Renowned urban designer Charles Atherton died last weekend of injuries he suffered after being struck by a car Thursday in Northwest Washington, authorities said yesterday.
As secretary of the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts, Atherton oversaw the design of major monuments and federal buildings. For 39 years until his retirement last year, he played that pivotal role on the presidentially appointed panel, which reviews and advises the federal government on issues related to architecture and design in the nation's capital.
"It's hard to imagine the planning of Washington without him being on the scene," said Thomas Luebke, the current secretary of the commission. "His leaving is going to be difficult for lots of people. . . . He single-handedly has been involved more than anybody in the public process that has created the city we know today."
Atherton, 73, died about 8:45 p.m. Saturday at George Washington University Hospital, where he was taken after the accident.
Police said that he was struck by a Toyota driven by a 31-year-old District woman after he stepped onto Connecticut Avenue about 7:30 p.m. Thursday. Atherton was at fault, police said, because he tried to cross the street midblock, just south of the Uptown movie theater in the Cleveland Park area.
Atherton's family members found a $5 jaywalking ticket among his belongings when they went to the hospital. Police yesterday clarified the circumstances that led officers to issue the ticket.
Capt. Willie Smith of the 2nd District said that Atherton was conscious at the accident scene. After an officer finished investigating the accident, he went to the hospital to check on Atherton, Smith said. At the hospital, the officer was told that Atherton was in surgery but was expected to live, Smith said.
"We knew it was a serious injury, but we didn't know it was life-threatening," Smith said.
The officer issued Atherton a ticket for "walking as to create a hazard" and left it among his belongings, Smith said, adding that police often leave tickets in such instances because there are deadlines to pay fines.
However, Smith said, officers would not have issued a ticket "if we knew he was going to die."
One witness said that Atherton was in failing health as he was being taken to the hospital. Michael Baker, a communications consultant, said in an interview Friday that it appeared that Atherton was having trouble breathing, was unable to speak and was not responsive to a pinch on his hand.
An architect, Atherton reviewed numerous major projects during his career, including the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and the National World War II Memorial. He started at the commission as an assistant secretary in 1960 and retired the day that the World War II Memorial was dedicated.
Atherton lived in Cleveland Park and had two sons and a daughter. A funeral is scheduled for 11 a.m. Thursday at Washington National Cathedral.