In Honor of Powell Calhoun and Donna Williams

The crash site, where Powell Calhoun pushed Donna Williams on Friday, March 30. (16 WAPT News)
The crash site, where Powell Calhoun and Donna Williams traveled on Friday, March 30. (16 WAPT News)

The next time someone refers to a sidewalk as a too-expensive “amenity,” think about Powell Calhoun and Donna Williams.

They were hit by a car as they walked and rolled along a frontage road in Jackson, Mississippi two weeks ago. Ms. Williams uses a wheelchair and Mr. Calhoun helped push her around the streets of Jackson. He died at the scene; she died a few days later of her injuries. The deaths were all the more painful because three years ago, another man using a wheelchair was killed as he traveled in the breakdown lane of another Jackson road without an accessible sidewalk.

Dr. Scott Crawford, a longtime supporter of Complete Streets and a member of Jackson’s ADA advisory council, was friends with Ms. Williams. He blames a failure to build Complete Streets for the deaths.

“Many may wonder: ‘Why were they in the street with a wheelchair?’ ” says Crawford. “The answer is simple. Our society hasn’t yet decided to build and maintain roadways that are safe for ALL its users, including vulnerable ones like bicyclists and pedestrians, and especially those with disabilities.”

Donna Williams, exiting a bus. (Photo: Dr. Scott Crawford)
Donna Williams, exiting a bus. (Photo: Dr. Scott Crawford)

Dr. Crawford says Williams had spoken to ADA Council members about the need for ADA compliance, and the fact that when she encountered a road without a sidewalk, she didn’t have the option of walking in the grass.

The man driving the car that has not yet been charged, and police made a sympathetic comment that the couple may have been in his ‘blind spot’ – an attitude that recalls the case of Raquel Nelson in Georgia.

From our perspective, even more glaring is the fact that the public right of way had no safe place for Calhoun and Williams to travel. I’d guess that right now hundreds of people who use wheelchairs are out in the street across the United States, because there is no sidewalk, or an obstructed sidewalk, or no accessible curb ramp between their home and their destination.

At this point in my blog post, I could quote statistics about pedestrian deaths from Dangerous by Design. But right now, I’m not thinking about statistics. I’m thinking about Powell Calhoun and his wife, Donna Williams, and their friends and families.

Let’s build Complete Streets for them.

Complete Streets