Stanley Kee’s phone rang with the news over the weekend: Someone was arrested in connection with his mother’s Jan. 7 hit-and-run death.
And with that call came a chance to find some justice that most loved ones of people killed by cars in Philadelphia never get.
After nearly two months of waiting and worrying that his mother’s death would go unsolved, as most hit-and-runs do, police on Sunday arrested Clarence Person, 56, and charged him with homicide by vehicle and other offenses.
Even as the family continues to grieve, Angela Kee’s only son felt an overwhelming sense of relief.
“It doesn’t bring her back, but someone has to answer for what they did,” Stanley Kee said. Police Capt. Mark Overwise, commanding officer of the city’s Accident Investigation District, said surveillance video and car parts recovered on the scene helped them make the arrest.
I first introduced you to Kee just a few weeks after his mother was killed by a hit-and-run driver near a dangerous bus stop on the 6300 block of Crescentville Road.
He was distraught but determined to do what he could to keep other families from experiencing such a preventable loss by calling attention to a heavily traveled road that’s been designated as a bus stop without even the most basic safeguards for pedestrians. No curb, no bench, no transit shelter, not even traffic lights.
Kee and his family believe that his mother was hit as she was making her way to her home at the Tacony Crossing apartment complex, right across the street.
At the time, both the city, which is responsible for maintaining bus stops on its property, and SEPTA, charged with evaluating the sites for safety and ridership, acknowledged that the Crescentville Road location had problems. There just wasn’t a whole lot of urgency to do anything about it.
When I asked SEPTA for an update this week on its plan to reevaluate the site, I was told someone would get back to me. I’m still waiting to hear from them, but Kee told me the stop remains as dangerous as ever.
That’s no surprise to the cofounders of Families For Safe Streets Greater Philadelphia, who in 2019 formed the group after losing loved ones of their own to what some street safety advocates call traffic violence.
Laura Fredricks’ 24-year-old daughter, Emily, a Philadelphia pastry chef, was killed by the driver of a private sanitation truck in 2017 while cycling to work. After a Philadelphia judge dismissed the charges against the driver, prosecutors have asked the state Supreme Court to allow the case to move forward.
Channabel Latham-Morris’ only child, Jamal, a 27-year-old Drexel University graduate, was killed in 2016 in a hit-and-run accident while bicycling near 45th and Market Streets. No one has been arrested in his death.
Latanya Byrd’s niece Samara Banks and her three young children — Saa’deem Griffin, 4, Saa’sean Williams, 7 months, and Saa’mir Williams, 23 months — were killed in 2013 while crossing Roosevelt Boulevard, the deadliest road in Philadelphia. The family was struck and killed during a drag race, and two drivers were later arrested and sentenced to prison.
As someone who more often writes about the gun violence epidemic, I wasn’t as familiar with the term traffic violence. But as I listened to the women share their stories and struggles, the parallels between the havoc wrought by shooters and by drivers were striking.
The numbers make it clear: Traffic violence is another national epidemic.
Nationally, traffic violence kills 40,000 people and injures three million every year in the United States. In Pennsylvania, upwards of 1,000 people die annually.
“The numbers make it clear: Traffic violence is another national epidemic.”
Before the pandemic, Philadelphia averaged about 96 traffic deaths a year. In 2020, that number jumped to 166; and the estimated numbers for 2021 are 133.
But there are other parallels with gun violence, too: Traffic violence disproportionately affects Black and brown communities and low-income neighborhoods.
Most incidents aren’t solved, and in the aftermath of many deaths, families often take on advocacy roles.
With the support of the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, Latham-Morris worked throughout 2017 to get an extension to Pennsylvania’s red light camera program passed; Byrd advocated in 2018 to pass legislation legalizing speed cameras on Roosevelt Boulevard; and the Fredricks family funds academic scholarships and works to promote safe streets initiatives.
A story on the extension of the red light camera program called it a “big win.” And it was, but there is still a long way to go to adequately address dangerous streets — just look at what’s happening with Washington Avenue.
Whether we’re talking about those killed by traffic violence or gun violence, the question is why it always has to come to this, with those shouldering the biggest losses also bearing the biggest burdens as they try to spare others from experiencing similar pain.
The day after the Kee family received the welcome news of an arrest in the hit-and-run, their phones rang again. Only this time, they learned that the city’s other epidemic had visited their family: A 26-year-old cousin had been shot and killed in North Philadelphia.
No arrests have been made.