Macon police see common thread in 2013 pedestrian deaths

lfabian@macon.comNovember 10, 2013 

Luther Wright’s family doesn’t know where he was walking Oct. 23, but he never got there.

The 61-year-old was a couple blocks from his Magnolia Drive home when he was hit by a Honda CRV about 6:40 a.m.

“We’re still trying to figure out how in the world this man didn’t see him,” said Sharon Carter, the victim’s niece.

The abundance of deaths on Macon streets this year leaves people asking questions and wondering how to promote safety.

Wright’s death four days after the accident marked the 10th pedestrian fatality of 2013 for Bibb Coroner Leon Jones.

The first came Jan. 1 when 40-year-old Stacy Walker died 10 days after being hit by a car in the 1200 block of Eisenhower Parkway.

Macon police count her death in 2012 statistics because the accident happened Dec. 22.

As investigators evaluate the nine people hit this calendar year, one common denominator is darkness.

All but one died after dark or before sunrise.

The exception was Ta’Miya Watson.

It was about 4 p.m. when the 5-year-old stepped off the curb on Bloomfield Road and turned her head to talk to friends behind her.

She walked into a school bus turning onto Virginia Drive, fell to the ground and was run over by a back tire.

The other victims were walking on the street, except beautician Vanessa Rozier

The 46-year-old Culloden woman stopped her car in the 2400 block of Riverside Drive to retrieve her appointment book that had fallen from the top of her car.

With her back turned to traffic, she stepped in the path of one vehicle and was hit by a second.

After Walker’s New Year’s Day death, two other people were killed this year on Eisenhower Parkway, also known as U.S. 80 -- 22-year-old Kenyotta Jones was hit by a street sweeper shortly after 1 a.m. April 29 and 53-year-old Donna Davis was hit near Anthony Terrace just after 9 p.m. Oct. 18. He died Oct. 23.

The 1400 block of Gray Highway proved to be a deadly thoroughfare where two people were killed a week apart.

Daniel Muhammad, 25, died Sept. 24 about 1:30 a.m. and Brenda Faye Johnson, 62, was hit and killed at 1:10 a.m. Oct. 1.

Both frequently walked to get around town.

Busy streets claimed the lives of the city’s other two victims.

In the first minutes of Feb. 24, 23-year-old Chastity Johnson suffered fatal injuries in the 3900 block of Pio Nono Avenue near Bank of America.

About 9 p.m. Aug. 17, 26-year-old Jonny Silvero Lucas Vasquez was run over on Log Cabin Drive near Gadson Drive, a couple blocks from Sam’s Club.

With more than seven weeks to go until the end of the year, 2013 is already one of the deadliest in recent memory, with about twice as many pedestrian deaths than in 2007, 2008, 2011 and 2012. In 2010 in Macon, nearly a dozen people were killed walking on the street or riding a bicycle.

“I understand people want to blame somebody when a pedestrian gets killed,” said Lt. Wilton Collins, supervisor of the Macon police traffic division.

In reviewing this year’s incidents, one thing stands out to Collins ­-- none of the fatalities occurred in crosswalks.

“What we are seeing now, is people are crossing the street outside of crosswalks. And unfortunately, some are close to crosswalks, they just didn’t use them.”

Full details of this year’s accidents won’t be released until the investigations are complete, Macon police traffic investigator Austin Riley said.

Until then, it will be unclear how many of the victims were only walking on the side of the road where there are no sidewalks.

For now, Collins wants to stress personal safety and common sense.

“When they take that responsibility of being dressed in clothing that is all dark, and it’s a dark night and they’re crossing outside of a crosswalk, it’s a terrible thing that happens,” Collins said. “I’m on the road every day as I drive around in the city, and I can spot numerous examples where people cross against traffic and even if they do use a crosswalk, they will cross the street when the red hand is up.”

In the middle of a street where crosswalks are away from traffic lights, people need to be careful not to step out into traffic, hoping cars will stop.

State law indicates vehicles must stop once a person gets halfway into the lane of travel, Collins said.

“If I see a car coming at 25 or 30 mph, and I just immediately step off the curb, thinking that car is going to stop, to me that’s not one of the brightest moves,” he said.

Highway safety advocates, such as Macon’s Lee Martin, suggest better road designs with sidewalks will further reduce fatalities.

“We have dangerous roads in this town, and I’ve spend 15 years of my life studying it,” Martin said. “It’s difficult when the victim keeps getting blamed.”

With many low income residents depending on their feet for transportation, the five-lane highways are worst places to cross, he said.

This year, Wright’s death on Magnolia Drive was the only side street involved in a pedestrian fatality.

There are no sidewalks on the road.

While Martin acknowledges the difficulty of retroactively fitting roads with sidewalks, he urges better planning in the future.

“I think it would be great if there was at least one sidewalk on one side of the street,” he said.

Collins knows people want safer roads, but believes people need to be more careful.

“There’s really only so much we can do when people are making that decision to do something that is inherently dangerous,” he said. “If you use the crosswalk when the hand says that you can walk, chances are, very good chances are, nothing bad is going to happen.”

Information from Telegraph archives contributed to this report. To contact Liz Fabian, call 744-4303.

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