CINCINNATI — A woman and her newborn son have died after a driver lost control of his vehicle on Reading Road Wednesday evening, Cincinnati police announced Thursday morning.
Police said the pregnant 20-year-old was walking along Reading Road when the crash occurred, pinning her under the vehicle. While being treated at the hospital, she gave birth to a baby boy before both died from their injuries, police said.
The woman, whom WCPO is not yet identifying pending notification of family, was new to the area and had been staying at the nearby Esther Marie Hatton Center for Women for roughly a week before Wednesday night's crash, according to police.
Valerie Hall-Julious was also staying at the shelter and recognized the victim as a fellow resident.
"You know, she's in the shelter, she having problems with housing and stuff trying to get herself together, and she just outside to enjoy some of the weather, innocently standing, and a car take her life and her baby's life, too," Hall-Julious told WCPO Thursday.
She also said she heard the crash when it happened and went to see what was going on.
"I see the driver that caused the accident get out of the car, dust hisself off, and he took a few steps and then he collapse. Just collapse," she said.
Police said investigators believe the driver, 31-year-old Anthony Cioffi, was impaired when he lost control of the vehicle. He and one passenger were treated for non-life-threatening injuries.
While the investigation was still active as of Thursday afternoon, police have filed aggravated vehicular homicide charges against Cioffi, pending his release from the hospital.
When firefighters first arrived, they found that Cioffi had hit a telephone pole and then continued south on Reading before striking the young woman and ultimately crashing into the building.
The shelter's director, Arlene Nolan, told WCPO that Wednesday night's crash was the fourth time a vehicle has collided with the building.
"Any pedestrian could have been hit at that point, so this really is a public safety issue," she said. "I was also hoping that the city would help us erect barriers so that everybody's safety is made a priority."
Traffic safety advocate Derek Bauman told WCPO that Reading Road is a hot spot for crashes like this.
"Reading Road is one of the worst corridors in the entire city of Cincinnati," said the former Mason police officer and Over-the-Rhine resident. "It's too wide. It's essentially a five-lane highway through our neighborhoods and many of the folks that live here in Mount Auburn, in Bond Hill, in Avondale don't even have cars."
City data indicate that there have been 22 crashes on the 2400 block of Reading Road over the last four years, 10 of which have involved injury to drivers or pedestrians. The highest instance year was 2018, with eight. There have been three crashes this year, not including Wednesday night's.
For years, Bauman has advocated for design changes to Cincinnati streets.
"We need to shrink the road down, and that tends to make drivers drive slower," he said.
Hall-Julious said she worries about how quickly a crash like Wednesday night's can change everything.
"It can happen so suddenly that people ain't got a chance," she said. "They don't have a chance. That baby didn't have a chance."
A Cincinnati police spokesperson declined to comment on the incident beyond calling it "an absolute tragedy."
"The victim was thrown a significant distance due to the impact," reads a report from Cincinnati Fire Department. "The vehicle then collided with the building located at 2499 Reading Rd. and came to a stop facing northbound with heavy damage."
CFD said bystanders began giving the victim CPR while waiting for first responders to arrive.
"It was by far one of the hardest things to witness," wrote Stephanie Eakes, who identified herself as one of the people who gave the victim CPR, in an email to WCPO. "I had just seen her earlier in the day where we exchanged 'Hello's' (sic) ... I had no idea the next time I would see her she would be in the position that she was in. It was very sad and heartbreaking to know how fast life can be taken away.
"However, this is not the first person I've had to assist who has crashed there car into the shelter. In less than two years four cars have collided into the shelter and three cars 'almost' colliding into the shelter had it not been for the telephone poles or another car," she continued. "Drivers traveling southbound on Reading Road travel at too high of speeds and when they come around the curve they loose control and collide with whatever is in front them which usually is either The Shelter, a pole, a car or a person. This stretch of road is so dangerous."