Lost in the city

Did You Know Roosevelt Island Millionaire Michelle Carter?

Updated 51 weeks ago David Stone
Michelle Carter on the F Train, February 5th, 1017
Michelle Carter on the F Train, February 5th, 1017
© David Stone / Roosevelt Island Daily

If you live on Roosevelt Island but never met Michelle Carter, you might still have caught her cussing someone out or walked by while she mumbled incoherently, hunched over in her wheelchair. Chances are you didn't know her really. Few of us did.

When Roosevelt Island Daily reader Sylvan Klein forwarded an article from the New York Post, I recognized Michelle Carter, right away. A video of her confrontation with passengers on an M Train had gone viral. Riders objected to her smoking a joint and one threatened to "deck" her. She backed them off with an obscenity laced flurry.

We chatted a few times, here on Roosevelt Island where we both lived. She has since become a millionaire, moved away and become penniless again. That cycle took only two years to go full circle.

After agreeing to give her the dollar she asked for a few times, I thought it was stupid of me to not at least know who she was.

"Michelle," she told me, about five years ago, a little shyly, seeming unused to being asked.

Once in a while, I'd pass her after parking my car in Motorgate, perched in her familiar location near Gristedes's exit.

"Sorry, Michelle. All I've got's a twenty," I told her once.

"I'll take that," she offered.

Next time I saw her, she smiled knowingly, and I gave her two dollars, one for now plus the one I owed from before. Thereafter, I made a point of having at least one single in my pocket.

What Happened to Michelle Carter?

Approaching 50 at the time, Michelle was run over by an F Train in the Roosevelt Island station in 2005. Both of her legs had to be amputated below the knees. The MTA fought off liability for eight years, while she struggled along in Section 8 housing in Manhattan Park, but finally agreed to compensate her with $3.4 million.

The difficult lady in a wheelchair, begging for money in front of the deli, Gristedes and the subway station, often seeming high or drunk, the angry woman the local cops got to know from repeatedly escorting her out of those places, responding to complaints about her abusive behavior, Michelle Carter was rich for the first time in her life.

Maybe it had something to do with her getting all that money. Maybe it didn't. But her demeanor changed so dramatically, I started going out of my way to avoid her. Her sly smile while asking for money, admitting it was for cigarettes or booze, was replaced by a surly muttering. And when I last saw her, she was hanging out with a rough looking crowd on the West Promenade, all of her companions male.

Somewhere in those months, she moved out of Manhattan Park, no longer eligible for supported housing and probably imagining something better, now that she was rich.

But she lost it all. Nobody knows how, although there's a lawsuit her lawyer filed against JP Morgan Chase. It's based on her claim that they carelessly cashed an $886,339.96 cashiers check stolen from her in Penn Station.

Maybe she'll be semi-rich again.

An Avoidable Tragedy Known as Michelle

Michelle Carter's plight is now national entertainment, thanks to a viral Instagram video. Both the Post and the Daily News embedded it in their stories, giving it even broader play.

But as Thomas Tracy wrote in the News, "If you had her life, you’d smoke blunts on the subway too."

Mentally ill and likely drug addicted, Michelle is far more a victim than the subway riders she used to curse out as they passed without responding to her appeals. Her life in Manhattan Park, insulated by a low key community, was fairly well protected. Sure, she got into trouble, but things were reasonably stable for her all the years she got along among us.

Then, she got lucky with a $3.4 million settlement. But not for long. Except for the theft, Michelle does not know or will not tell where it all went, but feel free to use your imagination. We've all heard about the vultures that circle around unexpected riches.

And ask yourself why a judge and lawyers did not take precautions to make sure her wealth was protected. What strategic indifference encouraged the MTA to let her languish for eight years before giving in? Who thought it was a good idea to let her ramble around Midtown with virtually a million bucks in her bag?

Even in perfect mental health, no one confined to a wheelchair is safe with easy money in his or her pocketbook. Yet, there was Michelle, with all the evidence of her vulnerability well-known, on the record, cruising around Penn Station with a windfall cashiers check.

Like the man said. "If you had her life, you’d smoke blunts on the subway too." Maybe.

Coincidence

What were the odds? The very day I got the news about Michelle Carter from Sylvan Klein, my wife and I boarded a train on our way to shop for a few groceries, a get out of the house for a while excursion on Super Concussion Bowl Sunday, and who's in the car we enter?

Michelle Carter.

But this, as you may be able to see from the photo I took, is not the same Michelle. It's grainy because I didn't want to embarrass her by getting too close.

She's subdued, maybe sad, maybe depressed. Her new lawyer, Robert Unger, who's trying to get JP Morgan Chase to compensate her for an improperly cashed check, says she's living on the streets and occasionally with relatives now. She seems to ride the F Train a lot, passing under her old haunts on Roosevelt Island.

On a less crowded train or on a platform, when I see her again, I'll find out if she's approachable again. If she's friendly and remembers me, we can talk for a little while. I've got that much time.

And I've usually got a dollar too, if she needs it.

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