Hit-and-run pedestrian deaths have doubled in Bibb County this year


Grant Blankenship | Georgia Public Broadcasting

A desire line on Pio Nono Avenue in Macon after it passes under Interstate 75. The spot is one of the most deadly for pedestrians in Macon.

A dozen pedestrians have been killed on roads in Bibb County so far this year and more than half of those deaths are being investigated as hits-and-run.

None of the seven people killed in hits-and-run have been mentioned in recent meetings of the Macon-Bibb County Pedestrian Safety Review Board, which is tasked by county ordinance with reviewing each pedestrian death, determining its cause and preparing recommendations for measures that ensure future safety for foot traffic in those areas.

An officer from the sheriff’s office is supposed to attend monthly meetings to provide updates on enforcement and fatalities. However, an officer is rarely present, according to meeting minutes since 2020.  The monthly meeting in April was the latest meeting attended by a lieutenant.

On Tuesday, the board discussed a number of topics but pedestrian fatalities this year, and the specific circumstances surrounding each, were not among them.

Asked why the board had not discussed the spike in hit-and-run pedestrian fatalities, board member Michael Ryan said it would have come up at the meeting if the sheriff’s office had a representative present “because I intended to ask him about that.”

“It seems to be such a serious issue that would justify our actually openly dealing with it in those meetings as a subset of pedestrian safety,” Ryan said. “It’s a sad comment on this community that (this) many people are dying like that.”

Elaine Lucas said after the meeting the number of hit and run fatalities is not the sort of detail the board would have.

“Initially they were bringing those details,” Lucas said of the sheriff’s office, adding that it is short staffed and she was sure an officer would have been present if one was available.

“Everything we do is about general pedestrian safety and that includes whether it’s a hit and run or whether it’s when somebody gets hit and folks stay or whatever the situation,” Lucas said, “So, in my view, all of them are important and all of them are things we are dealing with. I mean, it gets kind of sad sometimes hearing all of the little details.”

Lucas added that it is helpful to have someone at the meetings who investigates all pedestrian deaths, “because they can provide more details” but the sheriff’s office, she suspects, has “competing obligations.”

Lucas said the board keeps up with pedestrian fatalities as they are reported in the news.

“We email each other when the stories are printed, or when there’s a story and the other media about it,” she said. “I think we all kind of file it as, you know, ‘This is our motivation. This is why we keep doing this.’ So, I think there’s an underlying commitment to it so we don’t have to discuss all of them.”

Before the meeting was called to order, the board talked about whether the latest death – a  50-year-old killed earlier this month while riding a bicycle in East Macon – counted as a pedestrian fatality.

The man on the bicycle was Rupert Shane Ward and his death marked the county’s seventh and most recent hit-and-run this year.

Ward died in the predawn hours Nov. 5 after being hit by more than one car near Irwinton Road and Crystal Lake Drive, about four miles from his home.

According to a report from the Bibb County Sheriff’s Office, a 21-year-old Ivey woman was at the wheel of a Buick Lacrosse, headed east toward Jeffersonville, when she saw an object in the roadway.

The woman told the deputy there was a car in the turning lane, a semi truck to her right and another car behind her, so she was unable to avoid hitting the object. The Buick began smoking after the crash, so the woman pulled over into the middle turn lane, the report said. A passerby took the woman to the closest store where she called her mother, who picked her up and brought her back to her car, according to the report.

A deputy noted in the report that “it appears Mr. Ward had been hit by another vehicle” prior to the Buick.

The first fatality of the year also was a hit and run.

Witnesses said 50-year-old Vickie Elaine Smith had just left the Jumbo Mart Valero near Houston Road, Broadway and Ga. 247 late night Feb. 15 when she stopped in the roadway and was hit by two vehicles, according to a report from the sheriff’s office. Only one of the drivers stopped.

Five more hits-and-run occurred between the deaths of Ward and Smith.

The number of hit-and-run deaths in 2022 is more than double the three in 2021, when the county saw a record high 17 pedestrian deaths.

Board Business

While specifics about pedestrian deaths were not discussed, the board addressed other business items including grants, updates on transportation grants plus recent and future events.

In a bit of good news, County Engineer Nigel Floyd announced the Georgia Department of Transportation is working on plans for pedestrian safety infrastructure on Gray Highway between Interstate 16 and Shurling Drive. The road is one of the deadliest for pedestrians in the county and making safety improvements to it has long been a topic of discussion.

Also Tuesday, the board planned its year-end lunch meeting at the Rookery. It heard updates about outreach efforts that entailed giving away T-shirts, arm bands, glow-in-the-dark shoe laces and Halloween candy. It also heard updates on numerous grants it applied for, including one that would encourage students who live near Westside High School to bike to school. The grant also will educate students on safety through a bicycle training curriculum.

In other business, Bob Dallas, the board’s consultant for Vision Zero, was absent but relayed to the board through Chairman Greg Brown that he had twice tried to contact GDOT to get an update on the memorandum of agreement for a Vision Zero Safety Manager position that would act as a liaison between the county and GDOT. However, there were no updates on when that agreement might be complete or when the position might be filled. Hiring the safety manager was identified as a short-term goal in the county’s 2020 Vision Zero Action Plan.

To contact Civic Journalism Fellow Laura Corley, call 478-301-5777 or email [email protected].