Homeless protest pedestrian deaths

Posted at 8:25 PM, Feb 27, 2013
and last updated 2013-02-28 15:30:37-05

OGDEN -- The wreaths were placed side by side along Wall Avenue, in memory of those killed trying to cross this busy street. It was also a visible reminder to drivers of the invisible population that's died here.

"Lord, we ask that you comfort us and bring healing to our hearts," a pastor said as the traffic zipped by.

Some of Ogden's homeless, who knew many of the victims, stood shoulder to shoulder and comforted one another after placing the wreaths on posts. Daniel Thobe, 50, was hit by a car crossing at 26th Street and Wall Ave. on Monday night. Just two months earlier, his friend David Saures, 56, was killed in a hit-and-run accident on Christmas Eve.

"I've been here for a little over five years and we've had a dozen people hit and killed in this area," said Jennifer Canter, the director of St. Anne's Center, a homeless shelter where both men were headed when they died. "It's a staggering statistic, and it's not just at night -- during the daytime, too."

The problem area is a stretch of Wall Avenue between 25th and 29th Streets. There are unmarked intersections, where police say drivers should stop for pedestrians. But because there are no crosswalks, the people who cross the road to head to the shelters say hardly anyone stops for them.

People do jaywalk, and the street lighting at night is terrible. The danger is increased as the homeless make their way from the downtown area to the shelters to find a bed at night.

"We do wear dark clothes," said Julie McDonnell. "But just because we're homeless doesn't mean you've got to treat us as that and treat us like we're dirt. We're humans just like the rest just because we're down on our luck."

After David Saures was killed, the Utah Department of Transportation commissioned a study to look at installing a crosswalk or other pedestrian safety measures. A UDOT spokesman told FOX 13 they are still awaiting the results of that study.

"What if it was one of their own?" asked Tauni Dodd, who pushed a stroller down Wall Avenue. "Is that what it's going to have to take for them to actually do something about it?"

Fed up with waiting, workers at St. Anne's made orange flags to try to provide some form of protection for pedestrians. They put them at Binford Street and outside the shelter.

"It does not guarantee that traffic's going to stop," Canter told the crowd. "All it's saying is 'Please see me! I am crossing the street!'"

Ogden police, who wrote 19 traffic tickets in a speed trap set up along Wall Avenue on Tuesday night, were warning pedestrians on Wednesday to not view the flags as a license to jaywalk. Officers were seen speaking to people headed to the shelters, insisting they use intersections or make the trek to a street light to cross.

The Ogden City Council said it was exploring what options it had to improve pedestrian safety. Councilwoman Amy Wicks told FOX 13 she was nearly struck by a car on Washington Boulevard on the same night that three people were hit outside the Egyptian Theatre.

"I had a flag in my hand and there were cars coming along and they didn't stop," she recalled.

Wicks said the city is anxious to see the UDOT traffic study. She was also looking at funding some road improvements if UDOT (which maintains both Washington Boulevard and Wall Avenue) cannot pay for it.

"I think something does need to be done, especially since we're trying to attract people to our downtown," she said. "We want pedestrians. We want people walking. We want bicycles. We want people to feel safe when they have to share the road with cars."