Fatal hit-and-run raises safety concerns

Posted on 10 Nov 2011 at 5:05pm

Pedestrian struck, killed near unlighted crosswalk on Cedar Springs strip

Oak-Lawn-MapJOHN WRIGHT  |  Senior Political Writer
wright@dallasvoice.com

A fatal hit-and-run accident on the Cedar Springs strip last week has led to renewed debate about what can be done to make the street safer for pedestrians.

Wayne Priest, 55, passed away Friday, Nov. 4, at Parkland hospital from injuries he sustained the night before when he was struck near an unlighted crosswalk at 3850 Cedar Springs Road, at the intersection of Reagan Street eastbound.

Priest, who lived in the 2800 block of Reagan Street, reportedly was on his way to pick up a prescription at Walgreens shortly after 9 p.m. He was crossing Cedar Springs a few feet outside the painted crosswalk, according to witnesses, when he was struck by a maroon four-door vehicle traveling southbound toward Oak Lawn Avenue. The driver of the vehicle didn’t stop and hasn’t been located by police.

“I think any time we have a tragedy like this, we have to investigate whether there are things the city can do to make the area safer for pedestrians,” Dallas City Councilwoman Angela Hunt said this week. “What I’ve asked the city to do is look into exactly what happened and to make recommendations about how we can move forward in making the area safer. I think the challenge we’ve had in the past is the city has been focused on moving cars, not people, and we’re trying to refocus that.”

Scott Whittall, president of the Cedar Springs Merchants Association, said in the wake of the incident, pedestrian safety was the main topic of discussion at the group’s monthly board meeting this week. The Merchants Association plans to invite both Hunt and Councilwoman Pauline Medrano to its next meeting to a take a firsthand look at crosswalks on the strip.

Whittall said the Merchants Association feels the city needs to either remove the crosswalk near which Priest was hit or add more signage. The crosswalk is marked with a sign on the side of the street in one direction but not the other. Whittall said the Merchants Association would like to see free-standing crosswalk signs in the middle of the street, like the ones where Knox Street crosses the Katy Trail a few miles away.

“It’s an entertainment district, and there are going to be a lot of people on the street,” Whittall said. “There needs to be proper signage on this crosswalk. Unfortunately, something like this has to happen before people pay attention again.”

Another crosswalk half a block away on Cedar Springs has flashing lights in the roadway and on both sides of the street which can be activated by pedestrians. However, it has been a maintenance headache for the city, which only recently repaired it after the flashing lights failed for at least the third time in the last few years.

“It’s very unfortunate that this is happening right when we finally got the other crosswalk fixed,” Whittall said, adding that the Merchants Association would also like to see the city follow through with plans to add surveillance cameras on Cedar Springs. “We probably would have been able to catch the driver if we’d had those cameras.”

If caught, the driver would now face third-degree felony charges for leaving the scene of an accident causing injury or death, according to Detective D.T. Marchetti of the Dallas Police Department’s Vehicle Crimes Unit.

“The investigation is open and we are actively seeking the individual that struck him,” Marchetti said Tuesday. “I’m surprised there weren’t more witnesses to it. I’m surprised we didn’t get a tag number or a partial tag or a better description of the vehicle.”

According to a police report, the impact of the collision was so severe that it caused one of Priest’s shoes to fly off. Marchetti said a second vehicle struck Priest after he was lying in the roadway. The driver of the that vehicle remained at the scene.

Assuming the driver of the first vehicle that struck Priest wasn’t intoxicated, they wouldn’t have faced charges if they’d stopped, Marchetti said. That’s because there’s no indication the driver was speeding and Priest was outside the crosswalk, albeit by only a few feet. But Marchetti added that the No. 1 reason people leave accident scenes at night is because they’re intoxicated.

One of Priest’s roommates, Carrie Moon, said this week she’s hoping the driver will be found.

“It is one thing to make a horrible mistake and try to do what you can to help,” Moon said. “It is another thing to make a horrible mistake and just leave a person to die in the street. How this person can live with themselves is beyond me.”

Moon said she’d known Priest for about a year after they met at the Oak Lawn library. She and her boyfriend were looking for a room to rent, and Priest needed help with expenses.

Priest was from Louisiana but was estranged from family there and had moved to Dallas a few years ago. Moon said he’d been married twice and had a daughter.

Moon said Priest had struggled with his sexual orientation for most of his life but recently came out as gay after moving to Oak Lawn. He was a member of the Cathedral of Hope.

“He was in his mid-50s and it took moving to this area to for once in his life feel like he could be himself and not be judged, not even by the church, which was very important to him,” Moon said. “It was like he was starting over, and he had a lot of hope of finding a partner and a new life, and then this happened, which is just so sad.”

Moon said she was trying to coordinate funeral arrangements with Priest’s family in Louisiana. She said his wishes were to be cremated and buried near his son who committed suicide. The service likely will be held in New Orleans.

Anyone with information about the hit-and-run is asked to call the Vehicle Crimes Unit at 214-670-5817.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 11, 2011.

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