In a tragic turn of events in Ozone Park, Queens, Maria Rodriguez, a grandmother from the Dominican Republic, was fatally struck in a hit-and-run incident early Friday morning. The accused, Maria Marte, a 47-year-old school bus driver, has been charged with traffic law violations in connection with the incident, the New York Police Department (NYPD) reported.
According to the NYPD, the accident occurred around 7:30 a.m. when Marte, after dropping off her three granddaughters at school, was turning left from 107th Ave. onto 86th St. It was during this turn that she collided with Rodriguez, who was in the crosswalk at the time. Contrary to initial witness reports that Rodriguez had crossed mid-roadway, the NYPD later confirmed her presence in the crosswalk. Rodriguez succumbed to her injuries at the scene.
The Aftermath and Charges
Marte, who remained at the scene, was unharmed and taken into custody for questioning. She faces charges of failure to yield to a pedestrian and failure to exercise due care. Notably, the school bus she was driving had four children on board, all under 12. Thankfully, no children were injured in the incident. They were subsequently transferred to another bus for their commute to school.
Jenna Lyle, a spokeswoman for the Department of Education, stated over the weekend, “No students were injured, and we are working closely with the NYPD in their investigation.”
Rodriguez, who resided in The Bronx, was described as a “very happy person” by her son-in-law, Sandy De La Cruz, an Uber driver. At the time of the incident, she stayed with her daughter, son-in-law, and grandchildren in Queens, just a block from the crash site.
Marte has been issued an appearance ticket and is expected to appear in Queens Criminal Court in the coming weeks to answer the charges. It is important to note that all charges are mere accusations, and the accused is presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.
Wider Context of Traffic Safety in New York
This incident underscores the broader issue of traffic safety in New York City. The city has witnessed a disturbing trend in traffic accidents despite efforts like the “Vision Zero” road safety plan, initiated in 2014 by then-Mayor Bill de Blasio. This plan aimed to eliminate traffic deaths by 2024.
Regrettably, the first half of 2023 saw a 260% increase in cyclist fatalities, with a 325% rise since the inception of Vision Zero. In the broader scope, New York has faced a grim tally of 112 road crash fatalities in the first half of 2023, with most occurring in Queens.
Moreover, the city witnessed another pedestrian fatality last night in Brooklyn, where the driver fled the scene. Similarly, early Sunday morning, a 30-year-old Hispanic man was killed when his car crashed into a tree outside Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx, leaving his passenger seriously injured.
Authorities continue to emphasize zero tolerance for speeding and driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Yet, these recent incidents highlight the ongoing challenges in ensuring road safety for all New Yorkers.