Hit and run heartbreak

A tragedy speaks to our need to look out for one another

Credit: courtesy of Dusty Rhodes
Dusty Rhodes with Rosie, the dog she called her best friend.

If the past year and a half of the pandemic hasn't been enough of a lesson that life can change quickly and unexpectedly for the worse, an event earlier this month involving a former Illinois Times reporter and veteran journalist spotlights the message.

Dusty Rhodes was walking her dog Rosie, a beautiful Shar-Pei, around 9 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 13. Rhodes walked Rosie around Springfield daily. I would see the two traverse down the alleyway in my backyard. On this night, Rhodes was crossing the intersection of MacArthur Boulevard and Fayette Avenue near Washington Park when a driver sped through, hitting them. Video, captured by a security camera, has been shared broadly in an attempt to track down the perpetrator, who fled the scene. It shows a light-colored SUV rapidly turn the corner. Rhodes said she had looked over her shoulder before crossing and saw no cars with their blinkers on to indicate a turn. She said she has no memory of the impact, it happened so fast.

While the driver fled the scene, others rushed to help. One person made sure Rhodes didn't move until the ambulance arrived. Rhodes was strapped on a board and taken to the hospital. She later had surgery for a broken shoulder. She also broke a rib. Her face and other areas were banged up badly. Anyone who has seen the video will find it miraculous she is still walking and lucid. Tragically, Rosie did not survive.

Following the accident, Rhodes tweeted about some of the realizations she had come to: how many true friends she had, how lucky she was to be alive and how she never knew how much she could miss a dog.

Rhodes adopted Rosie in 2016 from a rescue in Peoria. Rosie had come all the way from Oklahoma where she was found in poor condition, living on the streets. "She was like a heart with four legs and a tail," said Rhodes. Rosie made new friends fast. She was a sweet and goofy dog. 

In 2017, Rosie became a bit of a local celebrity. That spring, Rhodes was hard at work at the state Capitol, reporting on a major piece of education funding legislation. Rhodes was well into a long day and night of work when Rosie escaped out of the front door of her home. Her son, who was home at the time, guessed that Rosie darted out looking for Rhodes, who had been noticeably absent due to work.

For about two weeks, neighbors, acquaintances, friends and strangers came together to search for Rosie. Volunteers made neon posters they put up around the city. Rosie eventually turned up in someone's yard. The man called Rhodes and reunited the two. "I never knew how many nice people live in Springfield until Rosie led me to them," Rhodes wrote in a column for Illinois Times about losing and finding Rosie.

I've known Rhodes since I was young. We attended the same congregation and I would see her articles in Illinois Times. I was starstruck by her, with her shock of short red hair that matched her fiery, magnetic personality. She represented what I wanted to be when I grew up.

We later were colleagues at NPR Illinois, where I got to witness firsthand her grit and bravery in speaking truth to power. Though we've both moved on from the radio station, we keep in touch, and I still lean on her for guidance.

The pandemic has made the inextricable ties that bind us all together clearer. Rhodes has been part of community efforts to help out those in need – volunteering to pick up school meals and drop them off to families, for instance.

And now, the community is again coming together to help Rhodes in a time of need. Wild Canine Rescue in Springfield has offered a reward to anyone helping find out who killed Rosie. Multiple people have offered to help Rhodes find and pay for a new rescue pup when the time is right. Others have helped with chores as she heals. "I feel like Tom Sawyer witnessing my own funeral," Rhodes said. She's received many meals and flowers and an outpouring of love.

MacArthur Boulevard is notorious for accidents. Perhaps this event will lead to action that changes the flow of traffic in ways that could prevent another such tragedy. Regardless, it should serve as a reminder to us all to drive undistracted and to slow the heck down – to care about other people.

After the hit and run, Rhodes said she feels lucky to be alive. We – her friends, family and the greater community – are lucky too.

The Springfield Police Department is asking anyone with information about the incident to call the department at 217-788-8311 and/or Crime Stoppers at 217-788-8427.

Rachel Otwell is associate editor at Illinois Times. Contact her at rotwell@illinoistimes.com.

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