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Memorial Created After Woman Struck and Killed by Unlicensed Driver

At 81st Street and 37th Avenue, where a woman died after being struck by a car on Dec. 31. (Photo: Meghan Sackman)

Jan. 2, 2019 By Meghan Sackman

A small memorial has been set up in Jackson Heights to honor the woman who was fatally struck on New Year’s Eve by an unlicensed driver.

A sign remembering the victim, along with a small bundle of flowers and a letter, were put up yesterday by Make Queens Safer, a local advocacy group, at the corner of 37th Avenue and 81st Street, where the tragedy occurred Monday.

Police say the victim, whose identity has yet to be publicly released, was crossing 81st Street at 12:45 p.m. on Dec. 31 when 43-year-old Vitaliana Garcia Gavilan, the driver behind a 2008 Chevy Equinox, plowed into her.

Garcia Gavilan was traveling westbound on 37th Avenue and hit her while making a right turn onto 81st Street. The victim, identified by some reports as being in her 60s, had the right of way in the crosswalk when she was struck, police said.

Garcia Gavilan, from Great Neck, then allegedly drove over the victim twice with the front right tire after moving forward and reversing, police said.

81st Street and 37th Avenue (Google Maps)

The victim was rushed to Elmhurst Hospital, where she was pronounced dead.

Garcia Gavilan was arrested and charged with aggravated unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle, failure to yield, driving with a suspended license, and failure to use due care causing a serious injury.

The police have not charged her with driving under the influence, an NYPD spokesperson said. However, the investigation remains ongoing.

Officers from the 115th Precinct have since been stationed at the crash site. They will be at the site for a total of 72-hours–as is standard NYPD procedure following a traffic fatality– to determine the frequency of hazardous driving in the area.

The death, which occurred just days after the city released a flattering report on the decline in traffic fatalities, sparked outrage and concern among residents, business owners and beyond.

The report, released on Dec. 28, outlined that traffic fatalities as a whole had gone down in New York. However, in Queens they have actually risen. Traffic deaths in the borough went from 62 in 2017–to 71 for 2018 through Dec. 27.

Lalita Shrestha, who works at Eyebrow and More on 81st Street, urges road users to be more cautious.

“We saw her face down on the street,” Shrestha said, adding, “The drivers need to drive slower. That’s it—this was very sad.”

George Spetsieris, the owner of Ultima Florals, located across from where the woman was killed, said the police need to clamp down on dangerous drivers in Jackson Heights.

“Doing random checkpoints in areas that seem to have more traffic accidents—that could be a solution,” he said.

Elected officials also spoke to the Monday incident, including Assemblymember Catalina Cruz and State Senator Jessica Ramos.

“If you drive, please respect when pedestrians have the right of way. Stop, let them cross, and then turn. Save lives,” Ramos tweeted.

81st street 37th avenue

A sign at 81st Street and 37th Avenue remembering the victim who was killed after being struck by a car. (Photo: Meghan Sackman)

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19 Comments

Tony

Just a few things missing here. I hope that JH Post will follow up on this ongoing investigation (probably not). Apparently Vitaliana Garcia Gavilan of Great Neck does not feel that she needs a license to operate a motor vehicle. I wonder what other DMV laws do not apply to her. A follow-up should answer the following:

1) Why was this driver unlicensed? DUI, immigration status, suspension for previous incidents…
2) Was this huge Chevy Equinox insured?
3) Does this SUV have an up to date inspection?
4) Is this vehicle currently registered with NYS DMV (not OH, PA, etc)?

Or, does Vitaliana believe she’s exempt from these requirement too?

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Hope

My condolence to that lady’s family. Something needs to be done. But, congesting the streets with more officers and throwing someone in jail for 20yrs is not the answer. I am a resident and a driver in the area. I have seen pedestrians literally throw themselves on the street because the light is yellow and when I am parking and have my car on reverse, people have plainly crossed between my moving car and the car I’m parking in front of, to the point that I’ve had to slam on the brakes. Above all we all need to be more cautious and compassionate, live is short, it’s beautiful, lets take care of ourselves and others.

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Tony

Hope, your spoonful of “sympathy” is tainted with a heavy dose of victim blaming. This lady was KILLED by an UNLICENSED driver. Read (or re-read) the article “The victim…had the right of way”

Ask why was this driver unlicensed?

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Hope

First of all my deepest and most heartfelt sympathies go out this lady’s family.

Tony, I am not victim blaming, it was a tragedy what occurred. The message that I’m trying to convey is that we ALL collectively need to be just a bit more careful. Life is beautiful, it’s precious and it’s extremely fragile. Also we need to get involved with legislators to make the street safer for everyone that uses them. I have witness people both drives and walkers making questionable choices. Regardless of whomever has the right away that doesn’t take away from the outcome. The “right of way” is not a shield nor is it a barricade. Its just words written in a book that you read before you get your drivers permit. I don’t see any comfort in those words because, this lady was charged with aggravated unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle, failure to yield, driving with a suspended license, and failure to use due care causing a serious injury.

