PHOENIX—The family and community of Dorothy Dale-Chambers and her companion Joseph Gutierrez held a prayer vigil and walk on October 29 to mark the six-month anniversary of their deaths from vehicle homicide to honor their lives and stand against injustice to those unsheltered and homeless.
The couple was unsheltered and lived in Perry Park, adjacent to the intersection between 32nd Street and Yale Street in Phoenix. On April 26, Ms. Dale-Chambers and Mr. Gutierrez made their last walk across 32nd Street, after a truck driven by 27-year-old Nebojsa Petkovic struck them.
“This is about the unsheltered, the homeless, ‘the least of God,’ as society would say. … But even if that was the case, she did not deserve to die in that manner,” said Beatrice X Johnson, co-founder of Love Not Blood Campaign, along with her husband, Cephus “Uncle Bobby” Johnson. She is also the sister of Ms. Dale-Chambers.
Even after she died, her sister should not have laid in the morgue for eight days, without her family being notified, said Beatrice X. “We loved her. We cared for her. We did not like that she was in the park, but we couldn’t do anything about it, but we continued to love her. She was not a throw-away, and that is the way that our family felt that she was treated,” she continued.
Childhood trauma and a lifetime of mental illness since the age of 26 plagued Ms. Dale-Chambers, according to her family. She suffered, and lived in a state of homelessness, though she tried to stay in the reality of life, they said. In 2020, she was at her best, they said. Ora Crush, her niece, conducted weekly wellness checks and dropped off money, food, clothes, and essential items.
When she went to visit one day and couldn’t find her aunt, she said a young man Ms. Dale-Chambers considered “her son,” couldn’t speak. “Finally, he said, ‘She’s dead,’” she stated.
Ms. Crush began calling county facilities and found her.
“They said she’s been here, and I only had two more days to claim her,” she said. “Never mind you, when her purse got stolen, all her benefits, her mail, comes to my address, so there’s no way they should not have been able to find her on the first day. They knew her without an ID, fingerprints.”
At the time of the funeral, she stated, all family received was her aunt’s jewelry. “All of a sudden, they sent a letter to my house, yesterday—I didn’t give them my address, but Social Security has it, like they could’ve found it—and determined that they wanted her to come pick up her property,” said Ms. Crush, during the vigil. “That was a kick in the face. How’s a dead person going to go pick up their property?” she added.
“I just leave it in God’s hands, and hope all these people up here stay safe, because they don’t care, because they just figure they’re somebody out here that wants to be out here. They don’t want to be out here, all of them! They have mental problems and drug addiction,” Ms. Crush said.
“If they get a building and start putting these people in there, start helping them out, maybe they can change, because she changed,” she said.
“Amen! Amen,” said the intimate crowd of family and friends, who applauded, before their walk to the scene of the accident.
First, the family sang famous recording artist/songwriter/producer Quincy Jones’ “Miss Celie’s Blues (Sister),” then released balloons, purple for Ms. Dale-Chambers, and green for Mr. Guiterrez, to make sure he’s never forgotten.
Beatrice X said she has someone looking for his family. “We’re going to find them because somebody out there loves him. He belonged to somebody, and they have a right to know that their loved one is gone,” she added.
“Sadly, we’ve been doing this, together, for 13 years. … We have some experience in this. We understand the levels of pain, trauma, anger, depression and the hopes and prayers that come along with it. But we know this is just a beginning to get justice for Dorothy, and that’s what we’re ultimately working for,” Cephus Johnson said.
Michael Johnson, a former Phoenix city councilman and vice-mayor, said the vigil was a strong step toward police accountability. “From the beginning, we’ve had an opportunity to review all the police reports, and I don’t think they really thought! They just looked at it as somebody being homeless, and nobody was going to follow through on it,” he stated.
Mr. Petkovic told police he was driving from work to his girlfriend’s house at 35-40 miles per hour when he “suddenly noticed a shopping cart going up in the air near his passenger side front bumper,” according to court documents. Witnesses said he was swerving between lanes and “zigzagging” through traffic while driving on the curb at 55-60 miles per hour, according to police reports. Further, he had a blood alcohol content of 0.031, but told officers he had taken two doses of DayQuil earlier that day. Despite failing multiple parts of the sobriety test, the officers let him go.
The family of Ms. Dale-Chambers is pursuing a $10 million lawsuit against the city of Phoenix for its negligence in installing crosswalk lights for public safety, resulting in her death.
The Final Call sought case updates from Phoenix Police, the City Attorney’s Office and Maricopa County Attorney’s Office. Phoenix Police referred The Final Call to city attorneys who said the case was sent to county prosecutors “in the last few days.” There, Karla Navarrete, a public information officer, said it had not yet reached their office and referred The Final Call back to Phoenix Police.
Dan Wilson, communications director for the City of Phoenix, told The Final Call, via text, that they don’t normally comment on pending litigation. “I have reached out to the legal team to see if there is any additional information to add,” he added.
“It is currently being investigated by the prosecutor’s department to see what sort of charges they are going to bring,” stated the family’s attorney Nasser Abujbarah, Phillips Law Group. “Part of our claim is the delay in everything: the delay in notifying the family of what happened to Dorothy, the delay and prosecuting, the delay in investigating everything. So, my understanding is currently it is being investigated. But we do not have any sort of word as to what sort of charges they’re gonna bring,” he said.
In a nutshell, he said, Phoenix, just like many metropolitan cities across the country, have an issue with the population that are without homes, and they are treated unfairly, like substandard citizens, and their rights seem to be sort of pushed to the side.
“Dorothy’s life was worth as much as mine, as much as yours, as much as anybody’s,” Atty. Abujbarah told The Final Call. “And she deserved the same rights that somebody in Scottsdale—if this happened to them—would have, and that’s really what we’re trying to get to here. That this sweet woman of color was mowed down in the middle of a street that should have had crosswalks, that should have had streetlights, that should have had crossing lights and nothing was done for a week. They didn’t let the family know. And an investigation is still happening now.”—Charlene Muhammad, National Correspondent