Juniata hit-and-run leaves man dead, as Philadelphia struggles with increased traffic deaths

hit-and-run philadelphia
City officials are urging state lawmakers to continue the use of speed cameras on Roosevelt Bouelvard, seen here at the intersection with Whitaker Avenue.
AP Photo/Julio Cortez

A 24-year-old man was walking back to his car Sunday evening after helping a person whose vehicle had broken down when he was struck and killed by the driver of a white van who fled the scene.

Ezequiel Morales was hit at around 6 p.m. on the 4800 block of Whitaker Avenue in Juniata, near Tacony Creek Park, according to authorities. Medics took him to Einstein Medical Center, where he succumbed to his injuries a short time later, police said.

Morales’s death came less than 24 hours after 76ers player Kelly Oubre Jr. was hospitalized with broken ribs and other injuries following a hit-and-run crash on Spruce Street in Center City. Police have not reported any arrests in either case.

Both incidents draw attention to a general increase in crashes and traffic fatalities in Philadelphia since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. And, in many cases, those behind the wheel are not stopping.

So far this year, 38 fatal hit-and-runs have occurred in the city, more than the year-end total in 2022 and nearly quadruple the number reported in all of 2019, according to data provided by Philadelphia Police Department.

With still more than a month to go in 2023, 640 crashes where a driver fled the scene have been reported this year, the statistics show.

In the eight years preceding the pandemic, fewer than 100 people died annually in crashes in Philadelphia; however, over the past three years, the total has soared over 100, reaching 152 in 2020, according to the city’s Vision Zero report, released last month. Vision Zero is Mayor Jim Kenney’s plan to eliminate traffic fatalities by 2030.

Philadelphia’s rate of traffic deaths is more than three times as high as New York’s and more than double the rate in Boston and San Francisco, the report found.

“It is absolutely alarming to see an increase in severe traffic crashes,” Kenney’s Office of Transportation, Infrastructure and Sustainability (OTIS) said Monday in a statement to Metro. “These crashes are also avoidable.”

The Kenney administration is hoping lawmakers in Harrisburg approve legislation extending the use of speed enforcement cameras on Roosevelt Boulevard, long one of Philadelphia’s most dangerous roads. City officials are also pushing the state to allow the implementation of speed cameras on other roads, OTIS said.

Cameras were installed along the 12-lane Boulevard in 2020. A bill is pending in the Pennsylvania Senate to remove a sunshine clause in the speed camera program. Should the legislation fail, speed cameras could be removed from the Boulevard when the initiative expires in December.

Speed is the primary culprit in serious crashes, and slowing down drivers “is central to changing the general culture of driving in Philadelphia,” OTIS said.

Through Vision Zero, Kenney’s office has advanced roadway redesigns aimed at reducing speeds, and the city intends to continue revamping streets for the safety of pedestrians, bicyclists and others, OTIS said.