Pedestrians ALWAYS have the right of way, unfortunately accidents do happen and some with grave severity. I’m not trying to take away or place blame, or point the finger. But at the level that this needs to be address at the level of our legislators so that laws can be created (Like Leandra’s Law) and law enforcement have something to enforce. Reach out to our Assembly Member Cruz, Senator Ramos, and/or Congress Woman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Also UNLICENSED just means that the when asked she didn’t produced a license when they asked her for it, for all they know she could of left it at home, when they ran her name from whatever form of ID she gave that’s when they saw that it was suspended and since driving privileges are suspended license is punishable a punishable offence, that’s the only reason that she was probably arrested. We still have to have a bit of more compassion for ourselves and others.

And those other questions you have are very invasive unless you are a family member or an attorney representing the family, that information is no ones business, it should be kept confidential so that the family could seek any kind of settlement that they can to at least help with the financial burden that burring a loved one incurs.

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Tony

This was not just an unfortunate accident, this was a reckless negligent act resulting a fatality.

We all have an expectation, nay a RIGHT to know that all vehicles and operators are in compliance with NYS DMV law. So when a pedestrian is killed (some would say murdered) we all should question, is the driver licensed? And, is the vehicle safe to operate on a public thoroughfare ie: insured, inspected and registered. These questions are not “invasive”.

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Debra

Her name is Lynette Manai. She was my dear sweet friend. She was vibrant and funny and smart And kind. She was full of love. Our hearts are so broken. We will never hear her laughter or see her sunny smile again. We will never be able to tell her how much we love her ever again. This egotistical driver has killed a woman who was a gift to our world. She has ruined the lives of her family and friends. Her husband is inconsolable with grief. His precious angel is gone. Does this driver have any clue of what her actions have done? I hope this driver rots in prison until she dies !!!!!!

Peter Engel

This was not an “accident” it was a crash. Ease use the proper terminology. It was avoidable and a human being died. No amount of parsing can change that.

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L

I live in Jackson Heights and work in East Elmhurst. I walk to work every day. I have occasionally driven a car around here, and while I admit many pedestrians are stupid, I have almost been struck by a car as a responsible pedestrian with right of way at least 10 times – 5 of which have been on 37th avenue. There ABSOLUTELY needs to be an answer to the lunatics that drive on 37th Ave. The double or triple parking doesn’t help, either. Enforce something and make a change. RIP to the poor woman. She died for absolutely no reason (not even approaching the lack of license issue in this post)

PM

Police ignore traffic violations in this are (except for parking violations – where the city can make money). A disgrace. this woman should get at least manslaughter.

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JHeights my whole life

How does someone with no license get to drive in from long island regularly? Like this lady lost her life by someone who had no business driving in the first place. Why is it that once people become drivers they are too good to take a train, bus, or cab? This driver was driving in with a suspended license all the way from Great Neck and I would bet she illegally drove everyday. She was willing to chance going to jail and never drive again just to run her daily errands and because of that selfishness someone is dead. No Happy New Year for the victim. Rest in Peace to the victim and my condolences to her people.

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Ellen

a serious punishment is a must. Clearly the driver doesn’t think rules apply to her and showed a disregard to the public. She is a threat to society.

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Ryan D.

I was the person who performed CPR on the lady. I got her pulse back 3 times until the ambulance arrived. I just learned that she has passed and it makes me very sad. Prayers to her and her family. Everyone please be careful while crossing the street. Life is precious.

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Melissa P.

Thank you, Ryan. We appreciate your efforts immensely. We are devastated losing her. She was only 57. We had just seen her for the holidays. It’s unreal. Love, Her sister.

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Hope

Melissa, my condolences to you and your family. May God provide you and your family the strength you guys will need to get through this, and may she rest in peace.

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Hope

I know it must have been very hard for you to learn that she passed. I live in the area and it was devistating for me to hear and see such tragic news. You tried to save her life. Thank you. Its good to know that there are people out there who help.

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The Truth.

The 115pct needs to be more proactive, they need to look for these speeders & careless drivers . Roosevelt Ave to N.blvd to much road rage. Especially during school hours, rush hour.
And the street racers .

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Tic-Tac

The article says that Queens traffic fatalities has gone up . Knowing this the NYPD should look for these aggressive drivers and reckless motorists. NYPD should make more traffic stops and check the drivers for valid licenses , etc.

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Sean

He was an unlicensed driver. When they find that out, they should upgrade it to Murder One. Minimum 20 years in jail would be appropriate. He could have killed children in the area, as the charter school is there as well.

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