Trial set in October for alleged suspect in 87-year-old grandmother's shove death

ByEyewitness News via WABC logo
Wednesday, August 17, 2022
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A woman wanted for allegedly shoving a beloved grandmother who later died from her injuries surrendered to police Tuesday.

CHELSEA, Manhattan (WABC) -- The woman accused of shoving a beloved 87-year-old grandmother and vocal coach who later died in Chelsea will go to trial in October.

Lauren Pazienza, 26, of Port Jefferson, turned herself in at the 10th Precinct back in March and was charged with manslaughter.

She has pleaded not guilty and twice turned down a plea deal. She faces up to 25 years in prison if convicted.

The victim, Barbara Maier Gustern, was an active performer and voice coach wrapping up rehearsal on March 10 in Chelsea when a woman approached her from behind and pushed her to the ground.

Gustern suffered a severe head injury and was taken to the hospital in critical condition.

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Police announced five days later that she had died as a result of her injuries.

Pazienza was supposed to walk down the aisle in June, instead, she hid her face behind her long, red hair and said nothing as she was led from the precinct to a police cruiser, but onlookers had plenty to say.

"Horrible, absolutely horrible," said a Chelsea resident who didn't want to be identified. "How do you shove an old lady? How do you shove anybody?"

Instead of a priest, Pazienza cried in front of a judge as bail was set at half a million dollars cash for alleged manslaughter.

"She was crying, she was in pain," her attorney, Arthur Aidala said. "She was being accused of a horrible act, and she's a very moral, right, just person, who went to high school, went to college, has a job, has a fiancé, has a family. For her, she's in the twilight zone."

A source close to the case tells Eyewitness News that Pazienza did not know the victim.

Gustern was walking along 28th Street on her way to attend a student's performance when the woman attacked her near Eighth Avenue.

A.J. 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."

Pazienza's family lives in Port Jefferson, but she also maintains an address in Astoria, Queens. She worked most recently for a high-end French furniture designer.

For days, A.J. Gustern says he tried to imagine who the suspect would 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 to me like this woman comes from a similar background. Like what really got to me was finding pictures of her smiling in art galleries, dressed nicely with other people."

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(The Associated Press contributed to this report)

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