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Family of Woman Killed by Truck in Union Square Sues City for $30 Million

By Andrea Swalec | October 22, 2012 11:19am

MANHATTAN — The mother of a 21-year-old actress who was struck and killed by a garbage truck in a Union Square hit-and-run this spring has sued the city in the fatal crash for $30 million — claiming that poor roadway conditions and the design of the vehicle contributed to the young woman's death.

In a lawsuit filed Friday in New York State Supreme Court, Roxana Sorina Buta's mother, Cristina Oprea, charges the city, the Department of Transportation, the Department of Design and Construction, an unnamed driver and the truck manufacturer with negligence she claims caused the deadly May 24 crash.

It also claims the unidentified driver — who has not been charged in the incident — must have known he or she struck Buta due to the force of the impact. 

"Upon information and belief, the driver fled the scene and is free to continue driving New York City dump trucks recklessly, while Roxana is dead and her mother, Ms. Oprea, is simply devastated and suffers extreme emotional distress from the loss of her only child," the lawsuit states.

In addition to accusing the driver of being "careless and reckless," the suit blames the city for creating poor traffic and road conditions at the high-volume intersection.

Buta, who friends described as talented and lighthearted at a June vigil, was struck by a dump truck shortly after 1 a.m. on Thursday, May 24 as she crossed Broadway, south of 14th Street, heading from her Greenwich Village waitressing job to her East Harlem apartment.

According to the lawsuit, Buta had been crossing Broadway eastbound, with the walk signal, when she was struck.

The suit charges the city, DOT and DDC with improperly designing and maintaining the roadway, and with failing to control traffic or warn drivers to watch for pedestrians.

A flaw in the pavement may have contributed to the crash, the suit states. In the spot where Buta was struck, there is a dip in the asphalt that causes pedestrians to step off the sidewalk "into a lower stance and out of the view of drivers," according to the suit.

Additionally, the lawsuit claims that the driver must have known he had hit someone, "because the force of the impact would have obviously alerted him to this fact."

The driver was not charged in the crash and there is no criminality suspected, police said.

The District Attorney's office rejected multiple requests by Oprea and her lawyer, Joe Tacopina, to identify and prosecute the driver, according to the suit.

The DA's office did not immediately respond to an inquiry.

Transportation advocates have called the incident part of a larger trend of drivers involved in fatal pedestrian crashes not being held accountable for their actions.

The suit also accuses the truck manufacturer, Mack Trucks, Inc., of recklessly selling a product with large blind spots.

"Defendants were negligent, careless and reckless in the driving, ownership, operation, management, maintenance, supervision, use and control of and manufacturing of the Mack Truck," the suit says.

A spokeswoman for the city's Law Department said the office had not yet seen the suit.

"We recognize that this case involves tragic circumstances," the spokeswoman said. "We will review the legal papers when we receive them."