QUEENS — An NYPD officer and mom of two was killed when her car struck a metal railing at the base of the Queensboro Bridge near a "death trap" accident zone early Tuesday, catapulting the vehicle into a storefront that was destroyed in a fatal crash two years ago, officials said.
In a tragic twist, the driver, Elisa Toro, 36, of the Bronx, was ejected from her car when she hit a barrier designed to stop out-of-control cars from hitting the stores near the ramp, according to officials.
Police say the 17th Precinct officer — a 10-year NYPD veteran — had been driving east off the bridge, near Crescent Street, when she hit the railing about 1:50 a.m., sending her car careening out of control, the NYPD said.
The car then bounced into a cement barrier and flipped onto its side, skidding along until it struck a vacant store at 25-06 Queens Plaza South — the same shop that was destroyed in a crash two years ago, the NYPD said.
The officer — who had two sons — was thrown from the car and pronounced dead at the scene, Kelly said.
"It's a tragedy for our department," Kelly said. "An off-duty police officer driving on the Queensboro Bridge got off the bridge and struck cement barriers that were put up because there had been previous accidents with cars going up on the sidewalk."
It was not immediately clear what sparked the crash or where the officer was going.
The location was the scene of a series of serious accidents in 2011 and 2012 resulting from motorists having trouble negotiating a sharp turn in an off-ramp from the bridge.
The crashes, which left two dead, spurred legislators to push for improved safety measures in the spot and businesses to file a $1 million lawsuit, which is still pending, seeking damages after the cars careened into their storefronts on two occasions. The area has long been referred to as a "death trap" by politicians and residents.
"They've got to do something — three people died there," said a man who works near the site who declined to give his name.
Others who work in the area said problems started at the location shortly before the two fatal accidents in 2011, when the city made design changes on Queens Plaza South which included removing a lane of traffic, which residents say created a sharper turn for drivers coming off the bridge.
Currently, a median with plants and trees is where the extra lane used to be, according to Ron Shapiro, who works at a check chasing place next door to the crash site.
"Honestly, it’s a poor design," he said.
But the Department of Transportation said that Queens Plaza South project area was many yards away from the guardrail that was the initial point of impact in Tuesday's accident.
The DOT also said it added a number of safety features to the bridge's off-ramp as of 2011, including speed limit signs, road markings and 150 yellow and white roadway reflectors.
The DOT also added four sets of rumble strips to warn drivers they're approaching a reduced speed zone, as well as an electronic sign that uses radar technology to display the speed of passing motorists.
But some say the changes weren't sufficient, and state Sen. Michael Gianaris released a statement Tuesday renewing his calls for the DOT to undertake a "complete redesign," of the bridge off-ramp.
"The city has known that this area is in dire need of traffic safety improvements for years, and the DOT has simply not done enough," he said.
Scott Agulnick, a lawyer for two of the business owners whose stores — a restaurant and a beauty salon — were damaged by previous accidents at the site, said major changes are needed there.
"Design at that intersection really never allowed for any type of human error," he said. "Essentially, you have multiple avenues of traffic all converging on one small area — when something goes wrong and someone has to react, the reaction results in a disaster."
Both of the storefronts were undergoing renovation at the time of the crash.