By Jeannette Muhammad
It was a late Tuesday evening as Dorothy Dale-Chambers began to cross the street with her companion, Joseph Gutierrez. The couple wasn’t far from Perry Park, where they lived. The blistering Phoenix heat hadn’t budged much as night fell and the two began their walk.
Dale-Chambers and Gutierrez approached 32nd Street at the Yale Street intersection. The area was dark and the crosswalk faded. Cars were known to drive fast in the area. As the two began to cross the street, one such speeding vehicle approached.
It’s unknown whether they noticed the car but there was little time for either to react as the Ram pickup truck plowed into them. According to one witness, the driver tried to swerve out of the way, but it was too late. Other witnesses say the driver made no effort to stop and was “zigzagging” between cars. Another witness says the impact of the collision caused Dale-Chambers and Gutierrez to “fly down the street.” Their belongings were scattered along the road.
Shocked onlookers scrambled to call 911. Phoenix police arrived at the scene quickly and interviewed witnesses. They questioned the driver, Nebosja Petkovic, about the accident. Dale-Chambers and Gutierrez were in critical condition and rushed to separate hospitals for emergency care.
According to the police report, Petkovic was given a sobriety and breath alcohol test. Police say the alcohol test indicated Petkovic had alcohol in his system. Petkovic claimed he hadn’t consumed alcohol that day but had taken two doses of Dayquil cold medicine earlier.
Back at the hospitals, Dale-Chambers had succumbed to her injuries as would Gutierrez.
Petkovic was allowed to go home. (See The Final Call Vol. 42 No. 8)
April 26 marked the one-year anniversary of Dale-Chambers’ death. Her sister, Beatrice X, has spent that time working for what she calls justice for her sister, and it hasn’t been easy.
“This fight is so hard. It is so atrocious,” she said. “I mean, I go to sleep thinking about getting accountability for my sister. I wake up. I might wake up in the night. But I wake up in the morning, all day. Because when someone does your family like this, there’s no business as usual.”
After Dale-Chambers died from her injuries, her body was sent to a morgue. It would stay there unclaimed for eight days while Beatrice X and her family were unaware of her passing. It wasn’t until her niece Ora Crush tried to find her aunt in Perry Park that the family learned what had happened.
“We were very angry about it,” Beatrice X said. She was also unhappy with the response of Phoenix police and its handling of the incident. She charges the case’s lead detective, Terran Campbell, lied to the family, and what she was told didn’t match what she and Crush learned when they visited the park and talked to people.
“We asked (Campbell), ‘Why did you not call us?’” Beatrice X said. “Why did you let my sister lay in a morgue for eight days?”
In response, a spokesperson for the Phoenix Police Department said the case is currently in litigation.
According to Beatrice X, though Dale-Chambers had an Arizona identification that included next of kin addresses, Det. Campbell told the family there were two databases Phoenix police used and they hadn’t been able to find Dale-Chambers in either system. Arizona Department of Transportation data from 2018-2020 revealed dozens of car crashes have occurred every year within five blocks of Perry Park where Dale-Chambers lived. During that time, while there were injuries, there were no reported deaths. At the time when she died, crosswalks were washed out and signs were down, Beatrice X said.
The city contracted for the installation of a crosswalk in 2021, one year before Dale-Chambers and Gutierrez, who was Latino, died. While the project was to be completed in May 2022, work on the crosswalk stalled, with the contractor citing supply chain issues as the reason behind the delay.
Last September, a crossing light was finally installed, but that wasn’t enough, Beatrice X said. “Cars are still speeding, the light only works after you push a button to activate it and the area is still dark,” she complained. There needs to be a speed monitor so drivers can see how fast they are going, along with flashing lights so they know a crosswalk is approaching, she added.
“So much more needs to be done over there. It’s still unsafe, even with that light.”
Since her sister died, Beatrice X has been told more accidents have happened, which adds to her frustration. But she wants justice for her sister and believes the truck driver was negligent and should face charges for her sister’s death and the death of her sister’s companion. She also said she doesn’t want another family to endure the pain her family has suffered because of police failures.
“For eight days you feel no need, no conscience. You don’t give a damn about our family. You don’t give a damn about my sister. You don’t give a damn about Black life that you could go that long,” she said.
Even today, Beatrice X doesn’t know if the family of Joseph Gutierrez was notified about his death. Given the treatment I faced about my loved one, I doubt Phoenix police are looking for his family, she said.
This kind of fight isn’t new to Beatrice X and her family. Her husband, Cephus “Uncle Bobby X” Johnson’s nephew was Oscar Grant, whose death at the hands of police caused outrage and protests across the country. The young Black male was shot to death January 1, 2009, by an Oakland transit cop while handcuffed and lying on a train platform.
The officer said he mistook his service weapon for his taser. It was one of the first police killings of an unarmed Black person caught on cell phone video and the story was told in the award-winning film, “Fruitvale Station,” which starred Michael B. Jordan and was written and directed by Ryan Coogler.
After his nephew’s death, Johnson started the Oscar Grant Foundation. The couple worked as the foundation’s operators and directors before turning the organization over to Oscar’s mother. They started another group, the Love Not Blood Campaign, in 2014. The organization supports those who have lost family members to violence.
Between running the Love Not Blood Campaign, comforting families impacted by police violence, and fighting for justice in her sister’s death, Beatrice X said she feels overwhelmed by the ever-present oppression and suffering Blacks have faced in America. It’s heavy right now, she said.
She believes Dale-Chambers’ death is indicative of larger issues for people who are unhoused: They deserve aid in life and dignity in death, Beatrice X said. Society continues to disregard their lives simply because of their social status as homeless, she said.
Petkovic shouldn’t have been allowed to go home that night, Beatrice X argued. For her, justice would look like seeing Det. Campbell fired and everyone involved in allowing Petkovic to go home being held accountable. And, she said, jail time and punishment for Petkovic.
When she learned Petkovic had been let go, Beatrice X saw more proof America doesn’t value Black and Brown lives like Dale-Chambers and Gutierrez.
On April 26, the same day Dale-Chambers was killed a year ago, Petkovic was scheduled to appear in court. Beatrice X and her family were there, dressed in shades of purple to demand justice and accountability for Beatrice X’s sister.
In honor of her sister’s life, April 26 also marked the first annual “Dorothy’s Day.” Beatrice X, her family, and supporters released doves at the Phoenix Municipal Court House in remembrance of Dale Chambers. Later that night participants gathered at Perry Park for a balloon release and candlelight vigil for both Dale Chambers and Guitierrez. —Jeannette Muhammad