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Sister of unsheltered woman killed while crossing the street files federal lawsuit against City of Phoenix

The lawsuit, filed Thursday in federal court, also lists Maricopa County and the Arizona Department of Transportation as defendants.

PHOENIX — For the past eleven months, Beatrice X. Johnson has felt incomplete.

She lost her sister, Dorothy Dale-Chambers, nearly a year ago after Dorothy was struck by a car while crossing the street.

"It’s been unbelievable and it’s been numbing," Beatrice said in an interview with the 12News I-Team Friday.

Now, Beatrice's attorneys filed a lawsuit, in part, against the City of Phoenix, claiming more should have been done to keep the roads safe. The lawsuit was filed Thursday in federal court, according to records obtained by 12News.

Other defendants listed in the case include Maricopa County, the Maricopa County Office of the Medical Examiner, the Arizona Department of Transportation, and police officers involved in the crash case.

The lawsuit does not disclose a dollar amount sought in relief for damages, but states the amount should be "determined at trial."

The crash

Dale-Chambers and her boyfriend, Joseph Gutierrez, were struck and killed by a truck on April 26 as they were crossing 32nd Street at the Yale Street intersection, about a quarter mile south of Thomas Road. 

Dorothy's sister explained that the couple was unsheltered and stayed at nearby Perry Park.

"We did a welfare check every week," Beatrice explained to 12News last year. "And my niece went to go check on her.  And that's how we found out she had been killed. And she was laying in the morgue for eight days."

Investigation records indicate witnesses felt the truck driver was going too fast. The driver told police that he didn't see the couple crossing the road. The police report shows the driver stayed on the scene. The driver had a blood alcohol level of 0.031, which is below the legal limit. 

The lawsuit calls the intersection of the crash an "uncontrolled crosswalk with no pedestrian signal."  

An incident report for the crash indicates that Dale-Chambers and Gutierrez were not in a crosswalk when they were struck.

The intersection at Yale and 32nd streets technically is a crosswalk.  When 12News went to the scene in early August 2022, we saw paint on the road and one sign on the ground, and another that appeared to be blocked by leaves. There weren't any crosswalk lights and when people tried to cross during rush hour, cars didn't stop.

'High-density crash zone'

The federal lawsuit points to city and state data that indicate the intersection at Yale and 32nd streets and roadways leading up to it could have been unsafe. 

In 2022, the 12News I-Team uncovered that the city has known since at least May 2020, before Dorothy and Joseph died, that 32nd Street between McDowell and Thomas Roads is considered a high-density crash zone, according to the City's Key Corridor's Master Plan from May 2020.

In December 2020, Phoenix put out a call for bids to work on four different crosswalk projects across the city, including the intersection at Yale and 32nd streets.

The Phoenix City Council approved a contractor to do the work in April 2021.  

And all four signal projects were supposed to be completed by the end of May 2022, according to the work contract. But that didn't happen.

And at the end of July 2022, the contractor requested an extension to Sept. 12, 2022, blaming supply chain issues.

The city signed off on the extension on Aug. 3, 2022.  At that time, only one of the four crosswalk projects was finished, according to signal activation dates.

At the end of September, the City said the signal at the Yale and 32nd Streets crosswalk was activated. 

More to the federal lawsuit

The lawsuit also claims that the plaintiffs' civil rights were violated during the next-of-kin notification process after Dorothy Dale-Chambers died.

"[Defendants] violated Plaintiff’s constitutional right to equal protection under the law by failing to notify her next of kin that she had been killed within a reasonable time," the lawsuit detailed.

Johnson told 12News that her family found out her sister died eight days after her death. She claims authorities didn't notify her family, but they had to learn on their own while trying to conduct a welfare check for her sister at Perry Park.  The lawsuit claims Chambers was identified by a fingerprint scan at the hospital before she was transported to the medical examiner's office.

"I want her legacy to be change," Johnson said, referring to her sister. "I want her legacy to be accountability."

In an August 2022 email, a Phoenix police spokesperson wrote over email:

As you can imagine, if the deceased person does not have any form of identification during the incident it becomes tough to positively identify someone. If the deceased is experiencing homelessness, it can become a greater challenge because of the lack of information connected to the person. Several police databases are utilized when attempting to notify next of kin.

On Thursday afternoon, a spokesperson for the City of Phoenix stated over email that the city had not been served with the lawsuit and the legal team didn't have a chance to review the claim and couldn't comment at this time.

A spokesperson for Maricopa County said the county does not comment on pending litigation.

A spokesperson for ADOT said ADOT does not comment on pending litigation.

The driver of the truck involved in the crash is facing misdemeanor charges in the case in Phoenix Municipal Court.  He's due back in court next month.


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