By Patrick Markey
Nobel peace prize-winner John Hume has lent his support to the Derry-born ambulance driver whose emergency vehicle plowed into a family car and killed three children in Brooklyn in late September.
Anne Lamberson, 34, was indicted two weeks ago and is scheduled to appear in Brooklyn Supreme Court next week where she will be formally charged with manslaughter and reckless homicide relating to the crash.
A spokesman for Hume’s office in Derry said the SDLP leader has expressed his concern over the serious charges Lamberson is facing. Hume has asked the foreign office and the Irish consulate in New York to keep him informed of the case, the spokesman said.
Lamberson’s indictment and court appearance follow her arrest after the private ambulance she was driving sped through a red light on a non-emergency call and crashed into a car driven by Nigerian immigrant Angela Igwe, police said. Three of Igwe’s children, aged 7, 5 and 2, were killed in the crash. Igwe and her daughter Ibironke were critically injured.
While prosecutors and the defense have both labeled the incident a tragedy, contention continues over whether Lamberson was on an emergency call when she collided with Igwe’s car on Kings Highway on Sept. 30. In Northern Ireland several daily newspaper and television programs have already featured the Lamberson case, playing on her treatment at the hands of New York officials. In Derry, Lamberson’s relatives said the incident has sparked outrage.
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"We’re all concerned here, we can’t believe how quickly the New York police have jumped to the conclusion that Anne was involved in some kind of reckless incident," Lamberson’s cousin George Long said. Her family is concerned that the accident will be turned into what they call a "political football." Lamberson’s parents immigrated from the Bogside to the United States in 1964.
Police and the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office said Lamberson broke the law when she recklessly sped through the light. Under New York law, emergency vehicles can pass a red light or stop sign and exceed the speed limit if they exercise caution and do not endanger life.
Investigators have said they found no evidence that Lamberson complied with those guidelines.
Lamberson’s attorney, Michael Dowd, was quick to point to recordings of the dispatcher’s call to her ambulance alleging that it was a priority call. Although New York police commissioner Howard Safir had initially said that Lamberson was not on an emergency run, the tape recording clearly contradicted that, Dowd said. In similar accidents involving police and fire department vehicles, no charges have been filed, he said.
"This is a very, very tragic accident," Dowd said.
Lamberson is currently free on $25,000 bail. Speaking by telephone from her Queens home, she said she was distraught over both the tragic deaths and her treatment since the incident.
"It’s a terrible shame that three little children died, but it was an accident. I have to live with the fact that three young children were killed for the rest of my life," she said.
"Two families have been ripped apart by this. My family is a wreck over this, it’s terrible what they are doing."
Lamberson said she plans now to move back to Ireland, possibly Derry because she feels she has been stripped of her dignity and of her rights.
"Nobody here can believe what is going on, that I was arrested and I was put in jail. I was only doing my job, I was going to help somebody," she said.
Lamberson is scheduled to be arraigned on Nov. 9.