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Seattle needs to do some major soul searching after what happened to Mamy Mbiya Lutumba

Screenshot of a GoFundMe page with photos of Mbiya and text "In Memory of Mbiya - Mother, Friend and child of god.
From a GoFundMe campaign set up to support Lutumba’s kids.

A single mother of four was killed, the person responsible fled, and nobody even bothered to tell her children.

This happened in our city, Seattle, and everyone needs to stop what they’re doing and acknowledge it. The story of what happened to Mamy Mbiya Lutumba and her four children is inexcusable on many levels. Our city failed over and over again, stacking heartbreak on top of heartbreak. This cannot be our city. Seattle is better than this.

Lutumba and her family moved to Seattle less than a year ago, according to a must-read story by Daisy Zavala Magaña at the Seattle Times and a news report on King 5. Lutumba’s husband was killed in Congo in 2010, and she and her kids sought asylum in Namibia before resettling in the U.S. eight years ago. Her cousin told the Times that she moved her family to Seattle to give her kids more opportunities. “Everything she did was for her children,” he told the Times. A GoFundMe has been set up to support her family.


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Lutumba was walking home from her job at a SoDo recycling company March 16 when someone driving a white Dodge Charger struck and killed her at the intersection of 4th Ave S and S Lander Street, the Times reported. The killer fled the scene and has not yet been found.

Police closed the street to investigate and even posted about it on the SPD Blotter. But nobody told her children, who were at home wondering why their mother had not returned from work. Magaña at the Times spoke with her children—aged 14, 16, 18 and 20—and they described their efforts to figure out what happened. They reported her missing to police both on the phone and in person. They even made fliers and went down to the area around her work to hang them up. It wasn’t until Lutumba’s manager told them there was a traffic death the night she went missing that they started calling hospitals and learned the horrible truth.

“This whole time she was dead,” Giselle Manda, the oldest of the siblings, told the Times. “I don’t understand why police would not notify us. I feel that no one is taking this seriously.”

That last line is potent. Seattle, what are we doing? What could possibly be more important than this mother getting home to her kids? Why did her death not set in motion support for her family as well as any effort at all to make sure it doesn’t happen again?

First off, neither the King County Medical Examiner nor Seattle Police are taking responsibility for failing to notify her family. Our city and county leaders need to step up and launch an investigation into why this happened so it never happens again. Would a white family in North Seattle would have gotten the same treatment?

Then there’s this, from the Times:

Angela Manda also said she and her siblings feel it’s unfair and disrespectful that the driver who struck their mother hasn’t come forward. There’s no way to stop thinking about Lutumba’s final moments when the house goes quiet at night, Angela said.

Hit and run is a cowardly crime, and the prevalence of people driving away and leaving the people they just hit to die in the street says a lot about how little they value human life. Each individual case is a single person’s crime, but the trend of increased hit and run deaths and injuries says something very disturbing about our culture at large that we all need to confront.

But what signal is our city sending about the value of a person’s life when this is the street we make people walk across?

Photo of a six-lane road intersecting a five-lane road in an industrial area.
Google Street View image looking south on 4th Ave S at S Lander Street, the area where Lutumba was killed.

This is a six-lane road one block from a light rail station with no protections at all for people walking. It Seattle cared about the lives of people like Lutumba who have to cross this street, then it wouldn’t look like this. All of this road space is used for maximizing motor vehicle throughput, and none of it is used for keeping people safe.

There’s often resistance from some industry groups whenever a safety improvement is proposed on a street in SoDo. Well, Lutumba was a SoDo worker, too, and she deserved to get home safely. She had more at stake on this street than any business. Industry does not need deadly streets in order to operate. Trucks of all sizes can move around just fine on safe streets. SoDo business leaders need to learn about what happened to Lutumba and search their souls about what is actually important on the streets where they operate.

SoDo has been the site of a disproportionate number of traffic deaths, especially for people walking and biking. The city even pledged to do something about it. Well, then do it. What are we waiting for? And the city shouldn’t limit itself to just the federally-funded projects, which don’t include this section of 4th Ave S.

Every street in Seattle should be safe for everyone who is using it. Nothing our transportation departments do could be more important.

Our deepest condolences to the loved ones of Mamy Mbiya Lutumba. RIP.


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Comments

9 responses to “Seattle needs to do some major soul searching after what happened to Mamy Mbiya Lutumba”

  1. Braeden

    Rest in power Mbiya. SDOT made a big splash announcing “rapid” improvements to 4th Ave S at Holgate and Massachusetts when Gan Hao Li and Antonio Tiongco were killed almost a year ago. Nothing has changed. Why 4th Ave S needs to be eight lanes (from W-E: Parking, SB, SB, Turn, NB, NB, NB, Parking) is entirely unclear. 85% of drivers travel at 37MPH+ on this 30MPH signed street, suggesting that the route is rarely congested, if ever. With all of that excess space, >80′ for most of the stretch between Edgar Martinez Dr S and S Spokane St), surely the brilliant minds at SDOT can design a reconfiguration that doesn’t kill people at such a dramatic clip while maintaining freight throughput at moderately reduced speeds.

  2. spencer ellis

    omg cry me a friggen river…yeah street prioritize car traffic….roads were built for cars….sucks about the hit an run but some people are terrible….blaming the city for this is ridiculous. and I’m sure the family was notified before her name became public. blaming police for not knowing a victims adult children’s cell phone numbers off the top of their heads isn’t something to complain about. more people are shot downtown than hot by cara…more people is every day than hit by cara in a year….fix the real problems I stead of crying about a sad accident

    1. asdf2

      I’m pretty sure far more people get hit by cars than get shot downtown. We just don’t hear about the former in the news media because it’s common, while we hear about the latter every time it happens because it’s uncommon.

  3. Claudia

    Spencer, please do the public a favor and look up the words empathy and intelligence . Study both well before ever responding to an article ever again.

    1. Jess

      exactly

  4. Ali M. Thomas, MD, MPH

    This indeed is a tragedy. To her beautiful four children who’s faces I see in the Seattle Times, words cannot express what this city owes to your mother and yourselves. I’m heartbroken for you. I am praying for your mother and you. To the authors of this article, thank you so much for this article. Thank you also for the GoFundMe link, which I’ll use after writing this. To our leaders, I ask you not to let our community forget her. Please reach out to “our children” Giselle, Chris, Angela, and Anna, and offer the loving condolences of her community in deeds, not mere words.

  5. Lashone

    I can’t believe this person on here -no sympathy for the family this is ridiculous – city is wrong it is their responsibility to contact Family when someone dies that -is their job bottom line

  6. Laila Barr

    How sad. How awful. Unbelievable that no one even made an effort to contact her family afterward!

  7. Davey Oil

    What a tragic event.
    Any of us could become victims of the forces at play in the Lutumba’s experience. Victims of car violence. Victims of outdated urban planning. Victims of road design that prioritizes speed over safety. Victims of a political system that favors business and profit over human life and community cohesion. Victims of a police force that CLEARLY sees some residents of our region as less human than others.
    I’ve reread your post three times now. So many safety nets riddled with holes.
    I am so sorry for Lutumba’s loss. What a journey to take your family around the world to seek safety from political and economic violence, just to lose your life in SoDo. What a callous community we are.
    I am so sorry.

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