Demand justice for Roxana Sorina Buta

At the southeast corner of Manhattan's Union Square is a home-spun memorial attached to a traffic-light pole, with flowers, photos of a stunningly beautiful young woman—and a handwritten plea for justice from her anguished family. Fortunately, city authorities have not removed it. Here are the details from New York's DNAInfo, June 21:

Family of Actress Killed in Hit-Run Holds Vigil on Her 22nd Birthday CHELSEA — As the investigation into the Union Square hit-and-run death of Roxana Sorina Buta continues, the aspiring actress's friends and family celebrated her life Thursday in an emotional ceremony on what would have been her 22nd birthday... Buta was mowed down by a dump truck at 14th Street and Broadway May 24... Police said Wednesday [June 20] that the circumstances of her death are still under investigation. But Buta's family's lawyer, Joseph Tacopina, said police told him a Department of Transportation driver is being questioned. "They're still investigating and determining whether to charge [the driver] with a crime or not," he said. "The city is being incredibly derelict in resolving this issue."

More from the Streets Blog, May 29:

NYPD: No Video of Driver Who Killed Roxana Sorina Buta The woman killed by a hit-and-run truck driver at Union Square last week has been identified as Roxana Sorina Buta. Last Thursday at approximately 1:30 a.m., Buta, 21, was walking east across Broadway at 14th Street, in the crosswalk and with the light, when an eastbound dump truck driver made a right turn and ran her over, according to reports. The driver continued south on Broadway... Cristina Oprea, Buta's mother, has asked the driver to come forward. The Daily News reports that NYPD has told Oprea that there is no surveillance video of the truck. Pending corrective action from Albany, motorists in New York have strong incentives to flee the scene of a crash. As we've written before, even when they surrender or are caught by police, the current system is weighted to favor drivers who kill. It's likely that the driver who struck Buta would face only a misdemeanor and would see little to no time in jail. In many cases, all a driver has to do to satisfy police and prosecutors is say he didn't see the victim.

The Daily News on May 28 tells us that Buta was hit as she was returning home to her East Harlem apartment from her job as a waitress at Union Square's Bar 6. She had emigrated from Romania when she was 11; she was studying at Hunter College, and had recently performed in the off-Broadway play, Him. And from Gothamist, May 29:

Mother of Pedestrian Killed By Dump Truck Driver: "He Should Give Himself Up" The grieving mother of the 21-year-old woman killed by a hit-and-run truck driver last week is speaking out. Roxana Sorina Buta was crossing Broadway at East 14th Street when a dump truck hit her (a witness said Buta had the light) crushing her. Cristina Oprea said, "All I want is justice for my daughter. He hit my daughter and he just kept on driving. Who does something like that? He should give himself up."

This was not a "tragedy," which implies a mere act of God. It was a crime. This is not a "personal tragedy" for Roxana's family. This is a political issue—for all New Yorkers, and all inhabitants of Planet Earth. Down with the tyranny of the automobile! Justice for Roxana Sorina Buta!

See our last posts on the global car culture, and the struggle in New York City.

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Police are for curfews, not for cars

It has been pointed out that when this killing took place, there were scores of police in the area—paying no attention to the streets, but enforcing the Union Square curfew. There were also several surveillance cameras in the vicinity—all aimed at the park, to enforce the curfew, not at the street, where people die.

New York Times makes note of motorist license to kill

A vindicating if obviously titled story in the New York Times by Michael Powell Sept. 10,"Reckless Drivers Who Hit People Face Few Penalties in New York"... He starts out with an account of the Roxana Buta case, then provides some critical context:

The State Department of Motor Vehicles recorded about 3,000 serious nonfatal accidents last year in New York City. The city Police Department’s Accident Investigation Squad investigated only 63, or 2 percent of these nonfatal serious crashes, according to the state. Squad members chalk crosswalks, measure tire tracks, and analyze video. Their expertise is unquestioned. This unit, however, numbers just 20 or so.

They investigate only when a victim is "considered likely to die." (State law, too, remains a problem; it is difficult to criminally charge reckless drivers. As the writers of the indispensable note, "under New York State code 'I didn’t see her' is a credible defense."

The City Council, of late, has examined this closely. There are proposals to double the size of the traffic investigation squad and to ensure that each precinct has officers expert in such matters.

Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly, characteristically, claims to see no problem. His department is state of the art; the streets get safer all the time; pedestrian fatalities have dropped 30 percent in the past decade.

An interagency task force, he wrote to Councilman Peter F. Vallone Jr. in July, would not be "beneficial or necessary."

There is an "Alice in Wonderland" quality to this defense. Departmental procedure also prohibits officers from writing even a ticket unless they personally witnessed the accident. And few precincts appear equipped to handle investigations.

The account also notes the egregious cases of Clara Heyworth and Michelle Matson, before returning to Union Square and Raxana Buta.

I conducted my own anecdotal [sic] study. This Monday morning I stood by the lamppost on Broadway and 14th Street that has become a de facto altar for Ms. Buta. In 25 minutes I watched three trucks, including an 18-wheeler, narrowly miss pedestrians walking the intersection. I counted 17 cars, trucks and a “New York Waterway” bus running red lights.

Ms. Buta’s mother has returned to Romania for several months and has hired the lawyer Joseph Tacopina to sue on her daughter’s behalf. "She is quite insistent that this not get treated like 'Hey, that’s life in the big city,'" he said.

Like Ms. Iscovitz, Andrea Kristinsdottir took acting classes with Ms. Ruta, a woman of boundless energy. "It was impossible for men to watch her enter a room and not fall in love with her," Ms. Kristindottir says. "She had such empathy. It can’t be possible that we just forget about her in death."

Never, Andrea. Never.