Woman Threw Tantrum Before Fatally Pushing Voice Coach, Prosecutors Say
Lauren Pazienza, who pleaded not guilty to manslaughter and assault in the death of Barbara Maier Gustern, had been celebrating her upcoming wedding before the bizarre attack.
A 26-year-old woman accused of fatally shoving a beloved Broadway singing coach pleaded not guilty to manslaughter and assault charges on Tuesday even as prosecutors described a pre-wedding celebration that devolved into a bizarre and deadly fit.
The woman, Lauren Pazienza, was celebrating with her fiancé on the night of March 10, exactly 100 days before their planned June wedding, shortly before she shoved the coach, Barbara Maier Gustern, 87, in an act that would ultimately kill her.
Prosecutors said Ms. Pazienza had several glasses of wine and, after visiting a number of art galleries, took a meal purchased from a food cart into Manhattan’s Chelsea Park, a block from where the assault would soon take place.
When a Parks Department employee told Ms. Pazienza that she would have to stop eating, she grew irate and shouted and cursed at him. She then turned and, for reasons unexplained, “threw her food on to her fiancé and stormed out of the park,” said one of the prosecutors, Justin McNabney.
The fiancé, Naveen Pereira, told prosecutors that he headed toward the subway, planning to return to their shared apartment in Astoria. Ms. Pazienza, meanwhile, headed down 28th Street and spotted Ms. Gustern.
Ms. Pazienza, who is 5-foot-7, ran across the street, called the 4-foot-11 Ms. Gustern a “bitch” and pushed her, prosecutors said, causing her to hit her head either on the cement or a metal fence nearby.
Ms. Gustern, bleeding profusely from the head, ran into a friend shortly afterward and told her that she had never been hit harder in her life. An ambulance was called to take her to Bellevue Hospital and by the time she arrived, she was unconscious. Five days later, she died from her injuries.
After the attack, Ms. Pazienza called Mr. Pereira and asked him to meet. When they reunited nearby, prosecutors said, she did not mention it and started to argue with him, accusing him of ruining her night. He did not engage with her, and the two eventually headed back to Astoria — though not before Ms. Pazienza watched the ambulance arrive at Ms. Gustern’s apartment building to take her away.
Before the couple went to bed, Ms. Pazienza turned to Mr. Pereira and told him she had pushed someone, prosecutors said. When he asked why, Ms. Pazienza said that the person “might have said something to her” but that she wasn’t sure.
Two days later, Ms. Pazienza saw that the assault had been covered in the press and grew nervous, her fiancé told officials. She showed him an article about it and later confessed to a cousin.
Then she fled to her parents’ house on Long Island, where she deleted her social media accounts and took down her wedding website. She stopped using her cellphone, leaving it at her aunt’s house, prosecutors said.
The following week, after the police visited her parents’ house, Ms. Pazienza, who had been hiding at her aunt’s, turned herself in.
After unspooling those details Tuesday, Mr. McNabney called for Ms. Pazienza to be held without bail, arguing that she was a threat to others and a flight risk.
If convicted, Ms. Pazienza could face up to 25 years in prison. Mr. McNabney said that his office was recommending a 15-year sentence.
“We now know from the substance of the defendant’s confession and the victim’s own description of the incident that this was an intentional act,” he said. “There is no evidence whatsoever to support any inference that this was accidental or merely reckless.”
Her lawyers, John Esposito and John Leventhal, argued that Ms. Pazienza had demonstrated that she would not flee by appearing in court, and said that the $500,000 bail set by a different judge this year and paid by her friends and family was more than enough to ensure her return to court.
Mr. Esposito also argued that the manslaughter charge was a “stretch,” adding that Ms. Pazienza was “receiving counseling and addressing various issues.”
But the judge, Felicia A. Mennin, was not convinced, and ordered Ms. Pazienza to be held without bail.
Upon that order, a friend and student of Ms. Gustern’s who was sitting in the courtroom, Morgan Jenness, banged her fist on a court bench in approval. Outside the courtroom after, Ms. Jenness, 65, said that the order represented a “first step to justice.”
Ms. Gustern was a well-known and well-respected vocal coach who had worked with Debbie Harry, the lead singer of Blondie, and Broadway singers, including the cast of the 2019 revival of “Oklahoma.”
Ms. Jenness said that she had begun taking voice lessons from the coach about five years ago, and that Ms. Gustern, even at 87, had more energy than any of her students. She loved life, Ms. Jenness said, and “would never have said anything nasty to anyone.”
“The fact that someone ran across the street to push her because they had to take it out on somebody is sad,” she said. “I doubt that she thought that she would kill her, but there are consequences. You can’t just have temper tantrums because the world doesn’t go your way.”
The fiancé’s parents are probably relieved as fuck lol. Dude should consider attending therapy to self-reflect why he stayed in a relationship with a crazy person
Man.. you can ruin your life so easily. 1 minute this girl gets a tray from the halal cart and the next, she ruins the rest of her life. And likewise; old lady walking down the street 1 minute and the next, a stupid kid just mortally injures you.
People, be reasonable and don’t act on impulse when you’re angry
If she had turned herself in right after she realized what had happened, I might have a shred of sympathy for her situation, but the fact that she hid out until she realized there was no escape shows what a piece of trash she is.
I wish they could give her more than 25 years.
Wow, what a weird situation. She must have been in some sort of manic state during that whole evening. Her actions are pretty bizarre and aggressive, even for someone who is drunk.
She ruined her life and ended the life of someone who was giving something to the world. What a shame.
It’s still confusing to me why the defendant would spot this lady from across the street, approach her (angrily, calling her a bitch), and shove her out of nowhere, unless she was in a state of psychosis or something
Odd question but why did the parks employee tell her "she would have to stop eating"?
I think they should go for the max. The fact is that she did this for no reason at all and that's terrifying.
"the $500,000 bail set by a different judge this year and paid by her friends and family"
imagine having friends and family that have a total of $500,000 to spare to get your dumb ass outta jail
15 years is not nearly enough time. This sack of garbage got so triggered by being asked to pack up her meal she crossed a street to shove an elderly stranger. Who knows what else she would be capable of if she was faced with any sort of real adversity.
Is the fiancé not with her anymore? Has that been confirmed? It would be crazy for him to stay with this spoiled brat.
Incredible that her last name literally means "Patience" in Italian!
If you're 175 and in your 20s and see a frail old woman under 100 lbs l, you know if you forcefully shove that woman, there a strong chance she'll die.
I mean, come on!....
I don’t want to assume anything about anyones mental health but it sounds like she had a manic episode. Not that it excuses her actions but it sounds like her family and friends were so used to her behavior and trying not to upset her that they didn’t realize how much of a danger she might be to the public.
It’s a sad and bizarre situation, I hope the victims family finds peace
Fucking awful. She was the voice coach for a couple of my friends back in the day, and they're absolutely shattered over this.
Throw this bitch in a cell and toss away the key.
Barbara Maier Gustern was such a light and a joy. I was never her student but knew her through my performer friends, all of whom she taught how to sing. I almost got signing lessons from her, not cause I could sing, but because of her outstanding charisma. Miss you Barbara.
This is why we shouldn't condone any level of violence. Too many "pushes" or "punches" end in death because of the way someone falls.
So terrible. I can't imagine what would make someone push someone unprovoked like that. Obviously she didn't mean to kill her, but she shouldn't get a pass. She fucked up hugely, and now she's gotta serve some serious time. Hopefully it'll be a lesson to anyone else who becomes unhinged due to anger/booze, whatever.
Your life, and more unfortunately, the lives of others can be gone in an instant due to reckless ass behavior.
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