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A driver killed her dog steps from her driveway. Now she’s pushing for safer streets

“It was one of the worst experiences of my life."
A car killed her dog steps from her driveway. Now she’s pushing for safer streets
Posted at 10:50 PM, Nov 10, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-11 08:56:48-05

HENRICO COUNTY, Va. -- A Henrico woman said she was steps from her driveway walking her dog on a leash when he was hit and killed by a car on Bethlehem Road. The driver didn’t stop. It happened on the same road where police said a pedestrian was killed in 2020.

“It was one of the worst experiences of my life,” said Hilary Smith. “I just couldn’t believe it.”

At the Libbie Mill home she’d lived in for eight years, photos hung on the wall of Smith and her family of four. Smith and her fiancé cuddled their two dogs, Dash the Maltese, and Phythian the Maltipoo.

“The way they could sit on my lap at the same time, they would figure out a way to do that. That was kind of amazing,” said Smith as she pointed to one of the photos.

But in an interview with CBS 6 last week, Smith kept Dash close to her side, nervous in her own front yard, which sat along a busy Bethlehem Road.

“It happened right there,” Smith said, pointing to the street directly in front of her home.

On Tuesday, October 26, just before 10 a.m., Smith said she watched Phythian get hit as the trio crossed the street. The force while holding the leash pulled Smith down on the road.

Smith said the driver didn’t stop, but thankfully, the cars behind did.

“I mean the car that hit Phythian could’ve hit me and Dash really easily. We were inches from where it happened,” Smith said.

Smith added that she had looked both ways before crossing and had not seen a car close to them.

Phythian later died at the emergency vet.

“And they did everything they could, but as they said, it wasn’t possible to help him,” she said.

A post she made about the incident on Nextdoor garnered hundreds of comments from neighbors, some with their own stories of concern about the street that sat between Staples Mill Road and Libbie Avenue.

It was the same area where Henrico Police said a Henrico woman was killed in February of 2020 while walking from Bethlehem Rd. toward a convenience store.

“It’s always been busy. Now I know how dangerous it is,” said Smith.

Smith was now using her experience to advocate for a safer Bethlehem Road.

“Now we’re at the point where there’s so much foot traffic on what used to be a road without foot traffic at all,” said Smith.

Because of that, she wants a lower speed limit, a sidewalk put in place, crosswalk and speed bumps to prevent cars from speeding through.

Terrell Hughes, Henrico County Director of Public Works, said some of that was already in progress as part of the Bethlehem Road Improvement Project, which was expected to be completed in 2023.

“I think that's really what we're getting at with this roadway improvement project, is we're adding the roundabout, which is a design element that, that contributes to safer speeds. And we're adding some design elements such as a sidewalk and trail, that will create a safer environment for the pedestrian,” said Hughes.

Crosswalks were also expected to be installed along Bethlehem Road at the Lacy Lane roundabout.

But Hughes said given the classification of Bethlehem Road as a collector road, it was unlikely that the speed limit would be reduced, and speed bumps installed.

Hughes said there were multiple other roads in the county similar to Bethlehem, that could pose a threat to pedestrians, and Public Works was trying to improve that. He said they had 77 projects in the works.

“And we have a number of other projects where we're working with the state, the Virginia Department of Transportation, on roads such as Broad Street, I use that as an example, Nine Mile Road, Williamsburg Road, where we're working to retrofit sidewalk pedestrian accommodations, such as pedestrian signals," he said.

Broad Street was just one of the major thoroughfares in the region where one or more pedestrians were killed in 2021. Midlothian Turnpike was another.

The Virginia Department of Transportation said Chesterfield County had identified the Midlothian Turnpike corridor as a priority for improved pedestrian accommodations, particularly in the Village of Midlothian area.

They kicked off a corridor study in the fall to develop concept sketches and cost estimates for roadway and pedestrian improvements.

As for Bethlehem Road, Bethanie Glover, Spokesperson for VDOT said it was maintained by Henrico County and not VDOT.

But she said in general when road improvement projects were in their research and design phases, VDOT always looked for opportunities to add pedestrian accommodations like sidewalks and crosswalks when possible -- but added that funding was sometimes limited.

“A major decision point for whether or not to add crosswalks in a location is if pedestrians will have somewhere to go (a sidewalk, for example) once they cross. VDOT's top priority is always safety,” said Glover.

Smith believed there was still more work to do on Bethlehem Road and around the region.

“He was a very joyful dog. And that’s contagious. I’ll definitely miss that,” said Smith. “Just today, I got his ashes and paw prints.”

For Smith, the consequences of not prioritizing pedestrian safety were clear.

“As terrible as it is to lose a dog, more people could be hurt too. And that could be tragic,” Smith said.

Henrico Police documented the incident as a hit and run. Smith described the vehicle that hit her dog as a black SUV. Anyone with information was encouraged to call Crime Stoppers at (804) 780-1000.