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Traffic Safety

What does the Nakari Campbell case tell us about street design and traffic enforcement?

Chicago needs street layouts that force motorists to drive safely. And the CPD needs to bring the driver who grievously harmed Nakari to justice.

Nakari Campbell

Update 8/28/23, 11:00 AM: Block Club Chicago reports new lawsuits allege that the driver of the car that struck Nakari Campbell also struck and severly injured Chloe Engel, 26, as she was exiting a minivan on the 1400 block of West Augusta Boulevard, a few blocks from Nakari's collision, around the same time of night. This suggests the motorist was fleeing one of the crashes when he struck the second person.

Streetsblog Chicago regularly covers cases of drivers striking vulnerable road users, but an early-August hit-and-run pedestrian crash in Wicker Park was particularly horrific. It left high school senior Nakari Campbell, 17, widely described as a charismatic and driven young person, fighting for her life. To make matters worse, police officers visited the home of the car's owner, but no one was cited or charged.

According to the initial Chicago Police Department statement, on Friday, August 4, at about 10:28 p.m. Nakari was crossing the street on the west side of the Division Street and Ashland Avenue intersection, near the Division Blue Line station. A westbound car driver struck her "at a high rate of speed" and fled the area. The victim suffered injuries to her head and body and was taken to Stroger Hospital in critical condition.

Image of the vehicle released by CPD.

The CPD later released a community bulletin with a security video image of the vehicle, a bright red 2008 Mercedes-Benz C35 four-door sedan with dark rims, a sunroof, and tinted windows with Illinois license plate DC60012, likely with damage at or near the grille. Witnesses are asked to contact the Major Accident Investigation Unit at 312-745-4521. Anonymous tips can be submitted at cpdtip.com.

Sketch of the collision from the crash report.

The police crash report sheds more light on what reportedly happened during the awful crash. It says the Mercedes driver was traveling northbound on Ashland when they made a left turn onto Division and struck Nakari in the crosswalk. Multiple witnesses told responding officers the motorist continued until the girl fell off the hood and was dragged and then run over. She landed in the middle of the street at 1612 W. Division. The victim suffered multiple fractured ribs, head trauma, facial fractures, and a broken neck bone.

The report states that officers "attempted to make contact with the registered owner of the vehicle that was on file. The registered [owner's] mother answered the door [at a Belmont Cragin address] and stated that her son refused to speak with the police."

Although the police know which car was used to severely injure Nakari, and the vehicle owner's name and address are listed on the crash report, shockingly, no arrests, charges, or citations have been made. "There are no updates at this time," a CPD spokesperson told Streetsblog today. "Detectives are still investigating."

The crosswalk where Nakari was struck, looking west. Image, Google Maps

According to a report by Block Club Chicago's Quinn Myers, Nakari's family members, activists, and lawyers representing the family held a press conference at the crash site on Tuesday, August 8. They repeatedly asked why no charges were filed despite the fact the police know who the car owner is. “If you can arrest somebody with a gun out here, discharging that gun, then they can arrest the owner of this car, because that’s a weapon, too," said activist and crisis responder Andrew Holmes. "You used that car, you injured and committed bodily harm to this family. So you need to turn yourself in or be arrested yourself.”

Nakari was still in a medically-induced coma at the time, Block Club reported. Her uncle Anthony Hargrove said the teen was struck when she way walking from her home to a Wendy's near the southwest corner of the intersection to meet friends before heading to a party. Hargrove said that after his niece fell off the car's hood, her hair was caught in the wheels and she was dragged down Division.

Family members said Nakari is an intelligent and motivated person who wants to become an attorney, according to Block Club. "I just wish the person would turn themselves in," said her god cousin Adriana Elliott. "That did not have to happen to her. Nakari is a fighter. She’s going to make it through it.”

The day after the press conference, at the ribbon cutting for the Augusta Boulevard protected bike lanes, held two blocks south of Nakari's crash site, local Alderperson Daniel La Spata (1st) asked attendees to keep the teen in their thoughts. He said this tragedy is yet more evidence of the importance of safe street design. At Division, Ashland has seven lanes, a layout that surely contributed to the driver's decision to speed while making a left.

Aerial view of the crash site. Nakari was walking south in the western crosswalk, and the driver was making a high-speed westbound left turn from seven-lane Ashland Avenue. Image: Google Maps

Olatunji Oboi Reed, leader of the mobility justice nonprofit Equiticity shared his thoughts on the case with Streetsblog. "Myself and Equiticity are sending our heartfelt prayers to Nakari Campbell and her extended community of family and friends. We are praying for her full recovery."

He added that the crash is evidence that the city's Vision Zero Chicago Plan to eliminate serious and fatal crashes is not working. "[The plan] is prioritizing punitive strategies, such as police enforcement and automated enforcement. These punitive enforcement strategies must be replaced with restorative justice practices." 

Reed argued that the most effective strategy to make streets safer is redesigning them to force drivers to slow down, follow the rules of the road, and yield to pedestrians and cyclists. "New and improved infrastructure must be combined with community ownership of the planning processes impacting our neighborhoods," he sad. "Community-based organizations and residents in our communities are best positioned to own both the problems and the solutions. This community ownership approach to solving... traffic violence requires funding, capacity building, and shared power." 

Reed is correct that street layouts that force motorists to drive safely should be Chicago's ultimate goal. But in the short term, let's hope the CPD takes action to bring the person who grievously harmed Nakari Campbell to justice, before that driver is able to critically injure or kill someone else.

Read the Block Club piece here.

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