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Witness: Hit-and-run driver left victims 'like road kill'

A Niles woman in her 80s was killed and and another woman was gravely injured when they were struck by a hit-and-run driver Saturday in the Jefferson Park neighborhood on the city's Northwest Side, police said.
 
The accident happened about 11:55 a.m. on the 5700 block of West Lawrence Avenue, said Police News Affairs Officer John Mirabelli.
 One of the women, who was described as in her 80s, died from her injuries, he said.

The other victim, believed to be in her late 70s, was taken in serious-to-critical condition to Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, police said. A spokesman for the Fire Department described her condition as "extremely critical."

The older woman was identified as Margaret Heffernan by police and staff members at the senior center where she lived. The medical examiner’s office could not immediately confirm her identity.
 Preliminary reports said the women were struck by a black or dark blue newer-model Ford F-150 pickup truck with a ladder on the bed and a spare tire on the right rear axle, said police. The driver was described as a male wearing dark clothing.

Police said the survivor tried to get Heffernan away from the path of the pickup before the two were struck.

Brigida Rodriguez, owner of the Unisex Pro-Elegance salon at 5714 W. Lawrence Ave., said that the younger woman was escorting the older woman to Rodriguez’s shop to get her hair cut. Rodriguez said that she was waiting inside her shop when she heard the commotion outside, and quickly found that her longtime clients had been hit by a car.

“They were a couple of doors down from my shop on the ground,” said Rodriguez, 63, when reached by telephone.

Rodriguez said that the women were close friends who had been coming to her shop regularly for more than 10 years.

“I just hope that they catch whoever did this because they were very nice ladies,” Rodriguez said. “They don’t deserve this.”

In the hallway at St. Andrew Life Center in Niles where Heffernan had been living, a bulletin board had a list of residents' birthday for this month.

The list indicated that Heffernan's birthday was Saturday.

A witness of the hit-and-run, Imad Said, was in his car about 100 feet behind the truck going east on Lawrence Avenue when he saw it strike something, he said.
 
"I thought it was a garbage can on the curb or another car," said Said, who lives near West Lawrence and North Menard avenues.

When he realized the truck had hit a person, he made a U-turn to search for the vehicle on streets nearby, but was unsuccessful.
 
"I wish I could have done more," he said. "I wish I could have gotten the license plate."

A second witness, Gennaro Amitrano, said he was on his motorcycle when the collision occurred. After stopping briefly to check on the victims, he said he followed the fleeing truck, which sped off north on Major Avenue.

Amitrano followed the street for several blocks but could not find the truck.
 
"If I hadn't stopped, I probably could have gotten the license plate," said Amitrano, 39.

He returned to the scene shortly after, which was filled with emergency personnel. One of the victims, he said, lay motionless near the curb, while the other had flown through the air and landed near the center lines of the road.

"It was horrible," Amitrano said. "I couldn't believe the guy just left them there, lying on the road like road kill. I just kept thinking, 'What if it was that guy's grandmother?' It's still bothering me."

Michael Kafaro, 12, who lives on the same block across from the accident site, said he was inside doing homework when he heard a loud crash and a horn. When he rushed outside, he said he saw the two victims lying on the ground on opposite sides of West Lawrence Avenue.

"Her eye was swollen, her stomach was bloody and she was just whining and crying," Kafaro said of the victim on the north side of the street. "The medic said she had a fractured hip."

Kafaro's mother, Christina Sosa, said that she feared the worst when she ran over to the victim on the south side of the street.

"I knew she was gone," said Sosa, 35. "She was looking at me, her eyes open, but not responding. Minutes before she was alive and walking around, and then ... ."

Other neighbors who live along West Lawrence Avenue said they frequently have trouble with careless drivers on that stretch of road, citing a case of a man struck by a speeding vehicle earlier this year.

"They drive like maniacs down this street," said Kim Kloppke, 43. "They have no respect for the kids out here."

"Drivers are preoccupied," Sosa said. "Cars do not slow down and they don't stop fast enough."

Anyone with information about the accident should contact the Police Major Accident Investigation Unit at 312-745-4521.
 
dawilliams@tribune.com
 

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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