Lauren Pazienza, 26, of Port Jefferson, reported herself in 10th Precinct and was charged with manslaughter.
Barbara Maier Gustern, an active performer and voice coach, was about to finish the exercise on March 10 in Chelsea as the woman approached her from behind and pushed her to the ground.
Gustern suffered a serious head injury and was taken to hospital in critical condition.
Police announced five days later that she had died as a result of her injuries.
Pazienza was to walk down the hall in June, instead hiding her face behind her long, red hair and saying nothing as she was led from the area to a police cruiser, but the spectators had much to say.
“Terrible, absolutely awful,” said a Chelsea resident who did not want to be identified. “How do you push an old lady? How do you push someone?”
Instead of a priest, Pazienza cried in front of a judge when bail was set at half a million dollars in cash for alleged manslaughter.
“She was crying. She was in pain. She was accused of a heinous act and she is a very moral, just, just person who went to high school, went to college,” said defense attorney Arthur Aidala. “Has a job. Has a fiancé. Has a family. For her, she’s in the twilight zone.”
ALSO READ | Long Island mother gets new life with double lung, heart transplant
A source close to the case told Eyewitness News that Pazienza did not know the victim.
Gustern was walking along 28th Street on his way to witness a student’s performance when the woman attacked her near Eighth Avenue.
“We feel victims,” said Chelsea resident Tamar Zucker. “We feel easy for victims. And I started to feel vulnerable.”
AJ Gustern is the victim’s grandson.
“She crossed the street, shouted something derogatory at my grandmother and pushed her down,” he said. “And then fled across the street and just fled.”
Authorities believe Pazienza and her fiancé took the subway to Queens after the fatal attack. Later, she reportedly fled to her parents’ home on Long Island. Her social media accounts have been deleted.
Next court date is Friday. An evaluation has been ordered for the defendant, but the motive, if any, is still unclear.
Pazienza’s family lives in Port Jefferson, but she also has an address in Astoria, Queens. She most recently worked for an advanced French furniture designer.
For days, AJ Gustern says he tried to imagine who the suspect was going to turn out to be.
“To be honest, I’m white hot today,” he said. “I’ve been trying to give this woman the benefit of the doubt. It seems like this woman comes from a similar background. As if what really got me was finding pictures of her smiling in art galleries, nicely dressed with other people. “
ALSO READ | Suspect arrested in shootings of 5 homeless men in NYC, DC
Gustern had been known in the theater world for decades.
She worked with singers right from the cast in the 2019 Broadway revival of the musical “Oklahoma!” to experimental theater artist and 2017 MacArthur “ingenious grant” recipient Taylor Mac, who told the New York Times she was “one of the great people I have met.”
Her late husband, Joe Gustern, was also a singer, with credits including “The Phantom of the Opera” on Broadway.
A funeral for the elderly grandmother is scheduled for Saturday.
(Associated Press contributed to this report)
* Get eyewitness news delivered
* More Manhattan news
* Send us a news tip
* Download the abc7NY app for the latest news alerts
* Follow us on YouTube
Post a news tip
Copyright © 2022 WABC-TV. All rights reserved.