LexInsight Blog

"Dorothy Bruns: Depraved Indifference to People on The Road"

Jul 18, 2018 7:00:00 AM / by Frances Catapano

Depraved-indifference

Few people realize this, but accidental killing could possibly constitute murder. Oftentimes, the actor is unaware that their behavior will lead to death.

No different is the case of Dorothy Bruns, the Staten Island, NY woman who was recently indicted by a grand jury for manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide and assault, among other charges in relation to the deaths of two small children, Abigail Blumenstein, 4, and Joshua Lew, 1, and serious injuries to their mothers Ruthie Ann Miles, a Tony award winning actress who was pregnant at the time and lost her unborn baby girl months later, and her friend Lauren Lew. The children and their mothers were lawful pedestrians on a crosswalk in the Park Slope neighborhood of Brooklyn, NY when Bruns' Volvo allegedly ran a red light and plowed into them.

When the story first broke, reports stated that Ms. Bruns struck the victims and accelerated, dragging Joshua Lew's stroller for a distance, causing the average reader, myself included, to conclude that if killing two children was not reprehensible enough the heartless driver tried to flee in her car in an attempt to get away with her crimes. She could possibly be charged with depraved indifference murder. 

If they did charge Dorothy Bruns accordingly, it would not be the first time in New York that an unintentional death was classified as murder. Before he pleaded guilty to lesser charges of assault and leaving the scene of an accident, Sebastian Barba was charged with depraved indifference murder for fatally striking an elderly woman with his car and continuing to drive with her body on the vehicle despite bystanders' demands that he stop. The fact that Bruns appeared to be trying to flee would have sufficed. According to reports, Joshua's stroller was still attached when her vehicle slammed into a parked car before finally stopping.

Ms. Bruns told police she suffered from a seizure shortly before the accident. She was rushed to the hospital after police stripped her of her license. A multiple sclerosis sufferer with seizures and heart problems Bruns had friends and neighbors who expressed concern that she was looking frail in the months leading up to the tragedy.

Instantly, internet trolls cried foul at the reports of a seizure swearing it was a lie concocted by Bruns in an attempt to escape criminal liability. They adopted the pig-headed insistence that many people display when they desperately want something to be the case. "She's lying about having a seizure," one proclaimed, "She was on her phone after the accident."

But contrary to the internet trolls' baseless denials of Ms. Bruns' condition, it was the fact that she had a seizure while driving that would lead investigators to consider the possibility of criminal charges to begin with. Impaired driving has even led to murder convictions. 

Under NY Penal Law § 125.25 (2), a person is guilty of Murder in the Second Degree when, under circumstances evincing a depraved indifference to human life, he or she recklessly engages in conduct which creates a grave risk of death to another person, and thereby causes the death of that person [or of a third person].3

In 2013, a New York appellate court upheld the second-degree murder conviction of Martin Heidgen, who in 2005 drove after a night of heavy drinking and struck a limousine, killing the driver Stanley Rabinowitz and Katie Flynn, a 7 year old girl riding home with her family after serving as a flower girl in a family wedding. The court cited evidence that Heidgen had been drinking at two different locations that evening and testimony from a witness who spoke to him a week earlier about staying somewhere after drinking to avoid driving. Witnesses testified that Heidgen did not react to other drivers' horns. See People vs. Heidgen, 2013 NY Slip Op 07758 (N.Y. Ct. of App. 2013).

For a second degree depraved indifference murder conviction in New York, the prosecution must show that the defendant was aware of the grave risk of death but did not care and engaged in the conduct anyway. Dorothy Bruns' pattern of behavior in her recent driving career, in my opinion rises to the level of wanton disregard displayed by Heidgen. She has a history of running red lights and speeding in New York City. She was involved in an accident several months before the Park Slope tragedy whereby she ran over a woman's foot and subsequently fled the scene before police could arrive. Two months before, a doctor advised that she not be permitted to drive specifically because she crashed into a parked car. She drove anyway. And after killing two children, she continued to drive until she crashed into yet another parked car. In this fact pattern, Heidgen's night of drinking is replaced by Bruns' continuous disregard for traffic laws as well as her failure to follow doctor's orders - orders that any reasonable person would understand were to save lives. I am not in possession of the evidence that the Kings County District Attorney has, but from what the news reports, if it is accurate, Bruns’ behavior patterns spanned a longer period of time than Heidgen’s.  

The doctor’s report that followed her exam as a result of the parked car incident was more than enough notice to her that her condition could lead to death not to mention her soiled driving record.  But Ms. Bruns disregarded it, and that was not the first time. Any licensed driver is aware that a grave risk of death can result from the misuse of a motor vehicle. Element proven.

Topics: News, Law

Frances Catapano

Written by Frances Catapano

Frances Catapano is an attorney in the New York metropolitan area.