Crash and Explosion on Prospect Park West Destroys Beloved War Memorial

Reflecting on death. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman
Reflecting on death. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman

A speeding car driver — apparently a recidivist reckless motorist — slammed into a heavy war monument in an iconic Park Slope circle in an early Sunday crash, causing an explosion that destroyed the car and the memorial and spread debris and oil across a wide area.

Police gave only the scantest of details: At around 4 a.m. the driver of a BMW sedan struck the war memorial in the center of Bartel Pritchard Square at the confluence of Prospect Park West, 15th Street and Prospect Park Southwest — a popular meeting place opposite a grand park and movie theater.

Cops could not say the speed of the vehicle, but the wreckage, including the pulverized park benches and the complete uplifting of the “For Valor and Sacrifice” monument at the center of the circle speak of an extremely high-speed crash. As does this slideshow:

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Two people were in the car, cops said: A 23-year-old woman, who was taken to Lutheran Hospital in stable condition, and a man who declined medical attention and was uncooperative.

No one was arrested, cops said. (Update: Later on Sunday, NYPD told Streetsblog that a third person — who police believe was the driver — fled. Police have not connected the burnt wreckage to anyone, but the investigation is ongoing, said Lt. John Grimpel.)

A video from FreedomNews (below) showed that the car bore a Texas license plate that does not appear to be a temporary tag. The car has been slapped with 145 violations since Jan. 14, 2021, including 95 camera-issued speeding tickets and 25 camera-issued red-light tickets. It is unclear why the car was never impounded, given that it was also issued two-dozen parking tickets in that time. The car’s owner is way above the $350 threshold in unpaid tickets for being towed away.

Hours earlier, residents of Windsor Terrace and Park Slope gathered at the circle to try to piece together what happened. Most expressed sadness until one member of the crowd pointed out that the driver was obviously speeding and reckless — and that New York City is in the midst of rise in car-related deaths that is unparalleled in recent years.

So far through March 2, the Department of Transportation said that 42 people, including 20 pedestrians, have been killed so far by drivers. Pedestrians remain in constant danger of reckless motor vehicle operators, the onlooker pointed out  before the crowd scattered.

Prospect Park West south of the circle is a known speeding zone that drivers, including operators of private buses, use as a shortcut from McDonald Avenue to Eighth Avenue, which itself is a speed zone that carries impatient drivers who are seeking a less-traffic-filled route to Downtown Brooklyn or the East River Bridges than the Prospect and Brooklyn-Queens expressways.

The crash was not without its ironies. For the majority of the 20th century, wars killed tens of thousands of Americans — and the circle is named as a tribute to two friends, Emil Bartel and William Pritchard, who died in combat in France during World War I.

The destroyed park bench was part of a ring of benches around the “For Valor and Sacrifice” monument, which honors all of the soldiers in the community who died in foreign wars.

It is not unfair to say that Americans are now far more likely to die in a car crash than in overseas combat.

Chart: DOT
Chart: DOT