DOCUMENT: Celebrity

Motorist Suing Astrophysicist Over Big Bang

Neil deGrasse Tyson "zoned out" before accident

Neil deGrasse Tyson

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Neil deGrasse Tyson

APRIL 4--Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson was driving an Audi with “UNIVRSE” license plates when he “zoned out” and sideswiped one vehicle before rear-ending another car, whose driver is now suing the “Cosmos” host for $5 million, according to court records.

A trial date is set for next week in the New York State Supreme Court case, though a postponement is likely.

The April 2012 accident occurred after Tyson, 55, had gone to John F. Kennedy International Airport for the arrival of the space shuttle Enterprise.

On the drive home that afternoon to his Manhattan residence, Tyson’s 2007 Audi struck a 2001 Dodge Intrepid being driven by a 30-year-old Connecticut woman. His vehicle then hit the rear of a Mercedes-Benz being driven by Krzysztof Bugajski, 47.

In a deposition last year, Tyson said that he had “kind of zoned and lost attention” as he was driving along the Van Wyck Expressway in Queens. After a “slow drift” into the Dodge, Tyson testified that he did not realize he had struck the car since, with its windows closed, his Audi is “well insulated, so the beginning scratch along the Intrepid wasn’t sufficient to sort of snap me out.”

Tyson said that when the Audi’s side-view mirror struck the Dodge, the impact “wakes me up. By then, I’m headed towards the Mercedes, I begin to apply the brakes, it’s too late.” Tyson initially testified he was traveling about three to eight miles an hour, but upped that estimate to five to ten miles later in the deposition.

Asked if the Mercedes was moving at the time of impact, Tyson answered, “It was. If it was not stopped, it was moving very slowly and the physics requires that it was moving slower than I was.”

In response to a question about whether he had fallen asleep at the wheel, Tyson replied, “Sleep doesn’t feel like the right word to me and probably the word zoning is not a, you know, an official term in anybody’s lexicon, but the drone of the stop and go left me in that state.”

Bugajski’s complaint alleges that Tyson dozed off as he was driving at an “excessive, illegal and dangerous rate of speed.” The resulting collision reportedly left Bugajski with a severe shoulder injury that required arthroscopic surgery and continuing rehabilitation, as well as injuries to his right knee, according to court papers filed by his lawyer Justin Blitz.

Bugajski, a Queens resident, was driving a Mercedes owned by Lew Frankfort, executive chairman of Coach, the luxury goods firm. According to Bugajski’s deposition testimony, he works for Frankfort as a driver/personal assistant who also handles household chores for the businessman. Frankfort lives across the street from the Hayden Planetarium, where Tyson serves as director.

Tyson’s wife Alice Young, a passenger in the Audi, was originally named as a defendant in Bugajski’s lawsuit, but was subsequently dropped from the case .

While Bugajski’s negligence complaint does not specify monetary damages, a subsequent court filing reveals that he is seeking $5 million for the “serious injuries” suffered in the accident. (16 pages)