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Queens transit advocates livid after spate of hit-and-runs

By Gabriel Rom

The man who is accused of crashing into an off-duty rookie cop stationed in Far Rockaway as he stood at an accident scene on the New Jersey Turnpike turned himself in, police said Monday. The crash, which occurred Sunday morning, capped off a series of hit-and-run crashes throughout Queens and the tri-state area which left two people critically injured and four dead.

On the New Jersey Turnpike, Police Officer Vincent Harrison, 25, was killed after surviving a collision with an SUV during a lane change when a third vehicle struck him as he stood on the highway shoulder, state police said.

The driver of the third vehicle identified as William Espinal-Mejia, 35, of Linden, N.J., turned himself in Monday and was charged with second-degree leaving the scene of a fatal accident, police said.

The 100th Precinct, where Harrison was stationed, was already reeling from another shock with Capt. Matthew Hanrahan recovering from a heart problem.

“This senseless and deplorable act robbed our community of a bright young officer who, in his short career, dedicated himself to making our community a better place,” said Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder (D-Howard Beach).

The two Queens crashes, which occurred in Jamaica and Ozone Park, killed one pedestrian and critically injured another. Three others occurred in Manhattan, Brooklyn and the Bronx.

In all six incidents the motorists fled the scene, police said. No arrests had been made in the five city accidents and as of Wednesday, while all six hit-and-runs remained under investigation, police said.

The string of collisions started in the Bronx, just before 1:30 a.m. Sunday, authorities said. Police said 63-year-old Jose Contreras was struck and killed by a black sport-utility vehicle in the Tremont section of the Bronx.

Less than an hour later, at around 2:30 a.m. in South Jamaica, a 22-year-old woman was struck by a silver minivan as she was crossing Guy R. Brewer Boulevard at 118th Road, police said. She was taken to Jamaica Hospital unconscious and was listed in critical condition.

About two hours later, police were called to 111th Street near 109th Avenue in South Ozone Park, where a man identified as Besik Shengelia was hit as he was trying to collect items in the back seat of his car, police said.

Shengelia, 48, of Brooklyn, was reported by police as unconscious and unresponsive in the roadway when the authorities arrived. He was taken to Jamaica Hospital Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead.

Hit-and-run accidents were also reported in SoHo in Manhattan, with one victim listed in critical condition and in Park Slope, Brooklyn, with one victim reported dead.

Queens has faced a 2.3 percent uptick in injuries to motorists and passengers since 2013 and is now the only borough where injuries to drivers and passengers exceed 2013 levels, when the Vision Zero program began, according to a 2015 report put out by Make Queens Safer, a grassroots street-safety advocacy organization.

“It is absolutely essential that our police and our district attorney take these cases seriously and prosecute them,” said Peter Beadle, chairman of Transportation Alternatives’ Queens Activist Committee.

“Drivers need to know that there are real consequences to these actions,” he said.

Reach reporter Gabriel Rom by e-mail at grom@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4564.

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