On May 24, Roxana Sorina Buta was walking to the train from her job in the West Village, crossing east on Broadway, on the south side of 14th Street, with the light, when the dump truck turned the corner, ran her over, and killed her. The truck never slowed down, witnesses reported, even though people at the scene chased it for blocks, yelling and waving. The driver later claimed he didn’t see Roxi, or the numerous people trying to get his attention. And, because of NYC’s hit-and-run loophole, the driver of the truck—a city employee—has never been arrested, and probably never will be.
New York State law says that drivers who leave the scene of an accident may be charged with a felony. But in NYC, if the driver claims not to have seen the victim, and without explicit contradictory eyewitness testimony to compel an understaffed Accident Investigations Unit, they almost always get off with a misdemeanor—or no charge at all. Even if they kill someone. Like Roxi.
I never got the chance to know Roxi well. We met working at Bar 6. I was struck, and a little intimidated, by how beautiful she was—how she stared at me, big brown eyes unblinking, cigarette perched between her delicate fingers, as she tried to dump her brunch shifts on me. She could present herself so seriously, then burst into a fit of giggles that revealed how young she really was. I used to tease her, singing, “The name on everybody’s lips is gonna be…,” to which we’d both laugh out, “Roxi!!” She was studying to be an actress. She might have made it too, if she’d lived past 21.
In the confusing weeks following Roxi’s death, the NYPD said it did not have footage of the accident, even though it happened in Union Square, where cameras are ubiquitous. We also heard that the truck belonged to a private sanitation company, and was not city property, which would prove untrue. When footage did turn up, we were certain they would arrest the person who’d killed her. None of us believed Roxi’s name would join the list of recent hit-and-run victims denied justice, from Michelle Matson, who barely survived being struck by a speeding car in Greenpoint, to Mathieu Lefevre, who died after being dragged by a truck in Williamsburg, an accident scene of which the police initially denied having photos. None of us knew that, as Gothamist has reported, of the 241 pedestrians or cyclists killed in car accidents in NYC in 2011, only 17 of the drivers responsible faced criminal charges.
That’s why Roxi’s friends and family have started a petition at Change.org, calling for the city to amend its laws so that all hit-and-run drivers that kill someone are charged with manslaughter. One of the memorial posters for Roxi said that if a driver is able to hit someone head-on and not notice, “then driving one of these trucks is no different than shooting a loaded gun with your eyes closed.” Help us tell Bloomberg, and the NYPD, and the city’s DAs, that our eyes are open. And they’re looking for justice.
Sign the petition here.