Front page of the Pioneer Press with the headline "We were always careful" and a photo of a cross with flowers in a front yard. A white candle is laid over the newspaper.

Mourning Another Pedestrian

I didn’t take any pictures at the vigil for Steve Wirtz, the St. Paul man who was killed by a driver on Christmas Eve along Maryland Avenue. I wasn’t there as a journalist and it didn’t seem right.

I went partly because he was a pedestrian killed by traffic violence, and partly because he grew up across town, in my neighborhood of St. Anthony Park. Honestly, that last part is what got me out of my house on a Saturday late afternoon that had turned cold and windy just before New Year’s Eve.

That and the fact that the intersection where it happened — Maryland Avenue and Park Street in St. Paul’s North End — had recently been “traffic calmed.” Much of Maryland, a Ramsey County road, has been changed to two lanes with a center turn lane. The intersection at Park now has two lanes with a concrete refuge median that crosses the intersection, so northbound and southbound drivers can no longer pass through. There’s a painted crosswalk and reflective pedestrian indication signs. So it seems like the kind of place where you’d be least likely to get hit by a reckless driver.

The intersection of Maryland and Park in 2009, from Google Street View.
Maryland Avenue at Park Street was previously four lanes, and there was no crosswalk. Image: Google Street View, 2009.
The intersection of Maryland and Park in 2024.
The intersection is one block east of the busy Maryland Avenue/Rice Street intersection, at the northwest corner of Sylvan Park. Steve was hit in the eastbound lanes (oncoming in this photo) and his body landed 100 feet east of the crosswalk, behind where the photo was taken. Photo by the author.

There has been a lot of talk of the street lights being out along Maryland because of wire theft, including the one right over the crosswalk, but according to his neighbors, Steve was wearing reflective clothing and carrying a flashlight. So even if it was raining — which it was on that unseasonably warm Christmas Eve — if the driver had been going 30 mph, the speed limit, it would have been possible to see Steve in time to stop. Or at least he may have been going slowly enough not to kill him. (The Pioneer Press coverage emphasizes the lack of street lights, but not the fact that Steve would have been visible anyway.)

The details of the crash reconstruction have not been released yet, but given where Steve’s body landed (the location of the cross memorial made by neighbors) relative to the crosswalk, there must have been a fair amount of force involved. That distance is close to 100 feet, and he was a big guy. The cross is two houses away from the crosswalk. So the term “road violence” seems appropriate to me.

In an eerie bookending of this crash and collision, Steve’s older sister told me that when she was 5 years old, she was also hit by a car when they lived on St. Anthony Park’s Raymond Avenue, just north of the railroad trestle that now carries the University of Minnesota’s Transitway.

That time, her child body was thrown about 50 feet, she said. She doesn’t remember any details about it. This was in the early 1960s.

People in my neighborhood complain about traffic speeds on Raymond Avenue to this day.

Steve Wirtz was 64 years old. His dog, also killed, was 2. Steve is survived by his wife, Laurel-Lee, and mourned by his neighbors, who remembered him at the vigil as the guy who would walk you home at night.

Pat Thompson

About Pat Thompson

Pat Thompson is cochair of the St. Anthony Park Community Council's Transportation Committee, a member of Transition Town - All St. Anthony Park, and a gardener in public and private places. She is a member of the Climate Committee.