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Queens Chronicle

Third bridge crash; DOT blames drivers

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Posted: Thursday, May 19, 2011 12:00 pm | Updated: 2:07 pm, Thu May 26, 2011.

   In baseball, the rule is: three strikes, you’re out. But for the city Department of Transportation, the third crash to take place in as many months on the same Queens Plaza block is a freakish coincidence, not a sign that its traffic pattern should change.

   “Initial indications are that the cause was speeding,” said DOT Queens Borough Commissioner Maura McCarthy, of the most recent crash. “So, the message I want to send to everyone is that speeding is very dangerous.”

   On Saturday, at around 6 a.m., Kristina Myles, on her way home to Florida via John F. Kennedy International Airport, narrowly escaped with her life. She stopped on Crescent Street and Queens Plaza South for coffee, but just after she exited the livery cab she was riding in, a car leaving the Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge became airborne and landed atop her taxi, smashing its rear windshield.

   “It’s not like we didn’t see it coming,” said state Sen. Mike Gianaris (D-Astoria), of the third Volkswagen in as many months to take flight and crash upon exiting the bridge. Gianaris joined community leaders and elected officials at a rally on April 8, calling for changes in the roadway after Beatriz Rodriguez died and Alexander Palacio suffered injuries in an April 6 early morning crash at the same location.

   On March 28, Anthony Buscemi, 68, was crushed to death a when a Volkswagen Rabbit carrying two people landed on top of him as he walked past Espinal’s Caribbean Restaurant II and Villa de Beaute salon. The passengers were severely injured and both stores have been destroyed by the repeated crashes.

   After the second accident, the DOT installed rumble strips, posted speed limit notifications and brought in Jersey barriers to protect pedestrians at Queens Plaza from automobiles.

   In the most recent crash, the two passengers in the Volkswagen suffered minor injuries and may have been saved by the barrier upon which their car came to rest.

   According to police, speed is thought to have been a factor in all the accidents, though no charges related to speeding have been filed against any of the drivers. The March accident remains under investigation.

   “I am sure that bad driving had something to do with it,” Gianaris said of the multiple crashes, “but bad traffic planning also had something to do with it.”

   The DOT denies changes have been made to the roadway since 2007. Drivers, however, say Jersey barriers were put up within the last year, making the exit onto the street from the outermost Queens-bound lane more severe.

   After the first crash, the DOT said it would investigate the exit to see if changes were warranted. “We, of course, will look to see if we can make any other improvements,” McCarthy said on Tuesday, “but I don’t know what those improvements would be until the investigation is finished.” Agency officials did not respond to requests for a specific date by which the study would be completed.

   Asked whether the design of the small cars may have lead to the incidents, Sheriece Matias, a spokeswoman for Volkswagen, said the company is looking into the matter. “It’s way too early to go any further without knowing the rest of the facts,” she said.

   AnnMarie Costella and PJ Smith contributed to this article.

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