By Jon Johnson
THATCHER – An Eastern Arizona College student was flown to a Tucson hospital Tuesday night after being struck by a car while crossing the street.
The victim, Melissa Jo Gillespie, 18, was initially transported to Mt. Graham Regional Medical Center by Southwest Ambulance but was then airlifted to Banner – University Medical Center Tucson. She reportedly suffered a severe concussion in the collision and had head, jaw and lower back pain, but did not break any bones. After being monitored for two nights at the hospital due to the severity of her concussion, Gillespie was released Thursday. Gillespie’s father, Robert Gillespie, confirmed his daughter’s release from the hospital to Gila Valley Central.
“She doesn’t feel too good, but she did get released,” Robert Gillespie said.
Officers were first dispatched to the scene of the collision in the 600 block of College Avenue at about 6:06 p.m. Graham County Dispatch reported the victim was in and out of consciousness.
According to the Thatcher Police Department’s investigation and witnesses at the scene, Melissa was struck by a northbound 2006 Chrysler 300 driven by Savannah Noel Smith, 21, of Safford. Gillespie was reportedly attempting to cross the street from the west to the east to get to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ institute building. There is no crosswalk in the area where Gillespie was struck or any end street crossing area.
Multiple witnesses who were in a southbound vehicle, which had stopped to allow Melissa to cross the street, reported seeing Smith’s vehicle traveling at a high-rate of speed. The witnesses said they were surprised when the vehicle did not stop and reported seeing Melissa struck by the front of the car, which caused her to roll up onto its hood. At that point, Smith slammed on her breaks and Melissa rolled back off the car, where she lay prone until rendered aid. A crash diagram from the Thatcher Police Department shows Melissa’s laptop computer ending up even further north from the collision point and her ear bud headphones and shoe were located south of the car.
Smith, who was visibly shaken from the incident, allegedly told officers that she was traveling at about 20 mph and simply did not see Melissa crossing the street. The posted speed limit on College Avenue is 25 mph, and the officer estimated Smith’s speed to be right at the limit.
Smith said once she struck Melissa, she instantly hit her brakes, and Melissa rolled back off the car. Smith did not show any signs of impairment and willingly submitted to a blood draw for testing purposes. While no citations were issued in the initial police report, Smith’s vehicle was driven at her request to the Thatcher storage yard in the event it would be needed as evidence, according to the report.