Plus new safety measures soon to be installed
The McGuinness Boulevard hit-and-run that killed P.S. 110 school teacher Matthew Jensen in 2021 has seen a major development. At the end of February, nine months after the incident, police arrested the alleged driver who took the beloved educator’s life and left the scene.
Tariq Witherspoon, a 30-year-old EMT, was charged with criminally negligent homicide, leaving the scene of an accident, reckless endangerment, reckless driving, and speeding. He posted $15,000 bail after being arrested and according to District Attorney Eric Gonzalez’s office will be due in court on April 27. When asked if this meant Witherspoon’s driving privileges were revoked, a representative from NYS DMV’s driving privileges sector said that Witherspoon’s license was most likely suspended.
“I am grateful to the 94th precinct, specifically Detective Arango, and District Attorney Eric Gonzalez’s office for their efforts in arresting the person responsible for Matt’s death and I’m hopeful that justice will prevail,” said lifelong friend of Matthew, Lisa Summa. “I’m also extremely thankful to all the elected officials who responded to Matthew’s death by calling for improvements to McGuinness Boulevard.”
Just days after Matthew’s death, then Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that the city will put $39M toward a complete redesign of McGuinness Boulevard due to its notorious record of deaths and injuries. Local leaders like NYS Assembly Member Emily Gallagher have helped push for the change. In February, Gallagher hosted a virtual meeting for the community to provide feedback and ask questions about improvements to McGuinness.
The New York City Department of Transportation hasn’t released their redesign proposal yet. However, they have approved safety measures to take effect soon including turn calming treatment on several McGuinness intersections. Left turn safety measures are approved for: Green, Huron, India, Java, Kent, and Calyer Streets and Greenpoint, Meserole, Norman, and Nassau Avenues. Right turn safety measures will be applied to the corner of Humboldt Street and Bayard Street. The Turn Calming Program is an effort throughout the city to slow turning speeds and enforce safe turning by installing different kinds of speed bumps, slow turn wedges/boxes, and more on the streets.
In the meantime, justice is in the air now that the suspect in Jensen’s death has been not only arrested and charged, but suspended by the FDNY. “No arrest will bring Matthew Jensen back, but the driver who took his life and ran from the scene is finally off the road,” said NYC Council Member Lincoln Restler in a tweet. “Accountability matters. Hoping for healing & restorative justice for cousin John, fam, & friends of Mr. Jensen & our whole community mourning this painful loss.”
The arrest of Tariq Witherspoon brought to light several previous violations on his record. In the past seven years, it is reported he has been involved in a lawsuit for allegedly causing a crash in a rental car, rear-ending a driver while driving an ambulance, and hitting a cyclist.
To address the problem of repeat offenders of driving accidents, there is currently an active bill (S4298) in the Senate Committee sponsored by Senator Andrew J. Lanza. The aim is to update vehicle and traffic laws to ensure that New York State prosecutors are able to get dangerous drivers off the road.
“Matt was an incredibly close friend to me – he was smart, kind, funny and generous of spirit,” Lisa Summa said. “He fostered and valued community, and the outpouring of grief over this senseless and violent act is evidence of how many lives he touched.”
For community updates on the status of McGuinness Blvd. improvements, you can follow @McGuinness_Safe on Twitter and @MakeMcGuinnessSafe on Instagram. You can find a list of petitions and resources at linktr.ee/mcguinness.