coverage, unattributed, suggested that the girl, Hiromi Tamy had "darted out" into traffic, but the NYPD narrative makes it clear that she was just the latest victim of a reckless driver on a dangerous road.
According to police, Qiuhua Zhu, 30, was driving his Lexus GX460 SUV southbound on 12th Avenue at around 10 p.m. when he "crossed over the solid double yellow" line, "traveling into oncoming traffic."
"As the vehicle traveled southbound in the northbound lane, it made a left turn at the intersection of 67th Street, striking the 6-year-old pedestrian, who was crossing 67th Street in the east crosswalk southbound with the pedestrian signal in her favor," the NYPD added.
Zhu initially fled, but later circled back to the crash scene. Meanwhile, little Hiromi was taken to Maimonides Medical Center, where she died. Zhu was quickly arrested and charged with multiple counts, including manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide, vehicular assault, reckless endangerment, failure to yield to a pedestrian, driving the wrong way down a street and making an improper turn.
"Crossing the street should not be a death sentence, but it too often is because of the inaction of our elected leaders," said Families for Safe Streets member Dana Lerner, whose 9-year-old son Cooper Stock was killed in the crosswalk by a taxi driver who failed to yield in 2014. "My son was killed holding his father’s hand in the crosswalk. Since then, traffic violence has taken 87 more children — including [Hiromi]. These aren’t statistics.These are 87 futures stolen and communities destroyed."
Later, Streetsblog asked the mayor to react to the death. Here was the exchange from Hizzoner's morning press conference:
Streetsblog: Mr. Mayor, it has become common at these morning briefings for you to be asked many questions about shootings or other violence in the city, but road violence is far more prevalent. Indeed, last night, a 6 year old girl was run down and killed by a driver in Dyker Heights, a neighborhood that has three crashes per day on average. And just to put crash numbers in perspective that many of my colleagues don’t know and certainly don’t report, so far this year in the city, there have been 68,198 crashes (and those are only the reported crashes), causing 29,965 injuries, according to city data. That’s 292 reported car crashes on average every day. So I know Mr. Mayor, after a high profile shooting, you probably call NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea to demand action. Did you similarly call DOT Commissioner Hank Gutman after this 6-year-old girl was killed and if so what did you talk about.
Mayor: I respect the question greatly and I feel horrible that another family is suffering. So much of this comes down to changing the whole mindset around cars. This is what we have been doing for eight years with Vision Zero, and we all have to do a lot more. People need to use their cars less, people need to drive more carefully, people need to respect that we are talking about kids, seniors who are in danger when people drive recklessly. Vision Zero has proven to make a difference, but it is also a challenge after Covid with so many people getting back into their cars. We have to get people out of their cars. More and more mass transit investment and more and more recovery, which will help people feel more comfortable.
But your thesis is not accurate. It is not that [after] every painful incident I call each commissioner about that incident. What I've said to both commissioners is if they see anything we can act on, whether it is moving officers if there is a crime problem, precision policing, or Vision Zero investments like McGuinness Boulevard and others, I expect both commissioners to make the adjustments, make the investments, make the move. I don't call them and ask about each one. That's a standing instruction.
McGuinness Boulevard is indeed in the midst of the city's lengthy redesign process from a deadly speedway into something more safe. That process, which dates back more than a decade, began in earnest after beloved teacher Matthew Jensen was killed by a hit-and-run Rolls Royce driver on May 18. The city intends to spend $39 million on a redesign, and many members of the Williamsburg community have participated in design workshops to perhaps remove a lane of traffic to add a protected bike lane and pedestrian safety features. The Rolls Royce driver has not been identified, an NYPD spokeswoman told Streetsblog.
Meanwhile, there are currently no plans in the works to improve safety on the one mile of 12th Avenue in Dyker Heights, where there were 30 crashes in 2020, injuring nine people.
This year has proven to be the deadliest year on the roadways since Mayor de Blasio took over and initiated his effort to reduce road fatalities. Numbers of fatalities was declining under the Vision Zero initiative, but have risen again as more people are driving after the pandemic, and many people feel unsafe on transit, even though studiesshow that subways and buses are not a vector for the virus.
The mayor's comments also did not reference the massive increase in sales of sport utility vehicles in the city, which his own DOT has noted are a leading cause of death.
In a statement referring back to a seminal report in May, Transportation Alternatives singled out the SUV as an assault weapon on New York City roadways.
"Between 2016 and 2020, there was a 21-percent increase in the number of SUVs registered in New York City, while the number of registered sedans dropped 17 percent," the group said in a statement. "The share of fatalities involving SUVs in New York City has increased 55 percent for cyclists and 47 percent for pedestrians compared to Mayor de Blasio’s first term. The share of cycling and pedestrian deaths involving sedans declined 57 and 33 percent over the same period."
Educated at the Sorbonne and the Yale School of Drama, Gersh Kuntzman is obviously not the person being described here. We're talking about tabloid legend Gersh Kuntzman, who has been with New York newspapers since 1989, including stints at the New York Daily News, the Post, the Brooklyn Paper and even a cup of coffee with the Times. He's also the writer and producer of "Murder at the Food Coop," which was a hit at the NYC Fringe Festival in 2016, and “SUV: The Musical” in 2007. Email Gersh at email@example.com