Hit Beacon woman in crosswalk last year
A Beacon woman will be sentenced next month after a City Court judge ruled that she had not exercised “due care” when she turned off Main Street last year and hit a pedestrian, who later died.
Jacqueline Milohnic, 60, was driving a 2019 Jeep Wrangler on Dec. 1 when she struck Carla Giuffrida, 75, of Beacon, in a crosswalk at Main and Teller Avenue. After stopping at a red light while heading west, Milohnic turned left onto Teller, hitting Giuffrida in the center of the crosswalk.
Milohnic’s lawyer, Natasha Turner, on Thursday (Sept. 22) called Judge Greg Johnston’s decision “a legal injustice” and said that Milohnic planned to file an appeal after sentencing.
According to police reports, Giuffrida suffered a head injury but was conscious and breathing while being treated by first responders. She was taken to Montefiore St. Luke’s Cornwall Hospital in Newburgh and later transferred to Westchester Medical Center in Valhalla, where she was pronounced dead about five hours after the 3:11 p.m. accident.
Milohnic, who told police that Giuffrida had not been visible because of a blind spot caused by the front left pillar of the Jeep’s frame and sun glare, was ticketed for failing to yield to a pedestrian. Officer Michael Connor, who responded to a 911 call, conducted a field sobriety test and determined she was not intoxicated.
Milohnic contested the ticket in City Court in July. Johnston dismissed the failure-to-yield charge, saying it would have only applied if traffic control signals were not in place at the intersection or not working correctly. But he found her guilty of a lesser offense, failing to exercise due care to avoid colliding with a pedestrian. Prosecutors asked the judge to consider the lesser offense, which carries with it a fine of up to $500 and/or up to 15 days in jail.
Milohnic is due back in City Court on Oct. 17 for sentencing, although her attorney said that date may be rescheduled for later in the month.
During the trial, according to court documents, Detective Brian Lawrence testified that the “Don’t Walk” sign was illuminated when Giuffrida entered the crosswalk. However, under state law, pedestrians in New York have the right of way in any crosswalk and at intersections, even if a driver has a green light.
Two witnesses testified that Giuffrida was looking at her cellphone while walking. One of them, according to Johnston’s decision, said “it appeared to him that [Giuffrida] was not paying attention as she crossed the street.”
In a police interview the day after the accident, a third witness told investigators that Milohnic had both hands on the steering wheel and appeared to be “paying attention to traffic” as she turned.
Connor acknowledged in his testimony that glare could have been a contributing factor, because the sun was setting in front of the Jeep, Johnston wrote in notes attached to his decision.
Turner called the conviction “entirely inconsistent with the evidence at trial,” because “the court found her guilty of an entirely different ticket that was never presented at trial.”
Richard Bonfiglio, an attorney representing Giuffrida’s two adult children, said Tuesday that the family will decide in the next 30 days whether to proceed with a lawsuit against the city.
The family filed a notice of claim in Dutchess County Supreme Court in March alleging that Giuffrida was killed “due to the defective design and maintenance” of the pedestrian signal at Main and Teller, “which rendered the intersection dangerous and unsafe.” The notice did not indicate how the control signal was defective, but said that Giuffrida had a “Walk” signal and the right of way when she was hit.
Bonfiglio said he had not examined the evidence presented during Milohnic’s trial but noted that the family “believes there was potentially a defect in the traffic signal, either in terms of maintenance or design.” During Milohnic’s trial, two police officers and a witness testified that the traffic lights and pedestrian signals at the intersection were working properly.
The family’s notice indicated that unless the family receives “adjustment and payment,” it plans to sue “for conscious pain and suffering”; medical, hospital and funeral expenses; emotional trauma; and “loss of love, comfort and companionship.”
In a statement in May, after the notice of claim was filed, City Administrator Chris White said: “The city denies any liability for this unfortunate tragedy and expects any claim will be defended by its insurance carrier. Should there be a payment to the plaintiff by way of settlement or a judgment, the need for City Council approval is governed by the insurance contract.”