Memorial vigil held at site of fatal Nicetown hit-and-run

Gospel songs about faith, mercy and salvation blared from a Chevy Impala as dozens of mourners arrived at the corner of Clarissa and Brunner streets in Nicetown on Friday night.

They lit candles and placed teddy bears and sympathy cards at the foot of a telephone pole.

They cried and they hugged.

They used flashlights to get passing cars to slow down on a roadway used as a shortcut between Hunting Park Avenue and Roosevelt Expressway. When that didn’t work, they waved furiously to get the attention of irresponsible drivers, some of whom more than doubled the 25 mph speed limit, narrowly missing vigil attendees on at least three occasions.

Then, as the clock struck 10:55 p.m., they joined hands and formed a circle around Steven Pate.

Moments of reflection

It was exactly two weeks to the minute that Pate’s 19-year-old daughter Ceeanna was struck by a vehicle that sped away, leaving her with such severe brain injuries that she would die at Temple University Hospital five days later.

“My life will never be the same,” Pate said into a bullhorn. “I’ll never see my baby again.”

The hit-and-run case has not yet resulted in arrest. Ceeanna Pate’s organs have been transplanted in three recipients. And, less than 12 hours later, these same people would head to Triumph Baptist Church for the funeral of a woman who leaves a 3-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son behind.

But Friday, they gathered to support a family still reeling from unthinkable tragedy.

“Two weeks ago, I got that call and when I got to the hospital, they told me the chances of my daughter making it weren’t very good,” said Pate. “I prayed for a miracle. Me and my daughter were two of a kind, cut from the same cloth, both had our struggles. … Now, I’m just trying to maintain.”

A problem area

They also railed against “a silent death trap” of a street on which one resident estimated eight pedestrian fatalities in the past 40 years.

“Most were elderly, with no family, so nobody was there to make a stink about it,” said Mary Nichols, noting that efforts to draw officials’ attention to the hazards of the roadway have gotten no response over the years.

In fact, 10 people formed a chain the night of the hit-and-run to keep subsequent speeding vehicles from striking Ceeanna’s body as it lay in the street, about 100 feet from her shoes, according to residents.

There was hope Friday night that Ceeanna’s death could bring much-needed attention to this dangerous shortcut.

The investigation

Investigators quickly zeroed in on a grey Dodge Avenger as the likely vehicle description thanks to surveillance footage from a corner property.

One neighbor told NewsWorks on Friday that she saw no sign of any vehicles on Clarissa Street after sprinting up to the corner after hearing the horrific collision, which she likened to the sound of a bomb detonating. The car which killed Ceeanna Pate was gone within seconds, she said.

On Oct. 10, reports emerged that police had identified “the woman responsible” and sent evidence to the District Attorney’s Office so they could “move forward with an arrest.”

More than a week later, charges hadn’t been filed, though.

“This case, as with any case where a person has lost his or her life, is examined carefully with our highest goal of developing the necessary evidence to charge,” DA’s office spokeswoman Tasha Jamerson told NewsWorks. “While we are mindful of the family’s grief and their desire for us to work quickly, we can not do so at the expense of being accurate or thorough.”

Steven Pate didn’t object to the investigative diligence, other than how it enables the alleged hit-and-run driver to remain free in the interim while his family and friends mourn the loss of a young life.

He said Ceeanna’s young children have not yet been told that their mother has died, though they sense something is wrong with her absence.

“Tonight has helped me accept that what’s happening is real. And, rage is what I feel,” he said as mourners dispersed from the vigil around 11:30 p.m. “The person who did this is still free. They’re still free, with the love and the support of their family.

“My daughter doesn’t have that. I will never see her again. I will never hold her again. Tomorrow, I’ll be walking into a cemetery, and my daughter will be going into a grave. It’s just not right.”

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