The woman who drove her Dodge Challenger onto a crowded sidewalk in the Financial District this spring and struck a pedestrian, lacerating her face and fracturing her leg, has been charged with assault and reckless endangerment, and could reportedly face five years in prison. Yesterday's ruling marks an upgrade of the driver's original charges, of second degree assault.
Thanks to surveillance footage and a number of eyewitness accounts, investigators determined that before Tiffany Murdaugh, 34, struck 37-year-old Heather Hensl at 25 mph on Beeckman Street, she had narrowly missed a mother walking on the sidewalk with her two children. After striking Hensl, she sped away from the scene. Thirty minutes later, she got into a fender-bender while attempting to parallel park in Crown Heights.
Still, even a month after the crash, it wasn't clear if Murdaugh would face any charges at all. Her car had tinted windows, which apparently obscured her face from witnesses; the NYPD also reportedly sited a "jurisdiction issue," since Murdaugh was living in New Jersey at the time of the crash.
Hensl told the Downtown Express in May, "My lawyer received a call on Saturday from the detective handling the case. They have requested the owner of the vehicle to come in for questioning … but if she fails to come in, which she is perfectly allowed to do, they will likely be closing the case.”
Now Murdaugh, who turned herself in to authorities later that month, has been charged with two counts of assault, one of reckless endangerment, and two counts of leaving the scene of an accident without reporting it. The Post reports that Murdaugh admitted to smoking marijuana before the crash. She told police, "I blacked out and don’t recall anything until the fender bender in Brooklyn. I did smoke some marijuana, it must have been laced with something."
"Pedestrians have the right to feel completely safe and secure on our sidewalks and when crossing the street, which is why the conduct this driver is accused of is so egregious,” said District Attorney Cyrus Vance. "There is no place for this type of recklessness in New York City."
Streetsblog points out that while DAs don't often charge hit-and-run drivers for death or injury, Vance has been an exception. He's currently working on two other crash cases, in which the drivers accused of fatally striking Robert Perry and Charity Hicks have been charged with manslaughter.
Last August, the Right of Way Law gave the NYPD the power to charge reckless drivers who kill or injure pedestrians. Until then, drivers had to be intoxicated or break numerous laws to face anything more serious than a temporary license suspension. But in January, four months after Right-of-Way went into effect, pedestrian and cyclist advocacy group Transportation Alternatives pointed out that of 10,000 moving violations documented by the NYPD since its passage, only 12 of them—less than 1%—had resulted in pressed charges.
Murdaugh, who is currently out on $2,500 bail, has another court date set for August.