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New York’s first automobile fatality

On May 3rd, 85-year-old Olimpia Davidovici was struck at West End Avenue and 70th Street by a Jeep traveling north on West End Avenue. She was rushed to the closest hospital, where she died. People living in the area complained that the area was always dangerous for pedestrians, with cars turning south onto West End often speeding to beat the traffic light.

Pedestrian fatalities have been an unfortunate occurrence in New York’s busy streets since September 13, 1899, when the first death due to an automobile in the U.S. took place at Central Park West and West 74th Street. The motor vehicle was a new concept – that year only 2,500 cars had been manufactured- and one that made many people uneasy. When word of the accident spread, it made headlines throughout the country. One Illinois newspaper even proclaimed, “The automobile has tasted blood.”

That evening, 69-year-old real estate broker Henry Hale Bliss stepped off a trolley en route to his home on West 75th Street. He was helping a woman step down when one of the city’s few motor vehicle cabs ran into him, knocking him to the ground and crushing his chest and skull, Mr. Bliss lingered for several hours before dying from his injuries the next day.

Police arrested the taxi driver, Arthur Smith, who was charged with manslaughter. Mr. Smith was later acquitted when the court determined that his actions had been neither malicious nor neglectful. He explained that a large truck had been blocking the right side of the street, forcing him to drive too close to the trolley car.

In 1999 a safe-streets group called Citystreets had a plaque erected near the corner where Henry Bliss died. It was a presented as both a memorial on the 100th anniversary of Bliss’s death and a reminder of the need for safety on city streets and state highways. The plaque unveiling was attended by three of Bliss’s great-granddaughters, who laid pink and red roses on the fatal spot.

Bliss was the first pedestrian to be fatally struck by an automobile in New York, but he certainly wasn’t the last. Last year 101 pedestrians were killed in collisions. Although this is the lowest number since the city started recording such fatalities in 1910, more work needs to be done to make the streets safer.

As the weather gets warmer, more people are going to be strolling through the streets, enjoying fresh summer air and long daylight hours. Consequently, the risk of a fatal pedestrian accident will increase. If you are injured by a careless or impaired driver, a New York personal injury attorney can hold that party accountable and make sure that you get justice. Jayson Lutzky is a Bronx, New York accident lawyer. If you were injured in a motor vehicle accident, call 718-329-9500 to set up a free in-person consultation with Mr. Lutzky. In the event of serious injuries, home and hospital visits are available.

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