Police arrest Lauren Pazienza, 26, in fatal shoving of 87-year-old vocal coach Barbara Gustern
NEW YORK - The NYPD has made an arrest in an assault that left an 87-year-old woman dead.
Barbara Maier Gustern, a beloved voice coach, died after being shoved from behind on West 28th Street in Chelsea on March 10.
Gustern was waiting for a cab not far from her apartment when she was shoved to the pavement, where she hit her head. She was hospitalized, but ultimately succumbed to her injuries. The cause of death was determined to be blunt force trauma.
Police released surveillance video of a woman they were searching for in connection with the case.
Tuesday, 26-year-old Lauren Pazienza of Port Jefferson, surrendered to police. She was accompanied by her attorney.
"She's a very moral, right, just person, who went to high school, went to college, has a job, has a fiance, has a family, and for her, this is, she's in the Twilight Zone," defense attorney Arthur Aidala said.
Pazienza faces manslaughter charges.
"She was a force of nature. I called her a little neutron star, right, a ball of energy, building community everywhere she went," said A.J. Gustern, the victim's grandson.
The grandson wants to hear what Pazienza has to say in court.
"I'd like to stress, innocent until proven guilty ... If she did do this, then I would like answers," he said. "But I'm still praying for you, and the karmic weight you've taken on is incredible. May God help you."
Port Jefferson resident Walter Hurney says he knows Pazienza's family.
"I'm dumbfounded. It's a shock," he said. "I know the family. They're good people."
As CBS2's Dave Carlin reports. Pazienza more recently lived in a high-rise condominium in Astoria. Neighbor Josh Fein says over the last several years, they would chat.
"A nice person, just decent person in the building, so this is kind of unexpected," he said.
Gustern coached Blondie's Deborah Harry and the cast of the recent Broadway revival of "Oklahoma!"
Gustern's close friend Robert Petrick lives in the apartment next door.
"We're really good friends, but she was so active," he said. "Most people at 87 are just content to doing nothing, waiting to die, but she was at the height of her powers and it was amazing. She was very inspiring."
"It's entering a new phase of grief, [but] ... Yeah, there is a sense of closure," A.J. Gustern said.
Prosecutors allege Pazienza crossed the street toward Gustern, called her an expletive and pushed her. Gustern's head hit the pavement and a witness came over to help.
Both prosecutors and the defense say Pazienza and Gustern were strangers.
Prosecutors claim before Gustern lost consciousness, she told a friend a woman shoved her "as hard as she had ever been hit in her life."
"Does your client deny pushing the woman?" CBS2's Ali Bauman asked Aidala.
"I anticipate her pleading not guilty," Aidala said.
Prosecutors claim detectives recovered surveillance video, which shows a woman matching Pazienza's description staying in the area for 20 minutes after the attack. After seven minutes, the woman is seen having a physical altercation with a man believed to be her fiancé.
After 13 minutes, she watches the ambulance arrive for Gustern, and 30 minutes later, the woman and her fiancé are seen entering Penn Station. They later walk into the Astoria apartment building where Pazienza and her fiancé live, both wearing the same clothes as before.
Prosecutors tried to argue Pazienza is a flight risk because after Gustern died, Pazienza left Astoria to stay with her parents on Long Island. They also allege in the days that followed, Pazienza deleted her wedding website, despite being scheduled to marry in June, quit her job at a store in Chelsea and stashed her cellphone at her aunt's house.
"She turned herself in as soon as she was asked to," Aidala said.
Pazienza's bail is set at $500,000, which her parents are planning to pay.
At the arraignment, the judge said this case will ultimately come down to intentional vs. reckless conduct. If found guilty on manslaughter, Pazienza could face up to 25 years in prison. She is due back in court next week.
Gustern's funeral is scheduled for Saturday at a church across the street from where she lived.
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