By Daniel Krieger
It was a warm July afternoon, sunny with a blue sky, and Pamela Greitzer-Manasse was walking on the Upper West Side with her husband, Jon Manasse, and a friend, Chris Pell. They were in front of David Geffen Hall at Lincoln Center, on their way to lunch, discussing the options. All three are musicians, and they were coming from a dress rehearsal of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue with the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra at Damrosch Park. It was a Tuesday, around 12:30 pm. The light signaled to walk, and as they were crossing the street, just a few steps from a small triangular median on 65th Street, at the point where Columbus and Broadway intersect, an electric moped that was cutting across the median collided head-on with Greitzer-Manasse, throwing her into the air.
The driver, identified in the police report as Maurie Morris, 37, of the Bronx, kept going, though slowed down by the impact. To stop him from fleeing, Manasse jumped on his back and held him in a headlock. Another moped driver took the keys from Morris’ moped. A bulldozer operator drove into the middle of the street to block the oncoming traffic where Greitzer-Manasse lay unconscious. Then Manasse went to tend to his wife, who, having landed on her head, was catastrophically injured, while Pell stood between the other moped driver and Morris, who demanded his keys and was cursing at him and threatening to fight him.
The police arrived and then an ambulance. Manasse got into the ambulance with his wife, and then fainted. Meanwhile, the police spoke to Pell and Morris. Morris said: “He was avoiding traffic on Columbus so he went on the sidewalk to avoid it,” according to the police accident report. Pell said he didn’t see traffic on Columbus at the time of Morris’ illegal maneuver.
“I saw him coming, and I thought he was going to stop,” Pell said in a recent phone interview. “But he just continued and didn’t make any effort to not collide with her. There was no humanity, and that was shocking to me.” (Morris told police that he didn’t see Greitzer-Manasse.) And then after the collision, Pell recounted, Morris “never tried to communicate with the Manasees in any way.”
Pell saw Morris gather his belongings from his moped, which the police seized, and they let him go. Then Morris walked over to Le Pain Quotidien on 65th Street. Pell, a 31-year-old clarinetist who studied under Manasse at Juilliard, said he remembers a time not long ago when these vehicles were not part of the cityscape as they are today. “But with the e-bikes and e-scooters these days,” he said, “it’s like the Wild West.”
Whether e-scooters, e-bikes, hoverboards, or electric mopeds like Lime and Revel and the one driven by Morris, what these electric-powered mobility devices all have in common is they can go fast enough to seriously injure or kill pedestrians, not to mention the drivers. And when COVID hit a few years ago and people wanted safer transportation options, they exploded in popularity.
Battery-powered, green, quiet, fast, lightweight, compact, relatively cheap, and good for getting around the city, e-mobility vehicles seem like the ideal solution to urban transport problems, especially in New York where the subways can be unreliable and buses are slow. But these vehicles are dangerous, so much so that a quick Google search turns up a raft of personal injury lawyers seeking to represent those hurt by them.
That’s because the culture of these vehicles is such that most drivers don’t observe traffic laws, such as stopping at red lights, yielding to pedestrians, not driving on the sidewalk, going with the flow of traffic, and not driving recklessly. And as with cars, after an e-mobility vehicle collision that injures or kills a pedestrian, the police tend to shy away from holding drivers accountable due to the way the law is structured, unless they flee the scene or are intoxicated.
When the actress Lisa Banes was killed last year by an e-scooter on West 64th Street, the driver was later arrested because he fled the scene. So it appears that killing her due to recklessness, going through a red light, and failure to yield was not the crime, but fleeing the killing was. If that driver had remained, he very well may have been sent on his way like Morris with a traffic ticket. And though the Banes incident led a few local lawmakers to howl that the laws need to be changed to account for the rise of e-mobility vehicles and the threat they pose to the public, nothing came of it.
The number of injuries and deaths of pedestrians and drivers caused by e-mobility devices has been rising over the last few years as their use has surged. ABC reported that in the first seven months of 2022, 680 people were injured in e-scooter accidents in New York City, up from 588 during the same period in 2021, according to authorities. And hundreds of the injured were pedestrians, according to CrashMapper.org. But more comprehensive data that includes injuries and deaths from all types of e-mobility vehicles seem not to be tallied or readily available.
On the Upper West Side, there have been a number of injuries and deaths over the past few years, such as Hing Chung, an elderly man killed by an e-bike on Amsterdam Avenue in April 2021; Helga Schnitker, an 82-year-old woman killed by a Revel in September 2020 near Columbus Circle; and in an ABC Eyewitness News report in June, 2021, headlined “E-scooter crashes on the rise in NYC, with bystanders the ones getting injured,” Dr. Ian Tang spoke of being knocked out when an e-scooter hit him in Riverside Park, where a sign says they are prohibited yet it’s a common sight to see them. “I feel violated,” he was quoted saying. “It hurts to take a deep breath, but luckily I didn’t die.” This month, the NYPD reported that Neiser Herrera, 37, died from a head injury he got while driving an e-scooter on West 110th Street.
