D.C. mayor promises traffic signal at spot where church usher was killed

D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray has promised to install a traffic signal in front of a large church on Florida Avenue in Northeast Washington where police said a 71-year-old usher was killed by a hit-and-run driver after a night meeting last week.

The mayor, speaking at a vigil Tuesday night, also said the 1100 block of Florida Ave. NE, where the crash occurred, will be renamed after the victim, Ruby Whitfield. The new sign hasn’t been formalized yet, but following precedent, a mayoral spokesman said it will most likely read “Ruby Whitfield Way.”

(Courtesy of Sidwell Friends School) - Ruby Whitfield

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Whitfield was leaving the New Samaritan Baptist Church, near Gallaudet University, with other ushers when she was struck by a Sport Utility Vehicle in the block, police said. Her two friends saw the vehicle approaching and stepped back on the curb, while they said Whitfield kept walking.

D.C. police said she was dragged 86 feet and that they arrested the driver a few minutes later and 10 blocks away. Joel R. Brom­well, 32, of Annapolis was charged with voluntary manslaughter. Court documents say his blood alcohol content was measured at 0.11 percent; the legal limit in the District is .08. He is being detained until a preliminary hearing scheduled for April 5 in D.C. Superior Court.

Whitfield was a longtime member of the community and of the 3,000-member church. She also had worked 44 years in the cafeteria of the elite Sidwell Friends School in Northwest Washington, where she was an institution. She retired in 2008.

Members of the church said they had been petitioning the city for years for a signal on their block, alleging motorists often exceed the 25 mph limit. There is no intersection at the spot, but there is a marked crosswalk with signs warning motorists to stop. There is a traffic light a block away, in the 1200 block of Florida Ave. NE.

The church is often crowded, the pastor said, and many parishioners park across the street and along the side of the road. At Tuesday’s vigil, several mourners held signs that said, “Drive safely.”

Gray’s spokesman, Pedro Ribeiro, said the department of transportation will ultimately decide whether a full traffic signal with red, yellow and green lights, or a flashing yellow signal that can turn red when people cross, will be installed.

“The mayor committed to the community that we do something,” Ribeiro said. “There is a lot of pedestrian traffic in that area.”

 
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