For years, Patrese Chambers rose at 4 a.m. to sell newspapers at 13th and U streets NW to passing office workers and commuters in their cars. The outgoing 48-year-old mother of two was a familiar face--a touchstone for customers who knew that every morning, whatever the weather, "Pat" would be on the corner.
Yesterday morning just after 7, as neighborhood residents passed by on their way to church, a car spinning out of control hopped the curb and struck Chambers, sending her flying into the air.
As she lay on the sidewalk, fatally injured, she had the presence of mind to give her mother's phone number to her boss, who arrived shortly after the accident.
"She said, 'Call my mother,' " said Donte Gardner, a contractor who handles Washington Post distributions. So he did, and waited with Chambers as she lay on the ground, unsure where her injuries were but thinking--because she was conscious--that she would be okay.
"She said, 'It just hurts, it hurts,' " he said.
Chambers was rushed by ambulance to Howard University Hospital and pronounced dead of injuries from the impact at 8:25 a.m. Hospital spokeswoman Bonita Bolden said the exact cause of death could not be determined until an autopsy is completed.
Police said Rafael Barrera, 26, of the 2100 block of P Street NW, was traveling east on U Street in his 1999 Volkswagen Passat when he struck a 1996 Geo Prizm driven by Erselene Pinkeney, 71, of the 700 block of Butternut Street NW. Barrera's car went into a spin and hopped the curb near where Chambers was standing. Pinkeney, who had been heading south on 13th Street, was taken to Howard, treated for minor injuries and released.
Police said that the cause of the collision was under investigation and that no charges had been filed.
Chambers's mother, Ella Brannum, 66, said her daughter, a graduate of Cardozo Senior High School, had been getting up before dawn to collect her newspapers and sell them on the street corner. Brannum said Chambers also sometimes sold copies of the Washington Times.
Chambers had a 14-year-old daughter, a 29-year-old son and five grandchildren, Brannum said. She said Chambers had been struggling to make ends meet, frequently moving around, sometimes living with Brannum and other times staying with different friends.
Gardner said Chambers had sold papers for three years in the same spot. He said she was a friendly, reliable worker, well-liked by her customers. "She was very outspoken, hard-working. She was there every day," he said.
When she got the call about the accident yesterday morning, Brannum said, she and her granddaughter were getting dressed for church, and they thought the injuries were minor.
"We went around the corner [to the hospital] to maybe see if she had a leg broken or a finger or something, and they tell us that she's passed," Brannum said.
Brannum said that her daughter's life had not been easy, but that recently she had begun a training program and seemed to be on the right track to getting a better job.
It "seemed like she was making a turn for the better," she said.