Tires screeched and horns blared as motorists tried to avoid a 6-year-old girl who witnesses say was pushed into traffic twice by her mother.
Elizabeth Neiss, 36, was charged with attempted murder, reckless endangerment and endangering the welfare of a minor. Her daughter Margaret, who suffered cuts and scrapes, was placed in foster care, police said.
"It was crazy," said the Rev. Moses Zapata, whose church van jerked to a halt inches from the child.
"I thought the woman was just holding the girl back from traffic, but then she pulled her right into it _ right out in front of me."
A struggle between the mother and child began as the two approached a road in the Bronx section, said police spokeswoman Edelle James. Margaret was clutching at her mother's arm when the woman shoved her into traffic, James said.
The girl fell to the pavement as cars tried to avoid her. She leapt up and ran back to her mother, only to be pushed back down again, James said.
Witnesses grabbed the girl and flagged down patrol officers, who arrested the woman. Margaret was treated for minor injuries at Lincoln Hospital and released to city welfare officials.
Neiss denied trying to kill the girl, James said.
Officer Daniel Withers, who was at the scene, said that the mother was acting strangely and that a hypodermic needle was found by police officers when they searched her.
"She didn't know what was going on," the officer told New York Newsday. "She kept yelling "I don't do drugs.' Then crying. Then smiling. She was very weird."