Whitfield was more than a cafeteria worker — “she was their mom, their guardian. She watched out for them,” she said.
Whitfield’s friends at 3,000-member New Samaritan Baptist knew she had worked at Sidwell but didn’t know how much she was loved there. The usher meeting Thursday was routine, discussing assignments and new directives from the pastor.
The meeting broke up shortly after 8 p.m., and Whitfield, Thaxton and Niblett waited behind in a side office until the crowd had cleared. About 8:15 p.m., they headed outside, onto the sidewalk in front of the church near Gallaudet University, and stepped into the street and onto a painted white crosswalk, according to her friends and the police.
Both Niblett and Thaxton said they heard the vehicle coming and stepped back, trying in vain to get Whitfield’s attention. “The car came out of nowhere,” said Thaxton, 68. “Alice and I held back, or it probably would have hit us, too. I didn’t see the hit. I just heard the impact.”
“The driver just never stopped,” Thaxton said.
Police said in the court charging documents that the driver stopped at a red light a block away, at 12th Street and Florida Avenue NE. Another motorist confronted him, the documents say, but the man drove off. Police said he was wearing ear buds and talking on a cellphone.
Police said they found the vehicle about 10 blocks from the church — empty, dented and with blood on the wheel well — parked around the corner from where an acquaintance of the driver lived. Police said they found the suspect inside.
Police said in court documents that he admitted to being the driver and said he saw people on Florida Avenue “and applied his brakes.” He told police that he “felt a bump and knew that something had struck his vehicle.” He told police he panicked when confronted by the witness. He also said he had been at a nearby bar and drank two rum and Cokes over two hours, the documents said.
Police said in the report that there was no evidence that the vehicle braked, and they estimated he was going faster than 40 mph. The speed limit on that stretch of road is 25 mph.
Thaxton and Niblett said they walked to where Whitfield lay injured but couldn’t bring themselves to get too close. They headed back to the crash site; her shoes and hat were lying in the crosswalk.
Eddy Palanzo contributed to this report.