Man killed by hit-and-run driver is 5th person fatally struck at 79th/Lafayette since 2015

Aerial view of the intersection, looking south. Image: Google Maps
Aerial view of the intersection, looking south. Image: Google Maps

When multiple pedestrians are seriously injured or killed by drivers at the same dangerously designed intersection, it’s not a coincidence. It’s the predictable result of misguided policy decisions.

Tragically, that’s what has happened at 79th Street and Lafayette Avenue in the Chatham community. Lafayette is a five-lane frontage road that serves as an off-ramp for the Dan Ryan Expressway,  and the intersection is located just west of the 79th Street Red Line station.

Drivers fatally struck four people at this location between April 2015 and January 2021. Here are the cases.

  • On April 26, 2015, a driver who was speeding south from the Dan Ryan Expressway off-ramp at 79th fatally struck a woman in her 20s who was crossing the street.
  • On March 6, 2018, a CTA bus operator struck and killed Tasha Nicole Wilson, 37, near the 79th Street Red Line station, which is just east of the 79th/Lafayette intersection.
  • On May 10, 2018, a driver who was fleeing the police fatally struck Julia Callaway near the intersection, and injured a 30-year-old man.
  • On January 7, 2021, a driver cut off another motorists at 79th/Lafayette Avenue, and the second car careened onto the sidewalk, fatally striking Linda Washington, 50.

On Monday, January 2, a fifth pedestrian was killed at the intersection by a hit-and-run driver. According to Police News Affairs, at around 10:10 p.m. a man was crossing the street in the crosswalk. The driver of a white 2013 Dodge Durango SUV struck him, and several people abandoned the vehicle, suggesting it may have been stolen.

The pedestrian was pronounced dead at the scene, News Affairs said. As of Tuesday afternoon, no one was in custody.

The crash report provides additional information about the case. The victim, who was 45 years old, lived about four miles east of the crash site in the South Shore neighborhood. Streetsblog is not publishing his name, pending the release of his identity by the Cook County medical examiner’s office following notification of kin.

The report states that SUV is registered to an address about 3 miles northeast of the crash site in West Woodlawn. A gun was found under one of its seats.

Diagram of the collision from the crash report.
Diagram of the collision from the crash report.

According to the narrative on the crash report, the pedestrian was walking west in the south leg of 79th/Lafayette when he was struck. The SUV driver also hit a #29 State Street CTA bus at a stop on the west side of Lafayette, just south of the intersection. The motorist then struck the expressway barrier wall on the east side of Lafayette, where the vehicle stopped. The report indicates that the victim was found down the street from the crosswalk.

The narrative states that the bus driver, who was not injured, told responding officers he saw four or five males and females, who appeared to be older teens, fleeing west on foot from the SUV.

A car driver told officers he was traveling west on 79th with a green when he saw the SUV driver speeding south on Lafayette through the red light. That witness said the victim was on the hood of the SUV before its driver crashed into the barrier.

Looking south at 79th/Lafayette. Image: Google Maps
Looking south at 79th/Lafayette. Image: Google Maps

Obviously this tragedy seems to be a product of Chicago’s current car theft and carjacking epidemic. But there are several built environment factors that help explain why there have been so many fatal pedestrian crashes at this site. As a five-lane off-ramp for the expressway, Lafayette carries vehicles driven at highway speeds. A road diet is needed, and perhaps speed bumps or some kind of textured road surface would be an effective strategy to force motorists to slow down before they reach 79th. Even though Monday’s victim was not the first person killed in recent years at this site by a person speeding south from the Ryan, there are no speed cameras at the intersection, so the city should add them.

Although 79th is only a three-lane street east and west of the Ryan, on the bridge over the Ryan it balloons to seven lanes, with multiple turn lanes, which encourages speeding. And the large amount of foot and bus traffic generated by the ‘L’ station, and you’ve got a potentially deadly mix. A few years ago, the Chicago Department of Transportation installed pedestrian islands in the media of 79th on either side of the expressway. And during the pandemic CDOT installed red bus lanes on the bridge, which theoretically means fewer lanes for private vehicles.

But this recent tragedy is yet more evidence that additional measures are needed to stop drivers from killing people at 79th/Lafayette.

Fatality Tracker: 2023 Chicago pedestrian and bicyclist deaths on surface streets (including one scooter-on-sidewalk case)

Pedestrian: 2
Bicyclist: 0

Note: Streetsblog Chicago’s traffic death numbers represent fatal crashes on Chicago surface streets, based on media reports and/or preliminary Chicago Police Department data.

2023 Chicago pedestrian fatality cases

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