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.
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.