Volume 79, Number 4 | July 1 - 7, 2009
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

Medical examiner: East Village ‘crusty’ woman OD’d

By Lincoln Anderson

The city’s medical examiner last week reported that the death last month of Lesia Pupshaw, a 26-year-old East Village woman, was not caused by injuries from an attack, but by an OD.

“It’s a drug overdose,” said Ellen Borakove, an M.E. spokesperson, speaking on Wed., June 24. “It’s acute intoxication due to the combined effects of opiates, alcohol, methadone and Xanax — ruled an accident.”

Pupshaw was known to have used heroin. But some among the Tompkins Square Park “crusties” — a loose-knit group of young junkies, drinkers and drifters with whom she hung out — claimed she died due to injuries from an assault. They charged that police just wanted to say it was an OD and close the case.

Pupshaw, who died May 9, reportedly had been assaulted in Tompkins Square Park the night before by a group of young neighborhood men with whom the crusties had been having a running battle during the previous week. According to accounts, five to six males threw bottles at her — and she may also have been hit with a wooden bat.

Melissa Bishop, a 29-year-old woman who hangs out in the park on “Crusty Row,” said she had been arguing with Pupshaw — who was dating her ex-boyfriend, Greg — before the reported attack. Bishop said she cursed out Pupshaw and walked off, then immediately heard bottles breaking. She said she turned around and saw Pupshaw getting off the ground and saying, “Look at my eye. Look at my eye.” Bishop said it was clear to her Pupshaw had a concussion.

Borakove, the M.E. spokesperson, said overdoses are generally listed as accidents unless there is evidence to the contrary, such as a suicide note.

She said the medical examiner only makes public the cause of death, not details of the autopsy. Even a Freedom of Information Law request would be ineffective in compelling the M.E. to release autopsy information, she said.

“People’s medical information is not open to the public, not in the state of New York and city of New York,” she said.

Some states, such as Florida, however, do make this information public, she noted.

If there were any physical injuries that might have contributed to Pupshaw’s death, then they would have been included in the wording of the official cause of death, Borakove said.

Asked if a month and a half is an unusually long time for the medical examiner to determine a cause of death, the spokesperson said, “We investigated, we did the autopsy. … Our investigations vary from case to case — that’s all I can say.”

Pupshaw lived on E. Sixth St. near the Bowery, reportedly with her mother. “Uncle Bob,” a senior member of “Crusty Row,” said he’d known Pupshaw for years.

“Lesia used to be out with us,” he said. “She drank. She did a little heroin from what they say. … She was just a girl out here like any other girl in the neighborhood. Family life wasn’t that good, so she came out here.”

A woman who only met Pupshaw days before her death said she thought she might have suffered from depression.

An unidentified interview of Pupshaw when she was 18 that’s posted online states her occupation as “interior designer.”

“What was the hardest habit that you ever tried to break?” one of the questions asks.

Pupshaw’s answer: “Heroin. I’ve been clean for nine months.”

Shortly after Pupshaw’s death, Deputy Inspector Dennis De Quatro, commanding officer of the Ninth Precinct, had told The Villager that the indications coming from the medical examiner’s office were that Pupshaw had not died from any injuries that she may have sustained in an assault.

When The Villager called De Quatro last Thursday, he said it was the first he’d heard of the M.E.’s determination, and that he’d have to check things out with the detectives who are investigating Pupshaw’s assault.

However, asked what he thought of those who charged police were trying to cover up a murder case, De Quatro said, “We obviously all can go down these big conspiracy-theory roads. But I think they’d be hard-pressed to justify what they’re claiming based on what the medical examiner’s saying.”

De Quatro said there is “an ongoing, active investigation” into the assaults on Pupshaw and other individuals that occurred during early May. Asked if police think there’s a gang of local youths going around the neighborhood “wilding” and attacking people, De Quatro indicated they do not.

“Aside from that weekend, we’ve had no reported incidents in the park,” he said.

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