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Two mothers of St. Louis hit-and-run victims hold vigil calling for safer streets

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ST. LOUIS • Two mothers grieving similar tragedies joined forces Tuesday night to call for safer streets near the spot where their adult children were killed by hit-and-run drivers three years apart.

It has been 30 days since Ashish “Bapi” Gupta, 50, was struck by a speeding Mercedes on South Broadway after he left the Broadway Oyster Bar. The driver fled the scene.

His mother, Genie Gupta, held a candlelight vigil Tuesday night to ask St. Louis officials to make the street safer for pedestrians and bicyclists. She was joined by Georgie Busch, whose daughter, Amber Wood, 23, was killed in a similar way outside the bar three years ago.

The vigil was held outside the bar at 736 South Broadway.

The vigil launched an effort its backers are calling ”BAPI,” or Bicycle and Pedestrian Initiative, to “demonstrate to the city that something must be done to make our streets safer.”

Busch, 52, of St. Clair, Mo., said Tuesday that she would like several improvements, including more police, reduced speed limits, more crosswalks and another stoplight along South Broadway. Busch said she was participating not only to renew attention to her daughter’s case but also to help pressure the city to improve pedestrian and bicycle safety.

“I guess I feel like I’m not alone, and I wanted his mom to feel like she is not alone,” Busch said. “By us getting together, we can raise more awareness about this.”

The group will join forces with Trailnet, which advocates for pedestrian and bicycle safety.

Alderman Jack Coatar said at the vigil that in the next couple of months, a pedestrian crosswalk will be installed at Cerre Street with a signal button, along with curb cuts and better lighting. He pushed for these improvements before Gupta’s death, knowing businesses had complained for years.

Gupta, 50, was hit about 2:45 a.m. June 28 by a hit-and-run driver speeding 80 to 90 mph down Broadway in a black Mercedes. Gupta died about a week later.

On July 13, prosecutors charged Dontae Jackson, 18, with involuntary manslaughter, leaving the scene of a accident and making a false report in connection with the fatal crash. Jackson and his girlfriend initially told police a 15-year-girl was behind the wheel.

Gupta was a Washington University graduate and had worked as a computer science instructor in the math department, according to an online obituary.

In the April 27, 2012, crash that killed Wood, no one was ever charged directly with the hit-and-run. But a man from St. Louis was accused of trying to destroy evidence in the case after the vehicle that police suspect hit Wood was found at a scrap yard near Madison. The man, Eric F. Peterson, is tentatively set to go to trial Oct. 13, according to a spokeswoman for the Madison County State’s Attorney’s Office. Peterson also faces a civil suit in Wood’s death.

Wood was a Granite City High School graduate, attended Arkansas State University and was a server at EdgeWild Restaurant & Winery in Chesterfield.

A $5,000 reward is still being offered by CrimeStoppers for information that leads to an arrest Wood’s death. The number to leave tips, even anonymous ones, is 1-866-371-8477.

Valerie Schremp Hahn of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.

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