Three Lives Lost Crossing the Street in East Portland

Two of the people killed were walking home on separate nights from the same 7-Eleven.

MISSING LIGHTS: Isaac McCree holds a photo of himself and James McCree near Southeast Division and 130th, where his father was killed. Lack of streetlights was in part to blame. (Sam Gehrke)

James Arsweld McCree

Isaac McCree was sitting on his back porch one night after work when he heard tires screech in the distance. That turned out to be the sound of his father being killed in a hit-and-run.

The last words McCree, 27, exchanged with his father were "I love you" before going to work the night shift at a nearby Fred Meyer store. "At least I have that closure," McCree says.

On Feb. 2, 2019, a wet and cold evening, just a few minutes after midnight, 58-year-old James McCree was heading home from a night out with friends. He was an eight-minute walk from his home when he stepped into the intersection of Southeast 130th Avenue and Division Street—and was struck by a car whose driver fled the scene.

The two-year study of pedestrian deaths by Oregon Walks shows that 79% of fatal crashes happened at night. Those odds grow worse for people with dark skin or disabilities. James McCree was a Black man walking East Portland's poorly lit streets who was also legally blind.

The speed limit is 30 mph at the intersection where he died. The McCrees say it seems everyone drives at least 10 mph faster than that. And Isaac McCree says the street lighting along outer Division is so bad he often doesn't feel safe driving.

"Why are there only street lights on one side of the street?" Isaac questions. "Not only that, those streetlights half the time are not even bright enough to see anything from them."

Our cover story: You're Driving Too Damn Fast

That night, James McCree made sure to wear a lightly colored jacket and carry a reflective red and white cane before he left for the night—but that didn't make him safer.

Southeast Division Street. (Sam Gehrke)

McCree was partially blind as a result of surgery to remove a brain tumor he had when he was a young boy, but it never stopped him from living his life to the fullest. He played basketball and was a huge Blazers fan, he'd sing and dance, and he took wood workshop classes. In the late '80s, he attended a woodshop course for the visually impaired in Arkansas, which is where he met Priscilla, who is also blind, and they got married in 1993. "He was a good man," Priscilla McCree says.

More than 100 people attended his funeral—mostly faces unfamiliar to Isaac McCree: "They didn't even have enough chairs for everyone who showed up."

McCree says he and his father were just starting to develop a deeper bond in the past few years, and they were planning to go to Vegas. Most nights, when McCree got home from work around 11:30, his father would be up waiting to hang out.

"It would always be an uplifting feeling. I'd pull up and see my dad standing out there on the porch. We'd crack open a beer in the back and sit there for hours chatting." McCree says. "When I got home [the night he died], I thought he was already in bed asleep. Now that he's gone, it's a surreal feeling."

YOUNGER DAYS: 34-year-old Yelena Loukas embraces one of her nieces. When she moved from Russia to the U.S., she left her own family behind but would spend time with her husband’s relatives.

Yelena V. Loukas

Yelena Loukas stopped by 7-Eleven on Feb. 1, 2018, to pick up a beer. She never got to drink it.

Loukas, 53, was leaving the convenience store at Southeast 148th Avenue and Stark Street at around 12:30 am, when she and her red four-wheel walker were hit by a white Nissan in the crosswalk.

The cashier told officers Loukas was a nightly customer. She was returning to her apartment—which is nearly visible from the intersection—when she was struck by the speeding Nissan running a red light.

Officers ended up arresting David Sanders, who had been seen driving a similar car. He was charged with a hit-and-run, among dozens of other charges—it's unclear if those charges stemmed from Loukas' death.

Loukas was born and raised in Russia and graduated from a Moscow university with a degree in psychiatry. She moved to the United States with her husband, Brad, in the late '90s. In Portland, the couple opened a Russian-English interpreting service. Brad Loukas died of a heart attack a few years ago.

Yelena Loukas suffered from chronic back pain and had undergone multiple surgeries. Her back never improved, so she had to use the walker.

