Female customer crushed to death by drunken car wash worker as daughter watched, DA says

QUEENS, N.Y. — A Queens mother of three was left dead Monday after an intoxicated car wash worker crushed her with a Jeep he was driving out of the wash bay, authorities said.

Edwin Vargas, 43, has been charged with vehicular manslaughter and driving while intoxicated in the death of Tracie McManus, 54, of Howard Beach. He remained in the Eric M. Taylor Center in the Bronx on Wednesday in lieu of either $50,000 bail or $75,000 bond, jail records show.

“This is a heartbreaking, senseless tragedy, and a woman who just wanted to get her car washed is dead because of the defendant’s alleged actions,” Queens County District Attorney Melinda Katz said in a statement. “He is in custody and faces serious charges.”

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Vargas, of the Richmond Hill neighborhood, was working at Crossbay Car Wash & Lube in Ozone Park when the fatal collision occurred. Katz said that McManus and her daughter were awaiting her freshly-washed Ford Escape that afternoon.

It was just before 2 p.m. when Vargas, who was driving vehicles out of the car wash bay and onto an adjacent lot to be hand-dried by his coworkers, drove a customer’s gray 2011 Jeep Liberty into the parking lot.

He slammed into McManus, who was walking toward her own vehicle after tipping the workers who’d cleaned and dried the SUV, Katz said.

A worker at a nearby junkyard told the New York Daily News he witnessed the collision.

“She was standing right there, waiting for her car,” said the man, whose name was not made public. “The guy driving the Jeep suddenly hit the gas and he rolled right over her and crashed.”

Photos from the scene show that Vargas then struck a parked car in the lot before coming to a stop. Another Daily News image shows a man identified as Vargas seated inside the car wash, drinking water and talking to a uniformed police officer.

McManus was rushed to Jamaica Hospital, where she died of her injuries.

Watch a report from the scene below, courtesy of NBC New York .

Police investigators took Vargas to the 112th Precinct in Forest Hills, where he submitted to a breath test, authorities said.

His blood alcohol concentration registered at .115, Katz said. The legal limit for drunken driving is .08.

“If you have a job that requires you to get behind the wheel of a vehicle, coming to work intoxicated is selfish and dangerous, with potentially fatal consequences,” the district attorney said.

McManus’ brother-in-law, Hugh McManus, told the Daily News the family is stunned by the sudden loss of his sister-in-law, a widow and single mother who worked in payroll at a plumbing company to raise her family. Her husband, Brian McManus, died in 2012.

Hugh McManus said when he first learned via text message of the incident, he assumed Tracie couldn’t be hurt too badly.

“I’m thinking, ‘She’s on the sidewalk, how bad can it be?’” Hugh McManus told the newspaper. “I’m thinking maybe she broke her leg or her hip. And then the text messages kept coming.”

He said the family is grief-stricken.

“We’re beyond words,” Hugh McManus said.

Tracie McManus’ 27-year-old daughter, Megan McManus, also spoke briefly to the paper.

“We’re hanging in there as best as we can,” she said.

Vargas wept at his arraignment Tuesday night, the Daily News reported. His attorney, Matthew Thomas, described the incident as a “terrible, terrible accident.”

“My client is remorseful and contrite about what happened,” Thomas said.

The lawyer said Vargas denies drinking the day Tracie McManus died.

He “adheres to his statement that he had some drinks the night before. My client completely denies having any drinks the morning or the afternoon of the accident,” Thomas said.

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Vargas’ niece, Andrea Vargas, told the newspaper her uncle is not a bad man. In Spanish, she told the Daily News their family was shocked to learn of his arrest.

She also offered condolences to Tracie McManus’ loved ones.

“I’m very sorry for the other family, because to me, if something like this happened to a family member, it’s very painful,” Andrea Vargas said.

Hugh McManus was unmoved.

“It doesn’t matter,” the he told paper. “It’s not going to bring Tracie back. You’d wish that the management of the company had better control of its people.”