Photo by Adi Talwar
This story ran on August 6, 2019 in City Limits
Here’s an excerpt:
It was an illegal parking lot. Fabiola Mendieta-Cuapio thinks about this a lot — the laundromat on the corner of Wyckoff Avenue and Hart Street and the parking spaces that hung off of it, spilling into the sidewalk.
Because maybe if someone would have noticed or cared that the towering, blue Clean City Laundry Center was missing proper permits, 4-year-old Luz Gonzalez would still be alive.
Instead, in June of last summer, JeanetteMaria pulled her black Nissan SUV out of one of those parking spaces, and rammed head-on into Luz and her mother, who was hunched over, tying her daughter’s shoelaces on the sidewalk.
The girl was crushed under the weight of Maria’s front and back tires. Maria drove away.
Police followed Maria after the crash and pulled her over a block away. But then they let her go. A police department spokesman later told the Brooklyn Paper that they would not arrest Maria because of a lack of evidence and probable cause. Another police spokeswoman told the paper that Maria couldn’t see the mother and child as she was pulling out of the parking lot,and claimed she didn’t know she had hit someone.
For weeks after Luz’s death, Mendieta-Cuapio led daily rallies calling on the mayor and borough leadership to bring Maria to justice. She said she was close with Luz’s mother, Reyna Candia, and Luz called her “tia.”
A summer later, Mayor de Blasio never fully addressed the incident, Maria was never prosecuted, and Bushwick’s streets and sidewalks remain dangerous.
In the last two and a half years, the neighborhood has seen an uptick of injuries to pedestrians and cyclists. An upcoming rezoning that could bring an additional 18,000 people to the neighborhood has some worried that more residents will clog up the roads in cars and bikes, contributing to more crashes like Maria’s.
Luz’s death, one of three cyclist and pedestrian deaths in Bushwick since 2017, was met with city-wide media coverage. It started a community call for safety in a neighborhood still lacking in biking and walking infrastructure, or a political leadership willing to fight for such changes, Mendieta-Cuapio said.
“We got the parking lot,” she says. “More importantly, the community got out of the house and said here we are. Politically, Bushwick changed so much in 2018.”
The laundromat did paint over the parking spots as directed by a Department of Buildings ruling. Owners of the laundromat were out of town and unavailable for comment.