Northern Brooklyn

Driver Dorothy Bruns in fatal Park Slope crash will be charged for death of two kids

Activists cheer rare case against a motorist who killed

May 3, 2018 By Mary Frost Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Driver Dorothy Bruns, who cops say killed two children on Ninth Street on March 5, was charged Thursday in Brooklyn Supreme Court. Photo by Mary Frost

The disabled driver who fatally ran down two kids in Park Slope in March is now facing up to 15 years in jail for disregarding her doctor’s orders to not drive given her heart condition and multiple sclerosis, authorities said Thursday.

Dorothy Bruns, 44, looked feeble and moved slowly as she faced a Brooklyn judge after a grand jury indicted her on 10 counts, including manslaughter and criminal negligent homicide in the March 5 deaths of Joshua Lew, 1, and Abigail Blumenstein, 4. The children were killed after Bruns had a seizure and drove her Volvo through a red light — a crime rather than an accident, prosecutors said, because Bruns ignored her doctor.

“This tragic incident could have been foreseen and avoided,” Assistant DA Craig Esswein told Justice Danny Chun. “But she didn’t listen — and two people died.”

Three others were injured, including the children’s mothers.

The charges against Bruns were hailed by street safety advocates, who have long complained that drivers are rarely punished when pedestrians and cyclists are killed and do not even lose their licenses despite multiple driving infractions.

Bruns, for example, had 12 violations on her record — including speeding in school zones — but all were the result of infractions allegedly caught on cameras, so her license was never revoked.

“This is a commendable first step towards justice,” said Paul Steely White, head of Transportation Alternatives. “If the District Attorney follows through, then other drivers will get the message that reckless driving will not go unpunished.”

Brooklyn DA Eric Gonzalez signified that he would prosecute the case, which he said was different from the thousands of other pedestrian and cyclist deaths over the years.

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“This was not an accident — this is a crime,” he said. The deaths he added, were “solely due to her selfish desire to drive.”

“Her alleged insistence on driving despite doctor’s orders and serious medical conditions that prevented her from safely doing so was … unlawful,” Gonzalez added at a press conference after Bruns’s arraignment.

Bruns’s court-appointed lawyer David Jacobs said the crash was a terrible tragedy, but said his client told him she had received permission from her neurologist to resume “normal activities,” such as delivering heavy equipment for the hard of hearing using her own car.

Gonzalez claimed that the alleged letter may have cleared Bruns to work, but not drive.

Bruns’s first court appearance in the case drew intense media coverage, with reporters tossing questions at the Staten Island woman as she entered Brooklyn Supreme Court using a walker and wearing braces on her legs. She was flanked by detectives as she passed a phalanx of photographers, but she averted her face from the cameras.

In the arraignment, Esswein indicated that his case would focus on Bruns’s health and why she should not have been behind the wheel of a 2,500-pound car.

Photo by Mary Frost
Photo by Mary Frost

Bruns had been instructed by her doctor not to drive after being hospitalized on Jan. 8 after crashing her car into a parked vehicle. On Jan. 20 she was allegedly involved in another fender bender on Staten Island, where she fled the scene, Esswein said.

She allegedly had another seizure when she was stopped at a red light on Ninth Street at Fifth Avenue around midday on March 5. The seizure led her to drive through the intersection, striking the two children, authorities said.

First responders reported seeing her foaming at the mouth and sitting stiffly, with her back arched, Esswein told the judge. She suffered a seizure in the ambulance and another one at Lutheran Hospital. Another witness saw her twitching, he said.

Jacobs asked Chun to release Bruns, a first-time offender, on her own recognizance, but she was ordered held on $75,000 bond or $25,000 cash — and had not posted bail by press time. Her next court date is June 13.

Many deaths, few charges

According to the city’s Vision Zero View crash data site, 26 pedestrians and two cyclists have been killed by motorists this year. In Brooklyn, there have been eight pedestrian deaths, including Joshua and Abigail, and one cyclist death.

Mayor Bill de Blasio met with safe streets advocates in front of his Park Slope gym and promised changes. Eagle photo by Gersh Kuntzman

Prosecutors often decline to bring charges, citing a high burden of proof in criminal cases. Gonzalez, for example, declined to charge the private garbage truck driver who struck and killed Neftali Ramirez in Greenpoint last year. His office said at the time that a case would be hard to make against the driver because he had said he did not know he had hit the cyclist.

Assemblymember Robert Carroll (D-Park Slope) told reporters that he was supporting two bills that would require doctors to report to authorities when a patient was incapable of driving a vehicle. The bills are subject to HIPA rules but should stand, he said.

Since the crash, residents of Park Slope have rallied several times for safer streets. The city has promised a complete redesign of Ninth Street between Prospect Park and Fourth Avenue, which the Department of Transportation is expected to present to Community Board 6 within weeks.

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