By Bill Parry
State Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria) and City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside) held a joint press conference at the site of Tuesday’s early morning crash that killed off-duty Police Officer Elisa Toro, a 36-year-old mother of two teenage boys and a 10-year-veteran on the NYPD force.
The accident occurred on a notorious off-ramp of the Ed Koch-Queensboro Bridge, where three deadly crashes have occurred since 2011. Toro was pronounced dead at the scene. Her silver Ford Focus struck a guard rail on the exit ramp, causing her to lose control of the car. The car flipped over a concrete barrier and went airborne before flying into the side of the vacant Villa De Beaute salon storefront near Crescent Street.
Toro, who worked out of the 17th Precinct in Manhattan, was heading to Queens about 2 a.m. when the crash occurred.
“It is certainly a particular tragedy for our department,” Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said.
Following two fatal crashes in 2011, the two leaders had called for bold action by the city Department of Transportation but were ignored.
“No one else should have to die before the city realizes that this exit ramp is fundamentally unsafe,” Gianaris said. “We stood here two years ago asking for the complete redesign of the ramp, and instead we got new signs and a couple of barriers. The time for half measures is gone. We need a safer exit ramp before another tragedy occurs.”.
A driver flew off the same exit ramp, killing a pedestrian March 28, 2011. The driver, Grant Ridell, lost an arm in the crash. He was indicted on charges of vehicular manslaughter, drunken driving, criminally negligent homicide and vehicular assault and refused to take a plea deal.
Less than two weeks later, on April 6, 2011, Alexander Palacio, 36, lost control of his Volkswagen Jetta on the same ramp before crashing into the same storefront. His passenger ended up dying in the accident, and in an eerie repeat Palacio also lost an arm.
The DOT maintains that the ramp was unchanged in the last two and a half years and it’s been used by tens of thousands of motorists safely at all times of the day and night.” As of 2011, this ramp has been equipped with a large variety of traffic management devices,” said DOT spokesman Seth Solomonow, “including three 20-mph word messages and ‘sharks teeth’ markings on the roadway, 14 yellow and 12 white 36-inch-by-8-inch aluminum backed reflectors, plus another 150 yellow and white prismatic reflectors on the bridge rail uprights, four sets of rumble strips to warn drivers that they are approaching a reduced speed zone and an electronic sign that displays the speed of passing motorists using radar technology.”
But Van Bramer took issue with those fixes.
“It clearly hasn’t worked,” he said.” The east bound ramp of the Queensboro Bridge is clearly a death trap,”
Van Bramer went on to describe a chaotic scene in which “cars are still flying off this bridge, into store fronts, and putting the lives of pedestrians and motorists in jeopardy.”
The councilman chastized the DOT for not doing enough.
“Now is the time to put an end to the fatalities in Queensboro Plaza,” he said. “We cannot wait for another life to be lost.”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4538.