Vance “Reviewing” Safir Hit-and-Run, Pedestrian and Cyclist Deaths

The office of Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance is looking into last Friday's Upper East Side hit-and-run involving former NYPD Commissioner Howard Safir and pedestrian Joanne Valarezo, as well as two recent incidents in which a pedestrian and cyclist were killed.

safir_valarezo.jpgHoward Safir and Joanne Valarezo have very different versions of what happened on Third Ave last week. Photos: NYT, News
Though local media have reported that Safir has been cleared of wrongdoing, a Vance spokesperson issued the following statement to Streetsblog early this afternoon:

Traffic accidents involving pedestrians or cyclists are a serious concern in Manhattan, as the first week of 2010 showed. The District Attorney has asked the Office to conduct a review of the traffic accident involving former Police Commissioner Howard Safir. He has also instructed the DA's Vehicular Crimes Unit to do its own review of last week's traffic fatalities. The closer review of traffic accidents that cause serious injury or death will be a priority for the Manhattan District Attorney's Office.

One pedestrian and one cyclist have been reported killed in Manhattan since Vance took office on January 1.

It isn't often that you get to hear from a person struck down by a driver, and there is little doubt that, were one of the parties not a former big-time city politico, last Friday's incident would scarcely have rated a police blotter blurb. But thanks to Safir's high profile, we have a case where the victim is able to tell her side to a rapt audience of reporters.

From the Times, which broke the story late Friday:

Ms. Valarezo said in a telephone interview on Friday night that she was on a break from her job at a doctor's office and had gone to buy socks for her unborn child when she was hit.

"I was crossing the street in between cars and he hit reverse, and his female passenger screamed, 'Are you not looking, there's someone there,' and as he was reversing, he hit me on my shoulder and my knee and the side of my stomach," she said.

Then he started to drive away, she said.

"I confronted him and I said, 'I'm pregnant. Did you not see?' And he just disregarded that and kept going," she said. She said if the passenger had not screamed, causing her to turn, she would been hurt more seriously.

Knowingly leaving the scene of an incident, whether or not it involves personal injury, is, of course, against the law in New York State. All we know of Safir's version is that he told investigators he was unaware he had hit anyone as he maneuvered his double-parked Escalade on Third Avenue. That was apparently good enough for NYPD, at least initially.

What stands out most to us here is that a victim has lived to tell what happened, and it doesn't match the driver's account at all. But Vance seems to be listening, and is showing signs that he intends to follow through on his pledge to treat pedestrian injuries and deaths with the seriousness they deserve.

Streetsblog will continue to follow this story, along with those of last week's as-yet-unidentified victims, as they develop.