COVINGTON - Just days shy of having to say good-bye to a good friend, Joan Tramuta had to see where Ann McCarthy took her last steps.
"A great nurse. A person that would help anyone," she said about her friend. "You couldn't say a bad word about Ann, just a wonderful person."
Covington Police say the 52-year-old was on-foot in the crosswalk at West 8th and Harrison around 7:30 p.m. on Friday, February 2. It's a common route St. Tammany Hospital employees take to get to and from the employee parking lot.
At the same time that night, police say another nurse was turning left in her pickup truck onto 8th from Harrison and hit McCarthy going about 5 mph. McCarthy suffered severe injuries initially, but later died at a New Orleans hospital.
The driver was cited for failing to yield to a pedestrian in what police called a "well-lit, well-marked" crosswalk. Shortly after the accident, many people took to social media to criticize that description.
"I have another friend that works here," said Tramuta. "She's a nurse. She tells me it's not a well-lit crosswalk."
Screenshots from police body camera video from the night of the scene show both street lights on above the crosswalk. The crosswalk's paint also appeared to be in good condition. Eyewitness News video from six nights later showed almost similar conditions, but with small blinking lights functioning on two pedestrian crossing signs on either side of the crosswalk.
A second problem pointed out is the obstructed angle of the crosswalk from the stop sign at 8th and Harrison. Another is that drivers seem to see the "Yield To Pedestrian" signs as a suggestion, instead of the law. Louisiana law says at crosswalks not dictated by a traffic light, vehicles have to stop and yield to the pedestrian in the crosswalk or waiting to step into the crosswalk. The law does not allow a pedestrian to step out in front of a vehicle that is so close that it would be impossible for the driver to yield.
Covington Mayor Mike Cooper said in a statement, "The recent vehicle/pedestrian incident involving two (2) employees of St. Tammany Parish Hospital is tragic and our thoughts and prayers are with all those affected. We are evaluating the conditions at the referenced intersection to determine if any changes or improvements may be needed in the future. As always, I ask that citizens be cognizant of posted speed limits, regulatory signs, and designated crosswalks throughout our city as they are designed to optimize public safety."
Tramuta and others want to see change.
"I think by, maybe just having a button you have to push or a stop sign, a stop light. Something to make people stop, because there's a lot of traffic on that street," said Tramuta.
A St. Tammany Hospital spokeswoman released the following statement:
"We are saddened by the loss of 29-year veteran team member Ann McCarthy. We pray for her family and for ours. As in all aspects of our hospital, we take safety very seriously. This accident is an opportunity to determine if there are further steps to reduce risk beyond our existing employee shuttle, signage, striping and warnings."
"We formed a task group that is working closely with the City of Covington to examine pedestrian and vehicular traffic on and near our campus. Immediate actions included evaluation of existing plant and transport. Grounds crew members installed fresh batteries in pedestrian warning signs, repainted stop blocks, crosswalks and parking spaces. Next steps coordinated with city personnel will be determining appropriate ways to address traffic enforcement on adjacent streets. Hospital leadership is also launching a pedestrian safety campaign for employees via internal communication channels."
"If any good can come from such a tragic accident, we hope to discover ways to become even safer and make our employees more aware of hazards in routine driving settings."