A George Washington University law school student died yesterday of injuries suffered Sunday morning when he was struck by a hit-and-run driver in a section of downtown Washington now transformed by bars and nightclubs that draw several thousand patrons every weekend.
Seth Wadley, 24, a semester shy of graduating, was pronounced dead at George Washington Hospital about 5 p.m. yesterday while his family and dozens of friends and professors gathered outside his hospital room.
The accident occurred about 3:30 a.m. Sunday in the 1100 block of G Street NW. The victim's father said his son and two friends were crossing the street to their car when a driver ran a red light and struck him.
A suspect, Ricardo Antonio Aspillaga, 31, of Arlington County, who allegedly fled the scene, was arrested a short time after the accident in Arlington. Authorities said they found what appeared to be Wadley's keys on the shattered and bloodied windshield of Aspillaga's car. He was arraigned yesterday in General District Court in Arlington and charged with driving while intoxicated. He is being held on $15,000 bail, with trial set for Jan. 18.
Police Lt. Bridget Sickon, commander of the major crash investigations unit, said the District would charge Aspillaga today with felony homicide.
At least a half-dozen dance clubs, some holding as many as 2,000 people, have sprung up in the downtown area during the last three years, according to police and residents.
Lt. Michael Jacobs, who patrols the area, said more police have been added to the midnight shift in the blocks bordered by E, H, Ninth and 12th streets NW after increased reports of auto thefts, assaults and noise.
"It's a tragedy, but it's not surprising that we would have this with that many people," Jacobs said. "Obviously, a lot of people have been drinking when the clubs let out. There are just so many people there. It's like nothing you have ever seen."
"We are working hard to get something done there," Jacobs said. "This sort of thing, though, has never happened."
There is no information at this point on which, if any, of the clubs Wadley or Aspillaga might have visited Saturday night, police said.
Wadley "was an incredibly gentle and humble and very, very sharp student," said Bob Tuttle, an associate professor of law at GWU. "He loved to learn and was very, very curious about things. He really lived life and enjoyed it."
Exams at the law school ended Friday, said the victim's father, Alfred J. Wadley, and his son and some friends went out Saturday for a night downtown. He was a semester away from graduation.
Aspillaga has never been charged with a crime. His sister, who declined to give her name, said the accident was a terrible mistake. She said her brother went to an office party Saturday night and may have gone out in the nightclub area afterward.
"We were all here just praying," she said. "He's a good person. We won't wish this on anyone."
Club owners say that it is the responsibility of patrons to monitor how much they drink but that the clubs try to work with the community by stationing security guards to help with crowd control. One club, Platinum, has met with community leaders about their concerns, said Terry Lynch, of the Downtown Cluster of Congregations, which advocates more downtown housing.
"This was a disaster waiting to happen," Lynch said. "More has to be done."