LIC shops sue after two cars slam storefronts

LIC shops sue after two cars slam storefronts
Photo by Steve Malecki
By Rebecca Henely

Two Long Island City stores that were destroyed in two eerily identical car crashes near the Ed Koch-Queensborough Bridge a year ago have filed suit against multiple city agencies and the drivers for damages they estimate to be in excess of $1 million.

“They’ve obviously been distressed,” said Great Neck, L.I., attorney Scott Agulnick, who is representing the store owners. “Those two businesses account for a tremendous amount of their own labor and time and money.”

The plaintiffs in the suit, filed in Queens Supreme Court March 30, are Espinal’s Caribbean Restaurant II Inc., run by Tony Espinal at 25-06 Queens Plaza South, and Villa De Baute’ Inc., run by Akber Jiwani at 25-04 Queens Plaza South.

The stores were first hit March 28, 2011, at around 4 a.m. when Grant Riddell, who was operating a 2007 Volkswagen Rabbit, lost control of his car while driving on the off-ramp near Crescent Street and Queens Plaza South. Riddell not only smashed into the restaurant and salon, but also killed pedestrian Anthony Buscemi.

Eight days later on April 6, at around 4 a.m., Alexander Palacio, who was driving a 2006 Volkswagen Jetta, crashed into the stores while driving on the same off-ramp. The passenger in his car, Beatriz Rodriguez, was killed in the crash.

Both Riddell and Palacio lost an arm as a result of their accidents.

On May 21, 2011, a third Volkswagen had an accident in the same spot around 6 a.m., although by that time concrete barriers had been erected in front of the damaged storefronts and the car slammed into the barrier and a livery cab. There were no fatalities.

The suit alleges the stores’ property damage was caused by multiple entities, including the city; the city Department of Transportation; the city Economic Development Corp.; construction companies Liro Engineers of Syosset, L.I., and Triumph Construction Corp. of the Bronx; the drivers; and Nikki Riddell and the estate of Rodriguez, who owned the Volkswagens.

Agulnick said it would be up to the jury to decide which parties bore the greater fault. The suit estimates the damage Espinal and Jiwani incurred at more than $1 million, but did not hazard a precise amount.

The redone traffic patterns earned the ire of area elected officials shortly after the first two accidents. Agulnick said with the multiple lanes of traffic converging in a small area, exiting the ramp could be dangerous if not done perfectly.

“It was a situation where if anything went wrong, the result was catastrophic,” Agulnick said.

He said Espinal had been planning to open a second restaurant around the time of the crash.

“You think two steps forward and one step back,” Agulnick said.

Palacio, who was charged with driving without a valid license, also filed suit against the city, DOT and the EDC in December.

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