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6 Killed in Herald Square by Out-of-Control Van

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  • Robert J. Matter
    http://www.nytimes.com/2001/12/28/nyregion/28CRAS.html December 28, 2001 6 Killed in Herald Square by Out-of-Control Van By DAVID M. HERSZENHORN A van lurched
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 28, 2001
      http://www.nytimes.com/2001/12/28/nyregion/28CRAS.html

      December 28, 2001

      6 Killed in Herald Square by
      Out-of-Control Van

      By DAVID M. HERSZENHORN

      A van lurched wildly out of
      control in Herald Square
      yesterday evening, killing six
      pedestrians and injuring at least nine
      others as it plowed through an
      intersection crowded with
      commuters and post-holiday
      shoppers and then crashed into a
      bus, the police and witnesses said.

      The accident occurred about 5 p.m.
      at West 34th Street and the Avenue
      of the Americas, one of Midtown
      Manhattan's busiest and most dangerous intersections, across
      the street from Macy's department store and near entrances to
      numerous city subway lines.

      Emergency vehicles clogged the area just as the evening rush
      was getting underway, bringing traffic to a standstill for about
      two hours.

      The police identified the driver of the van as Sidney Weinstein,
      76, of Valley Stream on Long Island. Officials said their
      investigation was continuing but the crash appeared to have
      been an accident, and as of last night no charges had been filed.

      Mr. Weinstein had parked a blue commercial van illegally near a
      bus stop on 34th Street and a police officer had ordered him to
      move, officials said. Mr. Weinstein, who was facing west, put
      the van in gear but apparently lost control and accelerated,
      striking the crowd of pedestrians, officials said.

      "He puts the van in drive and it shoots off on him, mowing
      down pedestrians," said Sgt. Ralph Carone, a police spokesman.
      The van then slammed into the back of an express bus operated
      by Queens Surface Corporation. The bus was making a right
      turn onto the avenue.

      "The van jumped off the curb, it sped around and crashed into
      people crossing the street," said Monique Harris, an eyewitness
      who was interviewed on Fox-TV.

      Four people were pronounced dead at the scene; five others
      were taken to St. Vincent's Manhattan Hospital and six were
      taken to Bellevue Hospital Center. Of those taken to Bellevue,
      two died, the police said.

      Mr. Weinstein, the van driver, and the bus driver, Wayne
      Roberts, were being treated for trauma at New York Weill
      Cornell Center, officials said.

      The police identified five of the dead as Steven Kunin, 15, of
      Bath Beach, Brooklyn; Jorge Gehring, 67, of Baldwin on Long
      Island; Xiu-Ying Chen, 38, of Midtown Manhattan; Harsharn
      Singh, 31, of Jersey City and Sumejh Shara.

      At Mrs. Chen's apartment building on West 31st Street,
      neighbors said she had come to New York three or four years
      ago from China and had lived in a two-room apartment with her
      husband and three children — 14- and 11-year-old daughters
      and a 12- year-old son. Mrs. Chen worked in jewelry
      manufacturing and her husband is employed by a food
      wholesaler, according to neighbors.

      The apartment has a blue door with a red diamond on it and is
      marked with the word "Fu," meaning luck in Chinese.

      "She was very warm, very kind hearted," a neighbor said. "She
      was a good person."

      Family members gathered at the apartment, which is just three
      blocks from the accident scene, but declined to comment.

      At St. Vincent's, the police said, three people were in critical
      condition and two were in stable condition. Lassanah Dukuly,
      whose stepdaughter, Abiose M. Snaggs, was in stable condition,
      said Ms. Snaggs had been shopping for a coat at the Gap and
      suffered a cut above her eye that needed stitches.

      At Bellevue, a hospital administrator, John Clark, said one
      woman remained in critical condition and a man in serious
      condition; another woman had been treated and released. One
      other woman was expected to be released last night, he said.

      It was unclear if there were any passengers on the bus, but
      officials said that those killed and most seriously injured were
      pedestrians. Witnesses reported hearing screeching tires, then
      screams, and the crunch of metal as the van careered into the
      bus. Some reported seeing victims pinned between the two
      vehicles.

      On any given evening, the intersection of 34th Street and the
      Avenue of the Americas is one of the busiest in New York City,
      a bustling vortex of humanity just steps from Macy's and the
      Mall at Herald Square, and just a block from the Empire State
      Building. But yesterday, with the city brimming with
      holiday-season tourists and retail stores offering post- Christmas
      discounts, the crowds seemed even thicker than usual.
      Thousands of pedestrians streamed along 34th Street, the
      Avenue of the Americas and Broadway, which meet to form
      Herald Square. Many toted shopping bags.

      The crash occurred directly outside three large retail stores —
      HMV Records, Foot Locker and Victoria's Secret.

      Traffic in the area is also extremely busy. Nearly all of the
      streets are lined with bus stops, many for express lines that
      carry Midtown workers home to other boroughs.

      The intersection ranked as the third most dangerous in
      Manhattan and seventh most dangerous in New York City in
      1997, city transportation officials said. From 1994 to 1997, 25
      people were killed in crashes in Herald Square, according to
      Transportation Alternatives, a local advocacy group that
      promotes travel without cars. In 1997, 315 people were treated
      at hospitals after accidents around Herald Square. And at the
      intersection of 34th Street, the Avenue of the Americas and
      Broadway alone, there were 71 accidents, officials said.

      Recognizing the traffic problems, the City Department of
      Transportation has been working to reconfigure the Herald
      Square area by eliminating a lane of traffic on Broadway and
      reversing the flow of cars on West 33rd Street. Future plans
      include the creation of pedestrian plazas below 34th Street.

      After the crash yesterday, throngs of pedestrians pressed against
      the yellow police tape that blocked off the entire intersection.
      Several passersby said they were shaken.

      "It could have been me — I was going to the Gap" said Heidi
      Rambo, 20, who lives in the East Village and who was trying to
      glimpse what had happened.
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