Comparing two pedestrian deaths, a quarter-century apart

We had a great turnout at yesterday’s rally for safer streets at City Hall. Paul Steely White, head of Transportation Alternatives, coolly called on several groups, particularly the NYPD, to step up efforts with the goal of ending pedestrian fatalities in the city.

Council Member and Public Advocate candidate Tish James speaks to a reporter after the rally.

Council Member and Public Advocate candidate Tish James speaks to a reporter after the rally.

One of the speakers was Greg Thompson. Greg is the older brother of 16-year-old Renee, who was killed last week by a truck on Third Avenue at 60th Street in Manhattan. God forbid I ever have to experience a tragic loss like that, but if I do, I hope I can muster the strength that young man has.

Later that afternoon, I was sifting through some articles I had pulled from microfilm the previous day at the Brooklyn Public Library. I had been looking at issues of The Park Slope Paper, a predecessor to The Brooklyn Paper, from the 1980s. One story jumped out at me: the death of Victoria Santiago, 17, who was hit by a truck making a turn in 1987.

The deaths are remarkably similar. (Yes, Santiago was then hit by a second car, which plays the role of bad guy in the Park Slope Paper story - but that hit-and-run wouldn’t have happened had Santiago not been struck in the first place.) Let’s have a look.

1987 2013
A 17-year-old Boerum Hill girl was killed Tuesday, November 17 after being struck by [a moving vehicle] as she was crossing Douglass Street at Third Avenue near her home, said police. A 16-year-old girl was fatally struck by a tractor-trailer as she crossed Third Ave. on the upper East Side on Wednesday night, authorities said.
[Santiago] was crossing Douglass Street from the north to the south side when she was struck by a truck making a left turn from Third Avenue. [Thompson] was crossing Third Ave. on the north side of the 60th St. intersection. … At the same time, a 19-wheel tractor-trailer driven by a 35-year-old man made a right turn onto Third Ave. from 60th St., hitting and killing the teen.
No charges have been lodged against the truck driver. The truck driver remained at the scene and was being questioned by police. The driver was not placed under arrest.
The truck driver … said he did not realize he had hit Santiago, but was alerted to the accident after witnesses chased his truck and told him his vehicle had struck the girl, said accident investigation unit police. The driver of a 19-wheeler turning right from 60th Street onto 3rd Avenue didn’t see her. The truck came to stop and was photographed at Third Ave. and 65th St [five blocks away].

That a story from 1987 could resonate so strongly today might be the biggest tragedy of all. We’ve made so much progress in this city on countless fronts in the last quarter-century – why not here?

At least the trucker in Renee Thompson’s death was later given three tickets - but that’s little consolation to the devastated family, and little deterrence to other irresponsible drivers.

As White said yesterday, Mayor Bloomberg has taken huge steps to reduce address traffic deaths. (Nicole Gelinas, in a Post op-ed, suggests that improvements have saved 300 lives.) We have a slew of mayoral candidates, however, who have said nothing of substance. It’s beyond time that conversation began.

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