A day after a mother and son were killed by a motorist who drove his car up onto the sidewalk, family and friends gathered outside the victims’ house in West Oak Lane on Thursday to decry an accident they said was preventable.
The grieving group blamed the deaths on the man behind the wheel, who, possibly in medical distress, plowed into the victims, but also on what they say was a lapse by the Philadelphia School District. Because there was no school bus waiting for 7-year-old Auntione Terry at the Ellwood Elementary School, they said, his mother, Dominique Young-El, had to walk her son home from school.
Young-El, 33, and her son were struck by the car shortly after leaving Ellwood, near Broad Street and 67th Avenue.
“I never thought I’d see this day. It feels like somebody snatched something out of your heart that you can’t replace,” Kimberly Young-El, 53, the mother and grandmother of the victims, said in front of the home where she and her daughter and grandson lived with other relatives.
“How do you explain to a little 11-year-old child that her mother and brother are not coming back home?” she asked, referring to Nyla, the victims’ daughter and sister. Nyla clung to her grandmother while she spoke.
According to police reports, the 49-year-old driver was westbound on the 1600 block of Haines Street — a roomy, two-lane road at the edge of Northwood Cemetery — when his 2005 Mercury veered up onto the curb shortly after 3:30 Wednesday afternoon and struck the pair.
Police officials said the driver of the Mercury had “suffered a medical emergency” while driving, but they didn’t elaborate or identify the motorist. He remained at the scene with a passenger, who police sources said was his daughter. Both received treatment for minor injuries.
No charges have been brought and the investigation is continuing.
Auntione’s grandmother said he had been born premature and doctors once said he wouldn’t live. “But he made it to 7 years old,” Young-El said. “Now we lost him to a driver who should not have been behind the wheel.”
She said her daughter had headed to the school to escort Auntione home because the district bus did not show up. ”And I blame the School District because they should have backup drivers,” said Young-El.
She said no one from the district administration nor Ellwood has reached out to the family.
Monica Lewis, a School District spokesperson, said that she could not confirm if there was a bus that didn’t show but that the district would look into the family’s allegation.
“The School District of Philadelphia is saddened by this tragic incident and our thoughts and prayers are with all those impacted by this loss,” Lewis said.
The deaths of El-Young and her son marked the 32nd and 33rd pedestrian fatalities in the city this year and were the first double pedestrian death by vehicle in 2021, according to police data.
Philadelphia had had a higher rate of pedestrian fatalities compared with many other U.S. cities, and the vehicular carnage spiked sharply after the pandemic began. Traffic-related accidents nearly doubled between 2019 and 2020, according to the city’s latest Vision Zero report, including about 50 pedestrian fatalities.
In all, the city ended 2020 with 156 auto-related fatalities, including drivers, passengers, bicyclists, and pedestrians.
So far this year, more than 100 people have died in vehicular accidents. While deaths appear on track to decline this year, the data present a grim challenge for a city that has pledged to eliminate fatal crashes by 2030. Pedestrians alone have been killed in about 5% of serious car crashes this year, according to an Inquirer data analysis.
Wednesday’s deaths reverberated outside the immediate family. Rowen William Elementary School sent a letter to families Thursday to let them know that one of its students had lost a mother and brother.
“This sudden death may be quite shocking and confusing for our students, and we know that grief is something that will look different for each student,” principal James G. Murray Jr., wrote, offering counseling and support services to students.
Back at Young-El and Terry’s home, family members traded anger, confusion, and memories of their lost loved ones.
“It’s just heartbreaking to the family. It’s nothing we can really do but pray,” said Robyn Jones, 55, the godmother of both victims. “We’re speechless because we lost two people that we really love.”