Buta Lawsuit: No Charges or Summonses for Manhattan Hit-and-Run Death

A Department of Transportation truck driver who killed 21-year-old Manhattan pedestrian Roxana Sorina Buta was not issued a summons or charged for leaving the scene, and could be behind the wheel today, according to a lawsuit filed by the Buta family.

Roxana Sorina Buta. Photo via DNAinfo

Cristina Oprea, Buta’s mother, claims that Buta’s death resulted from negligence on the part of the city, DOT, the Department of Design and Construction, Mack Trucks, and the driver, according to DNAinfo and the Post.

On May 24 at approximately 1:30 in the morning, Buta was walking across Broadway at 14th Street, in the crosswalk and with the light, when the driver of a dump truck made a right turn, ran her over and kept going, according to reports. In early June, it was reported that the killer had been identified. At that time, attorney Joseph Tacopina said police had confirmed that the driver worked for NYC DOT, and that no charges had been filed by Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance.

The driver, who has yet to be named publicly, did not receive a traffic citation, according to the suit. From DNAinfo:

“Upon information and belief, the driver fled the scene and is free to continue driving New York City dump trucks recklessly, while Roxana is dead and her mother, Ms. Oprea, is simply devastated and suffers extreme emotional distress from the loss of her only child,” the lawsuit states.

Additionally, the lawsuit claims that the driver must have known he had hit someone, “because the force of the impact would have obviously alerted him to this fact.”

The driver was not charged in the crash and there is no criminality suspected, police said.

The District Attorney’s office rejected multiple requests by Oprea and her lawyer, Joe Tacopina, to identify and prosecute the driver, according to the suit.

The crash that killed Buta bears resemblance to two other recent Manhattan fatalities that involved truck drivers, each of which was pursued by prosecutors, though neither driver was charged for causing a death. In 2011, Diego Tapia-Ulloa pled guilty to aggravated unlicensed operation and was fined $500 after he ran over Laurence Renard while turning a corner on the Upper East Side. Postal worker Ian Clement was cleared by a jury last month on charges of leaving the scene of the crash in Chelsea that took the life of cyclist Marilyn Dershowitz.

As we have noted previously, under New York State code, “I didn’t see her” is a credible defense. From nonsensical statutes to mercurial courts to reluctant prosecutors to indifferent police, each link in the traffic justice system is as weak as the next. In many cases, the only recourse for victims and their families is through civil action, which can afford some measure of justice but does little to keep killers off the streets.

“All [Oprea is] living for now is to make sure Roxy didn’t die in vain — to make sure the intersection is changed and made safer to make those responsible for her death be held accountable,” said Tacopina, according to the Post.

Tacopina, citing the history of crashes with injuries at the intersection where Buta was killed, also says the city should have taken action to make the street safer.

Cy Vance’s office does not comment on vehicular crimes. Streetsblog is awaiting confirmation from DOT that the driver who killed Buta is an agency employee, and if so, whether he in fact continues to drive DOT vehicles while on the job.