In a surprise, Beekman St. hit & run driver arrested

By DUSICA SUE MALESEVIC | (Posted May 21, 2015 and updated May 22) Tiffany Murdaugh has been arrested and charged with three counts — including assault in the second degree, a felony — for an incident on Beekman St. that seriously injured a woman last month.

Murdaugh, 34 and a New Jersey resident, was arraigned Wednesday on charges in criminal court at 100 Centre St., which include reckless endangerment in the first degree and leaving the scene of an accident without reporting, according to the Manhattan D.A. Cyrus Vance’s office.

Heather Hensl, a 37-year-old mother of two young girls, was walking to work when she struck by a car near Spruce Street School causing serious injuries — and says she won’t be able to walk on her own for a few more weeks. Hensl’s account of the crash was first posted to Downtown Express May 13.

Heather Hensl with one of her daughters on Mother's Day. a month after a hit and run driver rammed into her.
Heather Hensl with one of her daughters on Mother’s Day. a month after a hit and run driver rammed into her.

The charges came as a surprise as it seemed that the police did not have enough evidence to move the case forward. They had identified the car, but had no witnesses to identify the driver. At one point, Hensl feared that the case would be dropped.

The charge of assault in the second degree, a more serious charge that is punishable by up to seven years in prison, was added to what the First Precinct said it initially would file for, which included reckless endangerment and leaving the scene of an accident.

According to the complaint, on Tuesday evening at the First Precinct, Murdaugh was shown video of the incident and identified the 2013 white Dodge Challenger in it as her vehicle. She also told police that “she had taken the Holland Tunnel into Manhattan that morning and that no one else had driven her vehicle that day,” according to the complaint. She was arrested Tuesday.

“I’m very relieved,” said Hensl in a phone interview Wednesday. “I’m glad that she is in jail right now and not on the street.”

Hensl said the assistant district attorney who called her felt confident in the case and she will testify before the grand jury.

Murdaugh made bail Thursday. She appeared in court on Friday and her case was pushed back to August. Her lawyer, Lamar Miller of Legal Aid, declined to comment.

Before the surprising news of the arrest broke, Hensl in an email Tuesday said, “I definitely hope to pursue civil action against this woman. There must be consequences to such actions.”

The day of the incident, April 13, was a regular one for Hensl, who has been working in Lower Manhattan since 2000. Her routine: exit the subway, go to Dunkin’ Donuts to grab a coffee and get to work. That morning, the physician assistant at NewYork-Presbyterian Lower Manhattan Hospital was on her way to see patients when she was hit on the sidewalk — just feet away from the hospital doors.

She said she was walking on the sidewalk and had gotten out her work identification when she looked at a text message. She then felt slammed into a heavy piece of metal, said Hensl, who lives in Brooklyn.

“I didn’t see her coming at me,” she said.

She felt herself being propelled and thrown onto the sidewalk onto her back.

“I immediately knew that something was wrong with my left leg,” she said.

Dazed, she thought that someone had poured water over her head, when in reality it was blood running down her face from a cut. She said that something sharp had hit her head. A jogger then came over to her and told her that she had been hit by a car.

“Did they stop?” she asked.

Someone found her phone, which had flung out of her hand, and she was taken to NewYork-Presbyterian by ambulance, circling around the block.

Hensl has suffered a large laceration (not visible from the photos she sent this newspaper) on her face and fractures in her leg — and has been unable to walk for the past month and has three more weeks to go. Her leg is in a brace and she has to use crutches. She may have to undergo surgery for her knee, but it is sure that she will have months of physical therapy.

Video of the accident viewed by Downtown Express showed the hit and run driver backing up several times to maneuver enough room to drive on the sidewalk and pass traffic.

“I never anticipated somebody getting around all that by driving on the sidewalk,” she said.

Hensl said last week that the police investigation has “moved very slowly.” It took a week and a half to run the plates, she said.

The same car was also involved in an incident in Brooklyn where an elderly woman was hit about 30 minutes after Hensl was struck on Beekman St.

The community was outraged over the incident, which has shaken Spruce Street School parents and has increased traffic enforcement nearby. Last week, commenters on had expressed disbelief over the lack of charges, like Lisa who said, “This is frightening. No charges? They have a video of this driver backing up and driving on sidewalk? The driver hit an elderly woman also?”

It is difficult to bring charges against those accused of reckless driving — even when someone is killed — because of a high legal standard and several cases don’t move forward.

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