Durham mourns cyclist killed in hit-and-run

jwise@newsobserver.comJuly 9, 2013 

— Neighbors and friends are mourning the death of Seth Vidal, a well-known member of Durham’s cycling community who was killed by a hit-and-run driver Monday night.

“He was a very kind, thoughtful guy and always believed in people doing the right thing,” said Meredith Emmett, a friend and neighbor in the Watts Hospital-Hillandale neighborhood where Vidal lived with his partner, Eunice Chang.

Durham police have charged Maceo Christopher Kemp Jr., 27, with felony hit and run and driving with his license revoked. Kemp turned himself in Tuesday afternoon.

Word of Vidal’s death spread rapidly through the neighborhood, cycling and other email lists and online sites.

“We lived next to Seth for three years,” neighbor Trish Christie wrote. “He was smart, personable, and caring. My husband talked to him last night. We will miss his smiles and waves as he walked his dog. We are heartbroken.”

According to police, the accident occurred at 8:57 p.m. Monday in the 1700 block of Hillandale Road, immediately south of Interstate 85. Vidal was riding a bicycle north when he was struck from behind by a northbound vehicle that did not stop.

Vidal, 36, was pronounced dead at Duke Hospital. Witnesses reported seeing a dark, possibly burgundy, late ’90s- or early 2000s-model sedan brake suddenly and swerve before continuing north on Hillandale Road.

“I’m sure Seth was taking all the right precautions,” wrote Jack Edinger, who said he had known Vidal for about 10 years. “He was idealistic and headstrong, and he knew his rights on the road. Now his young life was snuffed out by a coward hit-and-run killer – disgusting.”

The accident remains under investigation. Anyone with information is asked to call CrimeStoppers at 919-683-1200.

“A very sad day for cycling and for my neighborhood,” said City Councilman Don Moffitt, who lives in Watts Hospital-Hillandale.

Several posts said speeding is common on Hillandale Road.

“Does it take such a tragedy to wake us up?” wrote neighbor Arturo Ciompi. “We must remedy this.”

Coincidentally, the city recently commissioned a study on improving the section of Hillandale Road where Vidal died for bicycle and pedestrian use. The first public meeting on the study was held in April, said Bicycle-Pedestrian Coordinator Dale McKeel, who knew Vidal.

Vidal was a 1998 political science graduate of Emory & Henry University in Emory, Va. He came to Durham in 1999 as a computer system administrator at Duke University, where he won a Meritorious Service Award in 2005. Vidal left Duke in 2007 to become a senior software engineer with Red Hat.

Red Hat spokeswoman Emily Stancil Martinez said she could not confirm whether Vidal was still working for the company when he died. Red Hat was withholding any comment “out of respect for Seth’s family,” she said.

“What a terrible crime that he is no longer with us,” wrote Mike Shiflett, who re-posted one of Vidal’s last contributions to the neighborhood listserv. It had to do with fireflies: “Yay for charming insects!”

“Seth was one in a million,” said neighbor Galia Goodman, “and the neighborhood will not be the same ever again with his death.”

Memorial plans have not been made, she said.

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Wise: 919-641-5895

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