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Fans blitz woman in Ben crash

| Tuesday, June 20, 2006

The Squirrel Hill woman accused of causing the motorcycle crash that injured Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has been hammered by angry fans since the wreck.

Martha Fleishman, 62, who was cited for failing to yield the right of way to Roethlisberger's motorcycle near the Armstrong Tunnel, has received harassing telephone calls, city police said Monday. She also has been the target of vicious Internet attacks.

Roethlisberger, 24, who was cited for driving without a motorcycle license, spent nearly three days at Mercy Hospital after the June 12 crash, which drew international attention because of his Super Bowl-generated fame and his refusal to wear a helmet.

He is expected to make a full recovery from his injuries, including a broken jaw, fractured nose and two missing teeth.

Pittsburgh police Chief Dominic J. Costa declined to say how many calls Fleishman has received or exactly what the callers said. Fleishman filed a police report about the calls, but has not been offered police protection, spokesman Tammy Ewin said.

"Because Ben is a celebrity, I'm sure our Steeler fans are behind him, but this was an accident, and we don't get to choose who we get into an accident with," Costa said. "This type of thing could happen to any one of us, and the female driver feels terrible. Hopefully, our Steeler fans will come through like they always do and pray for both of them."

Fleishman could not be reached for comment.

Costa did not identify Fleishman by name, but her name was widely reported in all of Pittsburgh's media outlets last week and on Internet sites.

One blogger, who posted Fleishman's home address and telephone number, was typical of the merciless Internet attackers.

"She had Maine license plates. ... freaking New England fan ... I don't think she will be getting the key to the city any time soon."

Another blogger wrote "time for some 'tom's diner' justice" in reference to the two fans who were convicted of involuntary manslaughter for fatally beating a man in the restroom of Tom's Diner in Dormont following a Steelers victory on Christmas Eve 2002.

Police cited Fleishman in the crash for failing to yield to oncoming traffic on Second Avenue at the 10th Street Bridge, Uptown. She will be mailed a summons for $106.50, said Officer Dan Connolly of the collision investigation unit.

Roethlisberger will be cited for driving without a valid motorcycle permit and for not wearing a helmet, Connolly said. He will be mailed a summons and owes fines totaling $388.

Roethlisberger's motorcycle permit expired March 29, and state law requires all motorcycle drivers with less than two years' driving experience to wear a helmet.

The quarterback's agent, Leigh Steinberg, did not return calls yesterday.

Roethlisberger was traveling at the 35-mph speed limit when he entered the intersection heading east on Second Avenue just after 11 a.m., Connolly said. Fleishman was traveling west before turning left onto the 10th Street Bridge and had a solid green light, which required her to yield to oncoming traffic.

She proceeded through the light, following another car, and turned in front of Roethlisberger. Connolly said police don't know how fast she was traveling.

"I don't think he saw her, but there were some skid marks, so he did try to stop," Connolly said.

Roethlisberger's motorcycle collided with the passenger side of Fleishman's Chrysler New Yorker. His hip struck the car's windshield on the bottom of the passenger side, Connolly said, and his shoulder hit the middle of the windshield. His head collided with the roof above the windshield, leaving a dent.

Roethlisberger then flipped over the roof of the car and bounced off the trunk before hitting the pavement. His motorcycle slid several feet.

Fleishman was not injured.

"I think because of Ben Roethlisberger's size and his athletic ability, and because he works out as a professional athlete, (those factors) played a huge part in the fact that he's still with us," Connolly said.

Roethlisberger, who also felt his share of wrath from the Internet bloggers and fans angry at his refusal to wear a helmet while motorcycling, was released from the hospital about 11:45 p.m. Wednesday and led out a back door to avoid the media and fans.

On Thursday, he apologized in a statement released by the Steelers.

"By the grace of God, I am fortunate to be alive, surrounded by loved ones and supported by the prayers and support of so many ... I recognize that I have a responsibility to safeguard my health in the offseason so I can continue to lead our team effectively," the statement reads.

"I never meant any harm to others nor to break any laws. ... If I ever ride again, it certainly will be with a helmet."

PennDOT spokeswoman Danielle Klinger said that since Roethlisberger had a permit at one time but not a license, being cited for driving without a valid permit doesn't preclude him from renewing his permit or applying for a new one.

Police crash investigations routinely take weeks, but Connolly said the investigation into Roethlisberger's crash was resolved quickly because no one died and neither driver was under the influence of drugs or alcohol, requiring investigators to await the results of toxicology tests.

"We were under no pressure from the Steelers organization or the mayor's office," Costa said. "The only pressure we got was from the media. This was no different than any other accident investigation."

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