A Muscogee school district worker in a district pickup truck traveled onto the sidewalk to fatally strike Loretta Williams and injure a second woman as they walked Saturday morning along Steam Mill Road, Columbus police reported Monday.
Investigators said the accident happened about 6:30 a.m. when 45-year-old Alfie Johnson's westbound white Ford F-150 drifted onto the sidewalk where Williams was walking west beside Linda Estell, 63, of Kennedy Street.
Another walker, Randall Williams, said she was bruised when the pickup sideswiped her as she pushed companion Eddie Ford out of the way. Loretta Williams and Estell were walking about 2 feet ahead of her and Ford, she said.
"I could feel the truck behind me; I don't know why," Randall Williams said. "I saw his lights out of my peripheral vision, and I could feel him being real close, and I thought, 'He is too close.' And he was on the sidewalk."
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The truck hit her shoulder and arm as she shoved Ford aside, she said. Then it hit the other two women: "He hit both of my friends, and they flew about 10 feet," she said.
She believes Loretta Williams died at the scene.
"She had lost a significant amount of blood. We couldn't get her to respond," she said. "Miss Linda could speak, but we couldn't get Miss Loretta to respond."
Estell was listed in satisfactory condition Monday at The Medical Center, a hospital representative said.
Valerie Fuller, spokesperson for the Muscogee County School District, did not return calls Monday asking about Johnson's employment status with the district.
The impact interrupted a jovial conversation the walkers had been having, Randall Williams said. They were laughing when the truck came up behind them: "We were just talking about our parents, how they act. We were coming up with the little quirky things they do."
A mutual friend, Geneva Turner, said the four pedestrians were among a group of people who regularly meet at Columbus' Shirley Winston Park and walk for exercise.
Loretta Williams was 50 years old and lived on Coronet Drive in Columbus, according to investigators, who said the accident happened 400 feet east of Georgia Drive, just down a hill from the entrance to Shirley Winston Park. Orange spray paint left by officers marking the scene was on the road and sidewalk in front of Pierce Chapel AME Church at 4710 Steam Mill Road.
Turner said the walking group of 10 to 12 people meets regularly at the park gym at 5:30 a.m. on weekdays, but does not adhere to so strict a schedule on weekends. She said she did not witness the accident herself because she missed Saturday's walk.
"Loretta was such a great person," Turner said. "She was a minister, had just preached a sermon on that Friday night. She tried to encourage people."
Williams was faithful about keeping her exercise schedule, Turner said: "She was doing that because she was proud of the fact that she had lost so much weight; she had got off diabetic medicine; she was no longer a diabetic. She was a bus driver for the school system at Fort Benning."
Turner said Estell is a retired postal worker.
Randall Williams said Loretta Williams often spoke of God as they walked:
"She and I walked together, every day, seven days a week, and every day, we would pray. We would pray and walk. She always would encourage me; I always would encourage her. We were a family out there. We took care of one another."
They even walked in the rain, she said.
"We loved each other," she said. "Miss Loretta was the sweetest person. She was always talking about God.... We always prayed together, and that just did something for my heart, for my soul. I still can't believe she's gone."