Nine years ago in Manhattan, fashion stylist Laurence Renard, 35, had a green light to cross First Avenue at 90th Street. It was 6 o’clock, and the sun had already set on a January day. As she crossed, a dump truck turning left to go north on the avenue hit her and dragged her down the street, ultimately severing her body in two and killing her. She was a block away from her home.
The dump truck was hauling excavated material from the Second Avenue Subway Project, the $17 billion construction of a new subway line.
Lawyers with New York firm Kreindler & Kreindler LLP filed a lawsuit last week on behalf of Renard’s husband, Brice Mastroluca, claiming negligence and recklessness. The main issue is why the dump truck was in the residential area and not on the city’s designated trucking routes.
The suit says that before the fatal accident, the defendants in the case were aware that dump trucks hauling debris from the work site were driving on routes other than designated thoroughfares.
Placing the Blame
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) and the City of New York both place responsibility on the contractors, who were named in the lawsuit, says Daniel O. Rose, who’s handling the case, along with two other partners. “I don’t know what the contractors are going to do. If they bring the MTA and the city into it, that would change things.”
The lawsuit names the contractors: S3 Tunnel Construction, Inc., Skanska USA Inc., Schiavone Construction Co. LLC, J. F. Shea Construction, Inc., Mendez Trucking Inc., Munoz Trucking Corp., and Rebco Contracting Corp., as well as the driver himself.
Diego Tapia-Ulloa, 24, was driving the truck. He had been arrested for driving with a suspended license and failing to yield the right-of-way to a pedestrian in a crosswalk. He eventually paid a $500 fine for the accident when it was discovered that his license suspension was due to a paperwork mix-up.
After the accident, he’d stopped the truck and called 911, identifying himself as the driver. He has since expressed remorse for the accident.
It might be hard for country folks to imagine anywhere in Manhattan being designated as “residential,” but the upper East side consists of blocks of narrow streets lined by brownstones and apartment high-rises. To keep these neighborhoods quiet, the city has designated certain streets as thru-ways. Heavy construction trucks were supposed to take 86th street to get across town.
So the legal blame game begins. Was Tapia-Ulloa following unofficial protocol when he drove his truck down a residential one-way street that was off the designated truck routes?
“The question we looked for in our investigation was, where did the truck come from? It was clear it was from the Second Avenue Subway Project. The next question was why a 21,000-pound dump truck was barreling down First Avenue and a residential street. We learned there were instances of these dump trucks using residential streets even though they were told by the city and the MTA not to do it,” Rose says. “The question was, what was the motive for that? I think if you look at it just with common sense, why would you cut corners like that? The reason was to save time, and it does translate into money.”
“The issue is, the public was in danger, and ultimately Ms. Renard was killed because the contractors elevated their own interests above public safety,” he adds.
Is It Better to Have Loved and Lost?
Renard’s husband wants justice since he can’t have his wife back. “We’re seeking fair and reasonable compensation for Brice, but it’s a tragic loss of his wife,” Rose says. “They were a young, very much in love couple who were planning to have children. That’s the human part of it. It’s a human tragedy and a public safety issue.”
The attorney adds that “you don’t put a damage claim in the suit in New York, and we don’t have a particular amount in mind.”
Renard was hitting the pinnacle of her career when she was killed, getting hired by magazines and designers to style photoshoots and fashion shows. She’d worked with Victoria’s Secret and Abercrombie & Fitch, landing gigs with some of the fashion world’s respected photographers.
No matter what the lawsuit‘s outcome, it will never bring Renard back to life, or restore Tapia-Ulloa’s to normalcy. But the legal system can serve justice to those responsible for the tragedy.
“On a certain level it’s a very clear-cut case because we have a pedestrian who was crossing the street in New York City and a second later gruesomely, literally severed by a truck that ran her over,” Rose says. At least to some extent, he’s confident that some justice will be served.
By: Ada Kulesza
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