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Crash

On the corner of 34th and Park, three lives changed forever.

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The scene of the accident, Park Avenue and 34th Street, June 11, 2002.  

The waking hours of June 11, 2002, promised a pleasant day. On 225th Street in the Bronx, 33-year-old Jonathan Carrington got up a little late and put on a suit. He was taking a rare day off work to contest a fine for littering, after which he and his girlfriend, Gabrielle Gilpin, would ride in his black Ford Expedition into Manhattan for lunch at the Park Avalon, on 18th and Park Avenue South.

As he knotted his tie, he must have looked the part of the promising young man sketched by his résumé, which showed steady advancement in the field of human resources, culminating with his current position as a retirement-plan administrator for a major publisher of educational textbooks based in northern New Jersey.

Despite the suit, Carrington wound up having to pay the quality-of-life fine at the Environmental Control Board, but there was no point in letting that ruin a good day. He and Gilpin drove into Manhattan, and at about 12:30 sat down at the Park Avalon to what he would later testify was a full meal, including coffee, dessert, and, by his estimate, two martinis. After lunch, he decided to pick up a couple of shirts from Runway Menswear Boutique, which he knew to be on the southbound side of Park between 28th and 29th, just a few blocks away. He drove north on Park, past the store, and made a U-turn at 34th.

For Manhattan-born David M. Blank, D.D.S., diplomat in oral and maxillofacial surgery, the day began with two cups of coffee and a 50-minute drive from Nassau County into the city. By 9 A.M., he was in his office on 34th Street between Park and Lexington, facing the usual full slate of appointments for impacted wisdom teeth, dental implants, infections, tumors, and dental pain. Lunch, if he had time for it, would be a low-fat tuna sandwich from a café around the corner. The only variation from that routine came on alternate Mondays, when he spent a full day in the operating room at Kings County Hospital Centers in Brooklyn, instructing residents in oral-surgery procedures.

A steady, careful man, Blank had been married for 22 years, with one son at Cornell, another heading to SUNY-Binghamton, and a daughter in middle school. Father’s Day weekend was coming up, and he looked forward to spending it with his family on Long Island.

By 2:30 P.M., Blank had yet to step out for a break and was starting to fade. The night before, he had attended a five-hour session at Beth Israel Medical Center to renew his certification in advanced cardiac life support—a biennial requirement of his profession owing to the use of general anesthesia during surgery. Not since his residency years earlier, during a two-month rotation through the trauma unit of Kings County Hospital, had he been forced to resort to advanced cardiac life support. He recalls one incident from that time that went as far as open-heart massage and finally proved unsuccessful.

The dentist had become the lead doctor on a street corner, directing a staff of cops and passersby. Sure that his patient was going to die, he lowered his head and cried for her.

Just before 2:45, he left his office and walked toward the Duane Reade at 34th and Park to pick up a few personal items. As he was approaching the intersection, he saw a black SUV making a U-turn.

Singer-songwriter Theresa Sareo and her longtime boyfriend, drummer Ethan Hartshorn, kept musician’s hours, working late and sleeping until mid-morning. They arrived home at their Murray Hill studio apartment in the wee hours of Tuesday, June 11, after spending Monday evening with friends in Brooklyn. Though it was late, they stayed up to put together a press kit destined for a booking agent on Fifth Avenue. They usually sent publicity materials by mail, but the booking agent’s office was so close to their apartment that one or the other might as well hand-deliver this one. Perhaps Ethan could drop off the kit on his way to take the car in for repairs early in the morning. Better yet, he suggested, shouldn’t the main attraction, Theresa, hand it over in person? Yes, that was the thing to do. When they went to bed, the press kit was ready to go.

Theresa and Ethan had been living together for five years. On weekends, they made money playing weddings. During the week, they performed covers and Theresa’s original pop-rock material at lower Manhattan venues such as the Bitter End, the Bubble Lounge, and CBGB’s gallery. Over time, Theresa had achieved a level of name recognition on the local club circuit sufficient to guarantee a turnout. By the time the Twin Towers fell, she and Ethan wielded enough influence to organize a five-band benefit concert for their local firehouse, Engine 16–Ladder 7.

Theresa was still asleep when Ethan got up at 7 A.M. to deposit the car in Brooklyn, not far from the studio where he would be giving drum lessons later that day. He didn’t plan to return to Manhattan until early evening.

She remembers nothing of that morning, the last few hours of what she now calls in song her “simple life / singing for a living, with a cozy little place in the city.” Very likely she slept until 10, had a late breakfast, and spent a couple of hours writing new material—then set off on the errand that would take her across Park at 34th.

Midway into his illegal U-turn, Carrington was hit by a southbound taxi and lost control of the Ford Expedition, which slammed into the corner where Theresa, on her way home from the booking agent’s office, stood waiting for the walk signal. A chair-high metal post, installed there to protect the fire hydrant from curb jumpers, served its primary purpose. The hydrant survived. But the post also became an anvil against which the Expedition acted as a three-and-a-half-ton hammer, striking Theresa. There before the diverse New York assembly that can be found waiting to cross the street almost anywhere in the city, her body exploded at the hip, disarticulating her entire right leg at the ball socket. Jim Cushman, Theresa’s trauma surgeon at Bellevue, would later say the wound was akin to a blast injury—“as if a grenade had gone off in her pocket,” leaving a cavity the size of a large bowl in her right side.


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