Struck in New York City

Five years ago today I was the victim of a hit-and-run, but what does that mean to me now?

Laura Leigh Abby
6 min readJul 26, 2016


Days after Jill Abramson’s 2014 article, Struck on the Street: Four Survivors was published, a friend sent it my way with a caveat, “I’m sure everyone’s already sent you this.” But no one had. I read the piece with an occasional nod as I conjured my own memories. I am a reluctant member of the club Abramson spoke of, one who has been told for years now that I am lucky and I am strong. I read her piece and realized that our experiences, while different in details, are similar most in the ways these accidents changed us emotionally.

In the trauma center of St. Luke’s Roosevelt.

Five years ago today I was struck by an eighteen-year-old driving an SUV. I’d been doing everything right: I was in the crosswalk and had a walk signal. He did everything wrong: He was speeding while making a right turn without yielding to pedestrians. But he wasn’t arrested for those particular infractions, or because he hit me. He was arrested because he fled the scene. He left me bleeding in the street while passersby called 911.

Initially Abramsons filthy hair was her greatest concern in spite of her injuries. I too ignored talk of sutures and surgery and begged my mom, after days in a trauma center hospital bed, to please, please wash my hair. Our loved ones focus solely on the black, the blue and the bloody and forget how desperate we are to feel clean. When my mother tenderly washed me — soaking herself in the process — then braided my hair and returned me to bed, I finally fell into a peaceful sleep.

Like Abramson did, I pored over numbers and statistics for some time after my accident. My instinct to make sense of my injuries through facts was insatiable. I thought there must exist a number that might validate my mixed emotions, a number to prove how lucky I was to survive, a number to help me overcome my emotional trauma. I reread Struck on the Street on my computer and I clicked on a graphic, a map of where bicyclists and pedestrians are most often injured by vehicles in New York City. I searched for the location of where I’d been hit. The dot was large. There was validation in that.

Many of my post-traumatic statistics at the time came from Death by Car, a 2012 New York Magazine piece by Robert Kolker about a sudden spike in traffic-related fatalities. I preferred the numbers I could relate to:

· 74% of car crashes resulting in death or serious injury occurred when a driver turning at an intersection hit a pedestrian.

· 57% of those crashes occurred while the pedestrian was crossing with the signal, like I had been. In fact, I was later told by an eyewitness that when I was hit a man screamed, “She had the right of way! She had the right of way!” as if by repeating this he could rewind the last few seconds and place me upright on my feet rather than lying face down in a puddle of my own blood.

The article also revealed a piece of information that was not a number I could hold onto, but was an unsettling fact: most driver’s who injure or kill a pedestrian are not charged with a crime. Had the driver that hit me stopped he may not even have lost his license. Despite lying to police he was sentenced only to probation. I often remind myself that his serving jail time would not have helped heal me, but just as often I think, “This is a bad memory for him, but I will face this every day for the rest of my life.”

I assume an attachment to statistics is a residual effect for survivors. We reach for these numbers to make sense of our lives. But Abramson’s piece is not simply about the survivor club, or about percentages or intersections on a map, Abramson wrote of the mental and emotional impact that remains, and it is her engagement with how we reflect on our experiences that lingered in my mind. This is what links us.

Her colleague Mick Sussman’s experience stuck out to me most of all. His memories match my own in how he reflects on his recovery. First, Mr. Sussman describes the scene around him after he was struck by a vehicle, “I was soon surrounded by a crowd of people who refuted the stereotype of gruff, unkind New Yorkers.” Though I do not have distinct memories of the aftermath of my own accident, I was later told that there were many calls made to 911. Some reported my injuries while others gave details of the car that hit me, including his license plate number. One eye witness even followed up to ask if I’d survived, then requested the chance to testify for me in court. These people are the reason the driver was apprehended, and the reason I have any information about what the scene was like the day I was hit.

Later in the piece Mr. Sussman confesses something that I’ve never admitted; “Reflecting from the distance of a year and a half conjures up strong feelings, including, unexpectedly, nostalgia. That period has a distinctive texture in my memory. It wasn’t all awful.” He mentions being cared for by loved ones and having time to read and watch TV. I underwent four surgeries in the two years following my accident and I suppress the feelings of nostalgia for the times I was confined to bed as friends arrived with take-out and ice cream. In the months following my accident I was alarmed at how people treated me. My apartment was filled with flowers. I’d never had so many people tell me I was beautiful.

Not a day passes that I don’t consider the accident and the statistics I’ve used to make sense of my survival. My eyes zoom in on the Vision Zero ad on a bus and I think of the drivers’ whose negligence kills children in crosswalks — drivers that don’t face criminal charges. I wonder, too, if the driver who hit me ever thinks about that day, if any of the drivers who have hit pedestrians think about us. They changed our lives forever. Did we change theirs?

We survivors are in a macabre club that never meets. We tick off anniversaries that only we keep track of. We have particular memories that live alongside patchy details, and we have stories of the kindness of strangers. According to Vision Zero View, which tracks citywide traffic crashes, there have been over 5,000 instances of pedestrians struck by vehicles in 2016. The club grows daily.

Abramson ended her piece with the admission of a surreal feeling she gets every year as the anniversary of her accident approaches. Sometimes I pass the intersection where I was hit and I stare at the pavement as if a piece of me is still there, and each year on July 26th I feel that same surreal sensation, but I also feel lucky and I also feel strong. Five years later and my own sister said it best, “It feels like forever ago.” I’ve since gotten married, moved out of New York City, and gotten pregnant with my first child. Life goes on for those of us who survive, but there are tattoos both physical and emotional. Five years ago today I learned the truth: I am loved. One scared boy fled a scene and left me alone in the street, but so many others came to my aid, to call for help, to wash my hair, to watch me heal.