A Crash, Not An Accident
New York magazine|April 2 - 15, 2018
A Crash, Not An Accident

The lessons of two deaths in Park Slope, for a pedestrian city filled with cars.

Christopher Bonanos

A few days after the crash, I went down to the Park Slope corner where it had happened. There was—is—one of those makeshift altars, the kind that appear after every horrific event, in front of a bank. Bouquets, notes, teddy bears. On the corner, buried in flowers, there was a folding stroller. It had been painted matte white, like the ghost bikes that mark sites where cyclists have been killed. I heard nothing on 9th Street but quiet talk of the crash.

As I got to the intersection, there were five or six people standing around the shrine, discussing what had happened on March 5, what hadn’t happened, what might be done. A lot of the signs made reference to Abigail and Joshua, the two children, ages 4 and 1, who had been killed there. As I stood there, a little girl, just about Abigail’s age, stepped up with her dad and set a few yellow flowers on the stroller. This was a neighborhood in mourning, one that saw the fragility of its own bodies reflected in the experience. “It could have been me” is a cliché, but it really could have been anyone.

On that Monday afternoon, Abigail Blumen stein and her mother, the actress Ruthie Ann Miles, had been crossing 9th Street with two friends, Lauren Lew and her 1-year-old son, Joshua. They had a walk signal. A woman named Dorothy Bruns was waiting in her car across Fifth Avenue, and for whatever reason—the Daily News reported that she said she’d had a seizure—she drove through the red light. She hit the two mothers, the two kids, and another man. In the worst nightmare imaginable, the car continued on for about 350 feet, dragging the stroller, eventually crossing the median lines and crunching into a parked car. The two children died at the scene. Miles, who was badly hurt, is now on the mend. She was seven months pregnant at the time, now about eight. Lew was also hurt, but less severely, as was the other man. The driver has not been charged, and a spokeswoman for the Brooklyn DA’s office characterizes the case as “under active investigation.” The scene was so gruesome that a local parents’ group arranged trauma counseling for witnesses.

I’ve tried to describe that scene as straightforwardly as I can, but I’m anything but an unbiased observer here. My wife is an executive at Transportation Alternatives, the pedestrian-and-bike advocacy group. When I speak with her colleagues, I hear about kids run over by buses, about bicyclists with their heads busted open. Maybe inevitably, given the nature of our how-was-your-day-at-work dinner chat, some version of that scene on 9th Street flashes through my head every morning as I walk my son to school. There are four crosswalks en route, and in each one, I try to walk on the traffic side of him, so that a fast-moving car would hit me first. Some days, in my mind’s ear, I hear the dull bang. It’s louder than you think.

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April 2 - 15, 2018