February 22, 2014 in City

Shawn Vestal: As man dies in roadway, nobody stops

By The Spokesman-Review
Reward offered

Crime Stoppers is offering a cash reward for information leading to an arrest in the fatal hit-and-run that killed Don J. Foster, 55, on Feb. 9. The accident happened around 8:45 p.m. near the intersection of Mission Avenue and South Riverton Avenue. Police said they are looking for a person driving a gold or tan Jeep-type SUV. Witnesses told police that several other vehicles also hit the man. If you have information, call (800) 222-TIPS.

Who killed Don Foster?

The question lingers, almost two weeks after the shameful, ugly spectacle of Foster’s death. Police are still looking for a gold or tan SUV – a Jeep or something similar – that smacked into Foster in the darkness of a Sunday night as he crossed Mission Avenue at South Riverton Avenue in Spokane. The driver of that SUV did not stop. Foster was then struck at least two more times by other vehicles, the drivers of which also did not stop.

One woman who says she witnessed the accident said Foster was hit by even more drivers. “He was trying to get back up and several more cars kept hitting him, about five more cars. Dunk, dunk, dunk, dunk,” the woman told KREM-TV.

Nobody stopped. Foster was dead by the time police arrived at around 9 p.m. on Feb. 9. The extent of his injuries was made clear in the dry, detached language of the medical examiner’s report: “Cause: Blunt head, chest, abdominal and extremity injuries.”

He was injured everywhere, all over, and he died from it, and nobody bothered to stop.

It seems important to not let this be Don Foster’s final mark on the world. To not let this be the end of it. To insist that a man not be simply driven over and killed by people – whatever the circumstances – who are utterly uncompelled to stop and see what they have done. It seems important that Don Foster – who lived his life in the margins, homeless, so separated from family that officials struggled to find any next-of-kin to notify – not be simply looked away from in death.

Foster was 55, and he was known among the homeless population and those who help them. Officials at the Union Gospel Mission said he stayed there several times over the years, but not in the recent past. Ed McCarron, director of the House of Charity, said he has known Foster for years, at least as far back as 2000, when the new shelter opened, and probably even longer.

McCarron said Foster was a Native American from Arizona. The medical examiner’s office had a hard time finding next of kin after his death; they did eventually locate a relative or relatives but would release no more information.

Like many homeless men, Foster was a drinker, but he was quiet and sociable, McCarron said, not a troublemaker. He had a small group with whom he spent most of his time, often meeting them in Mission Park or Chief Garry Park. They’d camp nearby, under the bridge.

“Don Foster was one of those invisible guys,” McCarron said. “You’d see him down at the library. You’d see him trudging around.”

When McCarron first heard that a pedestrian had been hit and killed, and that the man was likely homeless, he immediately thought of Foster and a couple of other guys he hung around with. “I know them to reside in that area,” he said.

Foster often stayed at the House of Charity during the winter and camped in the summer. McCarron said he’d never seen Foster panhandling, though he did sometimes go “canning” for aluminum. He said they’re planning a service for Foster at the shelter.

Police have put up a reward for any information leading to an arrest in this case. Spokane police spokeswoman Monique Cotton said an investigator is still working the case and that police have received some information, but “we’re still looking for tips from the public.”

She said the case was not at a dead end. “This is definitely a priority,” she said. “It’s an active investigation.”

So much remains unknown about Foster’s death. He was crossing Mission at a nightmare spot for pedestrians, on the east end of the bridge that spans the river, near Mission Park and Avista. It was around 8:45, a little snowy. It is impossible to know how it happened, and it’s possible the driver of the SUV was not at fault, that it was simply a terrible accident. McCarron said he was told that Foster was wearing reflective tape on his clothing. In any case, Foster was hit by the first car traveling east on Mission and thrown into the opposite lane, where he was hit at least a couple more times.

There are few certainties but these: Foster was killed, and nobody stopped.

“Everyone I talk to about that says, ‘How do you hit someone and not know it?’ ” McCarron said. “You stop. You do something.”

Shawn Vestal can be reached at (509) 459-5431 or shawnv@ spokesman.com. Follow him on Twitter at @vestal13.

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