Sister: Southeast D.C. man fatally hit on bridge was forced to walk in street due to snow

February 20, 2014

The sister of a Southeast D.C. man killed on the John Phillip Sousa Bridge says he had no choice but to walk in the street after last week’s winter storm, a move that proved deadly when a pickup truck hit him.

The crash early Friday sent Joseph Brown, 61, to a local hospital, where he died three days later, according to D.C. police.

Crystal Adams, Brown’s 60-year-old sister, said Wednesday afternoon that her brother was forced to walk in the street because snow covered the sidewalk, resulting in “treacherous” conditions for any pedestrian. A police report shows snow played a role in the incident, narrowing the lane in which Brown was struck and causing the pickup truck to slide when the driver braked.

“I just feel like he lost his life for nothing,” Adams said of her brother.

To make matters worse, Adams said, her brother was issued a notice of infraction for walking in the street when the sidewalk was available. He heard about the ticket while he was spending his 61st birthday — Saturday — in the hospital with a spinal fracture, she said.

Joseph Brown was walking in the street because snow covered the sidewalk, his sister says. (Family photo)

“That was the salt in the wound,”Adams said. “That just hurts me so bad.”

Gwendolyn Crump, chief spokeswoman for D.C. police, confirmed that Brown received a notice of infraction for “walking in the roadway where a sidewalk is provided.” Crump declined to comment further on Adams’s claims, citing the ongoing investigation into the crash.

A D.C. police report shows that the driver of the pickup truck told police he was heading west on the Sousa Bridge in the far right lane about 5:45 a.m. when he suddenly noticed Brown walking in front of him. The driver said he braked, then lost control in the snow, striking Brown, according to the report.

The driver told police he was unable to avoid Brown because a plow was travelling in the lane beside him, the traffic crash report says. The driver said it was dark, and Brown was wearing dark clothes, according to the report.

The crash came the day after the most significant snowfall since 2010 in the Washington region. The area was still recovering Friday morning, with the federal government running on a two-hour delay and most public schools remaining closed.

The police report did not say whether the snow had been cleared from the sidewalk. A spokesman for the D.C. Department of Transportation said he was looking into which agency had responsibility for snow removal on the bridge sidewalk.

Adams remembered her brother as a soft-spoken and easygoing man who “wouldn’t hurt a fly,” especially as he grew older and became more frail. He suffered from respiratory issues and regularly commuted to the Foggy Bottom area for doctor’s appointments, as he was doing on the morning of his death, she said.

Brown’s car stopped working about a month ago, and since then he had increasingly relied on public transportation, according to his sister. He usually took the bus to the Potomac Avenue Metro station to travel to his doctor’s office visits, but she said he decided to walk Friday morning to the stop. She did not know why, but the timing of the errand did not surprise her.

“He always felt more comfortable getting out early, taking care of business,” Adams said.

Less than a year apart in age, Adams and Brown remained close over the years, according to the sister. She said he was “right there by my side” through thick and thin.

“We always promised each other we would look out for each other,” Adams said. “He was my backbone, and I was his backbone.”

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