Friends and relatives of Edna Umeh recalled her as a loving, spiritual and funny woman on Thursday, hours after she was struck and killed by a car while on duty as a crossing guard at Lindley Middle School in Mableton.
Whether it was rides to school or a plate of her delicious home cooked food, “She was always there when I needed her,” said Umeh’s nephew, James McMath, 20.
Most of all, McMath said, Umeh loved children. He said the family was still sorting funeral arrangements, and urged drivers to “Please do the speed limit.”
Umeh’s death has also sparked cries for authorities to address what many called a dangerous stretch of Veterans Memorial Highway.
Umeh, 64, was struck and killed Thursday morning around 9 a.m. by Lamonte Roosevelt Whitaker, 38, of Lithonia driving a red Ford Focus, according to police spokesman Sgt. Dana Pierce.
Police and a witness said Whitaker swerved around stopped traffic and into the center turn lane, where he struck Umeh with tremendous force.
“The lady’s like, ‘Stop! Stop!’” witness Sakinah Anderson said. “Once she noticed that he wasn’t stopping, she tried to turn around a little bit and he hit her.”
Anderson said Umeh was thrown high into the air before hitting the ground.
Umeh was dead on the scene, police said. Whitaker was taken to Grady Memorial Hospital with minor injuries after first responders cut off the top of the car to free him.
Cobb school officials declined to comment, but Lindley Principal Dana Giles wrote a letter to parents informing them of the tragedy.
“Understandably, students and staff are shaken by what happened, whether they witnessed it or have since heard about it,” Giles wrote. “Our counselors, joined by counselors from neighboring schools and specialists from the Cobb County School District Prevention/Intervention team, are providing support to students and staff.”
Umeh also worked as a crossing guard at Pebblebrook High School and Harmony-Leland Elementary. A Cobb schools spokeswoman confirmed that their guards are part-time district employees who work within the district police department and report to the school police chief.
Nina Williams’ daughter Saniya Lee, 10, was friends with Umeh’s grandchildren. She also knew Umeh as her daughter’s crossing guard, and said she urged Umeh to speak up about dangerous drivers the day before she died.
“Yesterday, I specifically said, ‘Why don’t you call the police? People fly down that street,” recalled a visibly shaken Williams. She said Umeh told her she felt she was unable to complain. Now, Williams said she’s haunted by their last conversation.
“Was that a sign?” she asked. “My heart is just aching right now.”
Saniya Lee said she and many of her classmates had been crying all day.
“She always wanted to spend time with her grandson and granddaughter,” said Lee. “She was very kind-hearted and she loved me.”
As school let out, Umeh’s maroon Kia Sorento was still parked where she left it, at Cline’s Welding across the street from the school. Nearby, Angela Harris and her children, Dangelo Harris, 14, and Addison Harris, 8, laid a bouqet of pink and yellow flowers at a roadside wooden cross hastily erected in memorial to Umeh as cars whizzed down the five-lane highway.
“She was very cautious—I always noticed that,” said Angela Harris, who only knew Umeh by sight but saw her six times a day while dropping off and picking up her three children.
At Kids R Kids, a private primary school directly across the street from Lindley, owner Sandi Douget said such a tragedy was only “a matter of time,” calling Veterans Memorial an “ongoing concern.”
“When our buses pull out, people are just flying over there,” Douget said. “It’s really dangerous.”
Cobb County Commissioner Lisa Cupid, who represents the district, said she was “deeply saddened by this tragedy.”
“This is a high speed corridor with few traffic lights that needs to be addressed immediately,” she wrote. “I have reached out to Cobb DOT to see what steps can be taken with Georgia DOT to address conditions on this roadway.”
Staff writer Ty Tagami contributed to this report
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