Marisol Martinez, 21, was crossing the street with her cousin and friend when she was struck and killed by a city bus at the corner of Union and Meeker avenues in Williamsburg on Saturday morning.
Her cousin, Jose Gonzalez, 22, said he and his friend just barely made it out of the way before the bus turned and barreled over his younger cousin, who just celebrated her birthday.
“We were going shoulder to shoulder. I was first, my friend was second and she (Martinez) was last behind us,” Gonzales recalled. “I saw her fall. The bus clipped her left leg and she ended up in the back of the bus.”
Gonzales said he was shocked and felt the bus was driving recklessly as it failed to yield the right of way to he and his cousin.
He and his friend Jonathan Acosta, visiting the family from Pennsylvania, just barely made it away from the bus, however his cousin was not so lucky.
“In my view I couldn’t see her anymore and when I went around the bus I saw her and her leg was crushed under the right, rear tire,” he said. “The last thing I heard from her was just screaming.”
Gonzalez said the bus driver refused to move the bus, which sat on top of his cousin in the middle of the intersection, until paramedics arrived.
“She got out of the bus because she saw us screaming at her,” he recalled. “She said she couldn’t do anything about it. I guess she wanted to stay on the scene or something.”
Gonzalez joined council members Antonio Reynoso and Stephen Levin and state elected officials to call for traffic-calming measures on dangerous crossings and streets throughout the neighborhood.
“We’re standing in an intersection where a comprehensive study was done after three deaths,” Reynoso said at the corner of Grand Street and Borinquen Place. “We have islands that were added and we haven’t seen a death since, and it’s an example of the little work that the Department of Transportation (DOT) has to do to make our streets safer.”
Maria Bautista’s son-in-law was one of the three killed at the intersection, and she joined the rally to show her support for the families who have also lost loved ones.
“A great young man died and it tore our family apart,” Bautista said, through the translation of Reynoso. “Even though I am grateful of the work by the DOT to this point, it is not enough.”
After her son-in-law's death, Bautista fought for the safety measures along the street and gathered nearly 1,000 signatures before she saw action on the intersection.
Of the nearly 3,800 reports of injuries citywide in 2013, Williamsburg had the most, according to Reynoso.
“It’s time that we call on Mayor Bill de Blasio to make this area, Williamsburg and North Brooklyn, ground zero for Vision Zero,” he said.
While Reynoso announced that he would begin pushing for the implementation of leading pedestrian intervals (LPI) – traffic signals that place emphasis on pedestrian safety – he would join other elected officials in meeting with the community to hold Vision Zero-focused safety forums.
Also at the rally was Ken Bandes, a member of the newly formed Families for Safe Streets organization.
Banes’ daughter was killed on a Williamsburg street when a city bus also struck her. The driver was reportedly looking in the rear view mirror to avoid a parked taxi.
“The taxi was not harmed; Ella died four days later,” Bandes said of his daughter, who was enrolling in a Ph.D. class at Columbia University around the time of her death. “Ella had great promise, a zest for life and she was a great humanitarian.”
Banes and the dozens of other families at the press conference on Sunday met with the council Transportation Committee to discuss traffic safety last week, all of whom say more should be done to provide a safer city.
Levin applauded the de Blasio administration for prioritizing traffic safety with the Vision Zero initiative, however he called on the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) to take additional steps.
“We call on the MTA to install S1-Gards [a safety shield placed over rear bus wheels] on all their buses, a technology that is proven and that is implemented in other big cities like Los Angeles and Chicago,” Levin said.
Assemblyman Joseph Lentol said he has already written a letter calling for traffic-calming measures, but has yet to hear a response from the de Blasio Administration.
“I’m a little disappointed in the present administration so far, and I only say that because I have asked and written a letter to the new commissioner asking for some of the measures,” Lentol said. “It takes leadership and you can’t have the old answers. They don’t work anymore on the new streets of Williamsburg.
Lentol said while he has already pushed for safety cameras and speed bumps in school areas, he hopes the new Vision Zero plan will finally bring action.
“You have more pedestrians, bicycles, more cars and more trucks in this neighborhood than ever before,” he said. “I’m not going to be satisfied to implement the kind of things the mayor wants to get implemented in Albany unless he sits down with us and understands the plight that we have in Williamsburg and Greenpoint.”