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Electeds urge DOT to step up

Andrew Palacio's 2006 Volkswagen Jetta hit two storefronts last week in an accident nearly identical to one that occurred in March. Palacio's passenger, Beatriz Rodriguez, died the day after the accident. Photo by Steven Malecki
By Rebecca Henely

State Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria), state Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan (D-Ridgewood) and City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside) demanded action from the city Department of Transportation Friday in light of the eerily similar road accidents that occurred in the last month on a Queensboro Bridge off-ramp.

“The DOT needs to step up, stop saying they have nothing to do with this,” Gianaris said.

Two people have died in two accidents that occurred on the south outer off-ramp of the Queensboro Bridge within a little more than a week of each other.

In both instances, a male driver and a female passenger had been leaving the bridge in a Volkswagen when the motorist lost control of the car and crashed into two storefronts on Queens Plaza South. Both men lost their arms and were sent to Bellevue Hospital Center in Manhattan and both women were sent to Presbyterian Hospital in Manhattan.

The first accident happened March 28. The 35-year-old male driver, who was identified in the New York Post as Grant Riddell, had been traveling in a 2007 Volkswagen around 4 a.m. When Riddell lost control of the car, he hit a taxi driver walking on the streets, 68-year-old Manhattan resident Anthony Buscemi, who was killed. The impact also damaged a Caribbean restaurant and a beauty salon on Queens Plaza South. Riddell and the 31-year-old female passenger, whose name has not been released, were in stable condition.

The second accident occurred April 6 at 4 a.m. Alexander Palacio, 35, was driving a 2006 Volkswagen Jetta when he allegedly lost control of his car and hit the storefronts, police said. Palacio lost his arm and he was charged with being an aggravated unlicensed operator, police said. His woman passenger suffered severe head trauma, police said.

The woman, Beatriz “Betty” Rodriguez, 40, died last Thursday, the Post reported.

Both the restaurant and salon have a peremptory vacate order from the Department of Buildings and remain boarded up after the collisions.

The elected officials said the similar circumstances of the accidents and changes to the traffic pattern led to the crashes and urged the city DOT take action.

“If the path off the bridge changes, then you have to put adequate signage,” said Van Bramer.

DOT spokesman Seth Solomonow said in a statement that the off-ramp had not changed since 2007 and said the agency believed it was the speed of the drivers that was the principal factor in the accidents, one of which loosened a guardrail stanchion from its concrete base.

Nevertheless, the department said it would add additional signs and rumble strips to the off-ramp. The DOT also said the city Economic Development Corp. had placed protective jersey barriers along the curbs at Queens Plaza South to protect the employees.

But the officials and employees at nearby stores said the traffic pattern had changed. Gianaris said the number of lanes off the bridge had been reduced from three to two on Queensboro Boulevard.

Ron Shatiro, who works at a nearby check-cashing spot, said drivers were also no longer allowed to turn right down Crescent Street and the island on Queens Plaza South below the off-ramp had also been expanded, which had changed the flow of traffic.

Still, he believed people were driving too fast and should slow down.

“You can’t blame it on one thing,” Shatiro said.

Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at rhenely@cnglocal.com or by phone by 718-260-4564.

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