Her brother-in-law, Dave Loukas, says she was a fun and caring person. She enjoyed reading and was a night owl, he recalls. She would sometimes stay up all night buried in a book.

FLASHBACKS: Yelena’s family remembers her as a kind person who was fun to be around at family get-togethers. She loved to read and would often stay up all night with a book.

Loukas says what happened to her was "vehicular manslaughter," and he blames the city.

"She was a real nice person, willing to help others—she did not deserve to die this way. If the city spent more time and researched this, there would be less crosswalk murders," Loukas says. "The city needs to light the intersections better, provide cameras so they can catch the murderers, and post signs well in advance of the crosswalk."

According to police reports, it appears the driver had no intention of slowing down for the crosswalk or a red light. Witnesses estimated he was going between 60 and 100 mph—well over the 30 mph limit.

Her nephew Devon Loukas says he used to live near Southeast Stark Street, adding that the street needs more sidewalks, better lighting and clearer road directions, which he finds confusing.

"I've seen a lot of people almost get hit," Loukas says. "I try to avoid being a pedestrian when I'm over there. The city should have done something about this years ago—yet it still is happening."

DEADLY INTERSECTION: Southeast Stark is one of Portland’s most dangerous streets. The intersection at 146th spans 65 feet directly next to a residential neighborhood where commutes are essential.(Sam Gehrke)

Darnell Joseph Jolly

Darnell Jolly planned to propose to his longtime girlfriend, Sharen Johnson. But she didn't know that until after he was killed. She found the engagement ring while going through his clothes.

"He was the best man I ever knew," Johnson says.

Jolly, 64, was hit by driver William Leptich at around 6:30 pm on Oct. 26, 2018, at the poorly lit intersection of Southeast 146th Avenue and Stark Street. It was raining and dark. Jolly, a Black man, was slowly crossing the 65-foot-wide street at an unmarked crosswalk. He couldn't bend his knees because of football injuries sustained years before.

Leptich, also 64, was intoxicated above the legal limit when he hit Jolly at about 35 mph with a 2009 Ford F-150 pickup truck. The speed limit was 30.

Jolly was transported to Oregon Health & Science University, where he died two days later. He had been heading home from the 7-Eleven just two blocks from the apartment he shared with Johnson.

"It's been really hard without him," Johnson says. "Pedestrians don't have a chance in this town."

Johnson uses a wheelchair herself and says it's a struggle getting around in Portland, especially on Stark Street. "Cars do not stop, it's the craziest thing," she says. "I'll be halfway across the street and people just don't stop—it's scary."

Before Jolly died, he would always open doors for Johnson. "He knew how to treat a lady," she says.

Johnson and Jolly were inseparable ever since they first met at a downtown warming shelter in 2013. They were both unhoused at the time and were proud when they finally moved into their apartment at 146th and Stark, where Johnson still lives today.

Jolly loved to play dominoes at Dawson Park with his friends. In fact, that was how he spent the last few hours of his life.

He was also neighbors with Yelena Loukas—both were killed in pedestrian collisions the same year just a block apart from one another. Both were older, disabled and walked slowly—almost a death sentence in East Portland.

A MATTER OF TIME: Darnell Jolly and Yelena Loukas were both heading home from this 7-Eleven when they were hit and killed seven months apart at about the same time of night. Both were elderly with disabilities. (Sam Gehrke)

The 30 mph speed limit posted on Stark where Jolly was hit had been lowered in previous years from 40 mph.

Johnson blames reckless drivers and the hazardous infrastructure that enables them. She thinks police look the other way: "There's no enforcement, there's nothing." And she wishes city officials would come out to East Portland and ask residents what they think needs to be improved.

"This street is horrible. They just fly out here like crazy. To get a crosswalk or speed bump, why can't they do that for us?" Johnson asks. "It's so upsetting to be in a wheelchair in this town. You're just invisible."

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