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Queens Blvd. vigil sparks momentum to alter street

Friends and family of Caprice Bush and Sharon Rivers, who were killed about three weeks ago while crossing Queens Boulevard at 78th Avenue, gathered with elected leaders at a candlelight vigil last Thursday, vowing to prevent further deaths on the deadly boulevard.

"Aug. 1 is Caprice's 24th birthday, and I'll be at the cemetery with a slice of cheesecake, singing 'Happy Birthday' to my child," said Caprice Bush's mother, Sharon Bush, the night before. She was the keynote speaker at the event, which was held at the northeast corner of the intersection of 78th Avenue and Queens Boulevard.

"When I go to the cemetery on her 25th birthday, I want to be able to say, 'Caprice, there's been a change.'... To the politicians of this city, this is the last death that should be lost on this boulevard."

Bush, 23, of Jamaica, and Rivers, 34, of the Bronx, were hit by a silver BMW while standing on a Queens Boulevard island median July 10. The BMW, which flew into the air and flipped over, had been hit by a Subaru Forester that ran a red light on 78th Avenue.

Bush was killed instantly on the median. Rivers died early the next day in Jamaica Hospital.

Both of the women worked for the J.P. Morgan Chase mortgage department in Forest Hills and had just finished buying some groceries from Key Food during their lunch break when the deadly accident occurred.

"As I look around, I realize that this boulevard has become the 'Boulevard of Memorials,'" said Norbert Chwat, co-president of the Forest Hills Action League, the community activist group that organized the vigil. "There is a memorial at 67th Avenue, a blessed memorial in the shadows of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church, and now, again, this memorial in front of us at 78th Avenue and Queens Boulevard. These things must not happen again."

According to the city Department of Transportation, 83 people have died on Queens Boulevard since 1993. Four of the deaths occurred this year despite efforts to make the boulevard safer by installing four-foot-high fencing on the medians to prevent jaywalking, reducing the speed limit to 30 mph and putting up signs to warn pedestrians to be alert while crossing the road.

"This is not a boulevard. It's a highway; it's a throughway. There is no other road in the city of New York that is 12 lanes wide," said Sharon Bush, addressing Queens elected officials and family members.

"You put up metal fences - that didn't stop anything, did it? The lights did not mean anything. It never occurred to you that it would be detrimental to human life to cross over 12 lanes and to stand in the middle while doing it."

State Sen. Toby Stavisky (D-Whitestone), one of about half a dozen elected officials to speak at the vigil, said the city must decide if Queens Boulevard is a state highway, a thoroughfare or a neighborhood street and deal with it accordingly.

State Assemblyman Michael Cohen (D-Forest Hills) suggested that if the boulevard is considered a neighborhood street, the city should do away with the service roads on both sides of the boulevards and put in trees instead.

"Their deaths cannot go in vain," said Councilman John Liu (D-Flushing), the chairman of the City Council's Transportation Committee. "You have my pledge to identify what these thoroughfares mean."

According to police, the driver of the Subaru, Valeri Frumkin, 63, of Kew Gardens, was issued a summons for running the red light. He has not been charged with any criminal charges, pending further investigation of the accident, said a spokeswoman for the Queens district attorney.

"A summons is a slap on the wrist. It's an insult to the family because no justice has been done," said Yolanda Bentley, one of Bush's cousins who, in an eerie coincidence, said she was involved in an accident at the same intersection several years ago when she fractured two vertebrae.

Frumkin told Newsday in an interview that he had blacked out and had not recollection of running a red light, but his account could not be independently confirmed.

"He should be doing some jail time," said Bush's brother, John Bush, 21. "Right now he's walking around, driving around, with two murders on his hands."

After a youth choir sang several songs and purple candles were handed out and lit, John Bush and his sister, Valerie Bush, 10, crossed half the boulevard to the island median where the women were killed. John Bush wept as he watched friends and family once again place flowers and candles in front of a lamp post in memory of his sister and her friend.

Smiling and holding her baby godson, Valerie tried to console her brother.

"See, I'm not crying at all today," she said. "She's with Jesus."

Reach reporter Tien-Shun Lee by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com, or call 718-229-0300, ext. 155.

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