Two suspected robbers fleeing police in a minivan fatally ran over a Franciscan nun with Parkinson’s disease in Harlem yesterday morning. It's being reported that the getaway van, a Chrysler Pacifica, was going more than 60 mph when it blew through a red light and collided with a Honda Odyssey, then bounced over a traffic island and into a group of pedestrians at Lenox Avenue and West 122nd Street. The crash sent them 15 feet into the northbound lane, witnesses tell the Times, killing Sister Mary Celine Graham, 84, and critically injuring her home health aide. Another pedestrian is in stable condition.
The chase started after police in an unmarked car pulled over the minivan on the hunt for the perpetrators of two armed robberies earlier in the morning. After pulling the driver out of the vehicle, one of the suspects slid behind the wheel and sped off, evading two cop cars for 18 blocks down Lenox, until he swerved to avoid a street sweeper and hit the Honda. After running over the nun and injuring the others, the two suspects fled the scene, and are still at large. Police say a gun was found in the back seat of the van.
"It made a loud impact like an explosion," one witness tells the Times. (A woman and her teenage son, who were in the Honda, are listed in stable condition at St. Luke's.) Distraught nuns at the Franciscan Handmaids of Mary convent at West 124th Street—one of three historically black orders of nuns in the U.S.—issued a statement yesterday saying, "We are still in shock at the loss of our sister, a woman of strong faith and courage. She was a true Franciscan Handmaid of Mary, concerned about children and the poor. We love her so much and shall miss her."
Last April the NYPD was harshly criticized after a Greenpoint woman was killed by the driver of a stolen van being chased by an unmarked police car. According to the NYPD Patrol Guide: "Department policy requires that a vehicle pursuit be terminated whenever the risks to uniformed members of the service and the public outweigh the danger to the community if [the] suspect is not immediately apprehended." But NYPD spokesman Paul Browne tells the Daily News, "The people responsible for the injuries and death are the armed robbers who fled the scene."