On January 11th of 2021, Ut Thi Nguyen was killed by a hit-and-run driver of, likely, a Nissan Titan as she tried to cross 4th St. N.W. at Griegos. Born in 1948, Ms. Nguyen lived west of 4th on 9th Street and regularly walked to shop for groceries at the Lowe’s (now “Food King”) on 4th and at the Walgreens on the end side of 4th St. Investigators on-scene noted a Walgreen’s plastic bag in Ms. Nguyen’s left hand that included a receipt time-stamped just prior to the crash.
Along with the bag/receipt, a piece of gray vehicle trim lie close to Ms. Nguyen. Investigators searched the number found on the trim and discovered it a part for a 2017-2019 Nissan Titan. As is always the case now, investigators also canvassed immediately surrounding businesses for potentially helpful security video. The Lowe’s camera, although poor in quality, captures a driver in a dark-colored truck “strike the female and continue north bound.”
As is also very often done in hit-and-run cases, investigators contacted “Crime Stoppers” to place a bulletin about the incident after interviewing some on-site witnesses who generally did not see the moment of impact. To this date, no useful information has resulted from Crime Stoppers. One witness did arrive at the scene some moments after the crash, having first swerved around the body lying on southbound 4th, and performed the gruesome, but necessary, role of stopping and trying to direct traffic around Ms. Nguyen. That driver did not see the actual crash.
Also notable in the police crash report and supplemental investigation:
- The investigating officer notes that lighting at the point of impact, just north of Griegos on 4th is “poorly lit as it falls between two light posts, both of which are too far to provide adequate illumination to this area of northbound 4th ST NW.” Being January 11th, it was dark at the time (~7:00 p.m.) of the crash. Meanwhile, the Uniform Crash Report for the incident notes the lighting as “Dark Lighted.” As we will constantly be pointed out in these reports, Crash Reports are completed by police officers immediately/almost immediately after a crash. Supplemental investigations, when conducted (as in the case of a fatal crash) occur over time. Hence, Crash Reports are often incomplete. As an example, Ms. Nguyen’s name does not appear in the Crash Report, as identification was not immediately found. Nevertheless, Crash Report data is very, very often used as the primary data collection tool in studies concerning crash cause(s). So, in this crash, studies would label the crime scene as “Dark Lighted,” leaving out the “poorly lit…” investigator’s comment altogether.
- The Crash Report also posits “Pedestrian Error” as an “Apparent Contributing Factor,” due to Ms. Nguyen having been struck “just north” of the intersection at 4th and Griegos. “Pedestrian Error” is listed as cause every time the victim is found to have been crossing outside of a signalized intersection. Even in hit-and-runs. As is sometimes also the case, “Driver distracted by other activity, driver inattention, lights (head, signal, tail), speed too fast for conditions” are listed as “Apparent Contributing Factors” for the driver, even though the Crash Report officer had, of course, no driver to interview, no witnesses with such detail, and no security camera video at the time.
- In short: Uniform Crash Reports are very often worthless as data gathering tools, and almost always worthless as data gathering tools in cases of hit-and-run.
Ut Thi Nguyen’s son, who lives in Santa Fe but frequently visited his mother, contacted the Office of the Medical Investigator the next day and reported his mother missing. APD officers told the son of the fatal crash the following day, after OMI, rather inexplicably, failed to tell the son the prior day they already knew Ms. Nguyen was dead.
Relying on police crash and supplemental reports for information about a person killed in a crash is overwhelmingly a dry and impersonal experience. Put bluntly, dead people can’t tell their story. Still, in just about every case one gets a sense of the person, often through the short reports of other APD officers on scene. From such reports in this case, we find that Ms. Nguyen frequented the grocery often enough that employees recalled that she only paid cash. Also, found in that aforementioned Walgreen’s shopping bag was an earwax removal kit, receipt included.
So we might deduce that Ms. Ut Thi Nguyen, age 73 or 74, needed something not available at her local grocery on “her” side of 4th Street and needed to cross that dangerous street back and forth after a trip to the drug store. She didn’t cross at the intersection. One of the most difficult things for folks who only drive everywhere to understand is how unsafe intersections appear, and often literally are for those not driving.
Those who do just driver everywhere are urged to go try it yourself. Hit that “beg button” at any corner of 4th and Griegos (or any busy intersection in town). See for yourself how many drivers don’t stop before making a right turn on red, and that’s just one of countless potential conflict points constantly in need of checking as one “legally” crosses.
Now try it when you’re 73 or 74 years old.
The sight lines, and the distance between you and, for instance, that driver turning right on red, are better. It literally feels safer. Try it some time. Just don’t try it when somebody in a Nissan Titan with a piece of missing trim blows by. Because that somebody is still out there. Driving.
Condolences to Ms. Nguyen, her son, other family members, and those who knew her. She died at 4th and Greigos on January 11, 2021.