CINCINNATI — The woman police said drove off after she hit a child crossing the street in West Price Hill last Thursday went on the defensive in court Monday, saying she never fled the scene.
One of several crashes involving motorists striking pedestrians and cyclists across the Tri-State in recent weeks, leaders now want to know just how safe the city's streets really are for non-motorists, and how they could be safer.
Ruby Estepp, 36, pleaded not guilty on a charge of leaving the scene of Thursday's crash near the intersection of Glenway Avenue and Winfield Avenue.
Estepp’s attorney, public defender Stephan Madden, told the judge Monday that his client didn’t flee but instead felt unsafe where she was.
“She tells me that, when this accident occurred, she was at the scene for quite a while,” Madden said in court. “She felt unsafe where she was and went one block away and waited for police to show up and flagged them down.
“So I’m not sure this charge will stick as it is,” he said.
Surveillance footage from a nearby business shows a group of pedestrians, including 11-year-old London Smith, step out into traffic at a marked crosswalk near the intersection. As they walked south across Glenway, a vehicle in the left eastbound lane stopped while another in the eastbound curb lane did not and hit the child.
Smith is recovering from her injuries, which currently requires keeping her leg elevated at all times.
Estepp originally was scheduled to stand before a judge on Friday, but she did not show up for that court appearance.
Thursday’s crash marks one of several local incidents involving vehicles striking pedestrians or cyclists in recent weeks, including a Metro bus hitting and killing 73-year-old Stephen Frank in Hyde Park on Jan. 27, as well as a motorist veering onto the shoulder and fatally wounding 43-year-old cyclist Michael Prater.
Not long after Frank and Prater’s deaths, Cincinnati City Councilman and current contender for a U.S. Senate seat in Ohio, P.G. Sittenfeld, filed a motion with the council’s Neighborhoods Committee, requesting city staffers prepare a report identifying the city’s most dangerous crossings and intersections for pedestrians and cyclists.
The motion was co-signed by all eight of Sittenfeld’s fellow council members.
“For me, the city needs to be sure to make sure we’re being proactive in ensuring pedestrian safety,” Sittenfeld told WCPO by phone last week, shortly after filing the motion. “Our city is designed to be pedestrian-friendly. I think the big issue is making sure we’re integrating how both pedestrians and automobile traffic work together.
“That’s where there’s the biggest area of improvement.”
Vice Mayor David Mann, who chairs the Neighborhoods Committee, said city officials are taking the problem of pedestrian safety as seriously as any other public safety issue, including gun violence.
“It’s akin to what we’re doing with worrying about shootings and the like,” Mann told WCPO. “There’s no substitute for data or facts about where (pedestrians) are at risk."
In a similar move, Cincinnati Police Chief Elliot Isaac announced last week a new, crime-reduction plan focusing on place-based investigation tactics to identify especially violent spots throughout the city.
Mann said he intends to push for the report to arrive quickly when full council votes on the motion during Wednesday’s meeting.
Ohio legislators are currently considering a bill that would increase the penalties incurred by convicted hit-and-run drivers. Both Ohio and Kentucky lawmakers are also weighing legislation that would require a 3-foot cushion when passing cyclists on the road.
WCPO's Joe Rosemeyer and Tom McKee contributed to this report.
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