June 20, 2024
Lauren Pazienza "started shouting and cursing, threw her food onto her fiancé, and stormed out of the park," according to the prosecutors' account of the minutes preceding the attack.

NEW YORK (AP) — A woman who killed a stranger on a Manhattan sidewalk after her pre-wedding outing went awry made a deal to serve an eight-year prison sentence.

Lauren Pazienza, 28, appeared in court Wednesday and admitted randomly shoving Barbara Maeir Gustern, an 87-year-old Broadway singing coach, as she stormed away from a dinner with her fiance.

Gustern suffered fatal injuries when her head struck the pavement. She remained conscious long enough to give the details of the attack: A woman she didn’t know had crossed the street, called her a bitch and pushed her “as hard as she had ever been hit in her life.” The assailant then walked away.

Gustern’s relatives, some of whom were in court, said they were disappointed with Pazienza’s plea deal, in which she pleaded guilty to manslaughter. She would have faced up to 25 years if convicted at trial.

Prosecutors said Pazienza, an event planner who lived in Queens, had been in the Chelsea neighborhood with her fiance on the night of March 10, 2022.

The two were reportedly on a date to mark 100 days until their wedding. They were in Chelsea Park eating the dinner they had bought from a food cart when a park employee told them the gates were closing for the night.

Pazienza “started shouting and cursing at the park employee, threw her food onto her fiancé, and stormed out of the park,” according to the prosecutors’ account.

Gustern was shoved near her apartment building. She was on her way to catch a student’s performance after hosting a rehearsal for a cabaret show, friends told the New York Times.

Images of the suspect were released as police mounted a wide search. Surveillance video indicated the attacker remained in the neighborhood for at least 20 minutes and saw the ambulance arrive for Gustern. She also was seen in a “physical altercation” with her fiance before the two took a train together from Penn Station to the Astoria neighborhood, in Queens, where they shared a condo.

The fiance later told investigators the Pazienza did not mention the attack until after they arrived home. She reportedly told him the victim “might have said something” to her.

In the two weeks before she surrended to police, Pazienza reportedly fled the city, ditched her phone and deleted her social media — including the website for her wedding. An anonymous tip led investigators to her parents’ house on Long Island; her father initially denied she was there.

Pazienza has been locked up at the city’s Rikers Island jail complex since a judge revoked her bail in May 2022. The time she has already served will be counted toward her sentence.

Gustern had been known in the theater world for decades. She worked with singers ranging from Debbie Harry to the cast of the 2019 Broadway revival of “Oklahoma!” to experimental theater artist Taylor Mac, who told the Times she was “one of the great humans that I’ve encountered.”

Her late husband, Joe Gustern, was also a singer, with credits including “The Phantom of the Opera” on Broadway.

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