Since these vehicles do not need to be registered, licensed, or insured — with the exception of mopeds — the city can’t regulate them like cars and can’t catch them with speed and red-light cameras. (In the photo of Morris’ electric moped, it seems to not have a license plate.) For as long as they proliferate unchecked, there will be more tragedies like those of Lisa Banes, Helga Schnitker and Pamela Greitzer-Manasse.
On a recent rainy Sunday afternoon, sitting in their kitchen nearly two months later, Greitzer-Manasse and her husband, Jon Manasse, talked about that dark July day when their lives got turned upside down, and its aftermath. On the wall behind them hung a Leonard Bernstein Festival poster; one of their three kids was playing piano in an adjacent room; their beagle mix, Babka, was fast asleep in her bed.
Greitzer-Manasse, 60, and Manasse, 57, met at Juilliard pre-college as teenagers. They both attended Juilliard — Greitzer-Manasse plays the cello and Manasse the clarinet — and they have lived on the Upper West Side since 1982. They are busy, in-demand, top-tier musicians with successful careers, playing at a variety of venues, and they teach as well.
The blow to Greitzer-Manasse’s head caused a traumatic brain injury and a brain bleed, like what happens with a stroke, and the right side of her body remains somewhat paralyzed. Her memory of that day has been wiped clean. Afterward, she spent three weeks in the hospital, and now she walks with a cane and needs a brace to stabilize her right foot. She has two sessions a week of occupational therapy and two of physical therapy. “Every day I improve a little bit,” she said. “I’m a lot better than a month ago. I could not open this hand and now I can. But my right side is severely diminished, and I’ve lost my livelihood. I cannot play cello.”
Manasse went to talk to the police and asked why they let Morris go. “They said they can’t do anything more,” he said. So he hired a lawyer to bring a civil suit, but the lawyer was unable to serve Morris papers because the address he had given the police was incorrect. When Manasse asked the police for help in locating Morris, they declined, but did provide him with Morris’ phone number, with the warning to be careful because Morris has an arrest record. Manasse remains in stunned disbelief over how all of this has played out.
“Here we are, taxpayers, longtime Upper West Siders, civic-minded people, doing what we’re supposed to do — walking in the crosswalk with the light — and you just don’t feel safe,” Manasse said. “There need to be laws in place. You would think it’s a crime to hit a pedestrian when you ride up on the sidewalk, or in the crosswalk, and nearly kill them and give them a traumatic brain injury and paralyze them. Any normal thinking person would say, ‘hey, that’s a violation of someone’s rights. It should be prosecutable.’”
An NYPD spokesperson responded to an email asking why criminal charges couldn’t be brought by recapping what took place, and writing: “A summons for failure to yield to a pedestrian was issued to the male who remained on the scene.”
The personal injury lawyer Manasee hired, Robert Stein, who is not representing them since there is no civil case, said in a phone interview: “Anybody who lives in New York knows that these electric bikes and mopeds and scooters are dangerous and people who operate them should abide by the traffic laws that we have, but oftentimes they don’t and they get away with it.” And as far as Pamela Greitzer-Manasse’s case, he said that Morris “got off fairly lightly getting a ticket for failure to yield when he actually rode his electric vehicle onto a sidewalk,” adding that the extent of her injuries should be factored into the case as well as the fact that she did not contribute to what happened.
Even before the July 19th incident, the couple said, they were aware of the menace of e-mobility vehicles and took great care to avoid them. “We had had near misses before this,” Manasse said. “You have to look both ways all the time, you have to make sure that even though you have the light, they aren’t going to go through a red light or go the wrong way or go on the sidewalk.”
“This is lawlessness,” Greitzer-Manasse added, “and if there are laws in place, nobody cares about them.”
As for Morris, Manasse recalled, “He had no contrition or interest in finding out about her condition. He just wanted to leave.”
WSR called Morris at the number provided by the police and spoke to his mother, who said she knew nothing of the incident. He did not respond to an interview request.
Now Pamela Greitzer-Manasse is trying to get her life back, but there is no clear prognosis and she doesn’t know if she will ever play cello again. However, the couple maintains optimism with the hope that she will recover, eventually.
And amid the horror of that fateful instant when everything changed, Manasse is able to see two tiny bright spots — the good Samaritans who immediately sprang into action. “There were a lot of people who cared,” he said. “And also, we’re filled with gratitude that it wasn’t worse.”
Now they’re left sifting through the pieces of that day and its aftermath, trying to make sense of something that has no rhyme or reason. But they also have a newfound sense of purpose.
“Our goal now is to do something for our community to make it safer,” Manasse said. “This is the primary reason why we’re talking about it. This is not just our plight. This can be anyone’s plight. It can happen to anyone at any time.”