Randy Sommerfelt walked the same few blocks every day in North Waco for more than 10 years — until Saturday morning, when his usual stroll ended in a fatal wreck when he was struck by a car.
Monday, as police continued to investigate the incident, at least one neighbor questioned the circumstances surrounding his death.
Sommerfelt, 60, who was blind, would take his GPS and his white cane and walk the same route multiple times a day, from the 3600 block of North 26th Street to the corner store or the H-E-B on North 19th Street, a neighbor said.
David Graves, 55, lived next door to Sommerfelt’s family for nearly a decade, he said. His son, William, would play with Sommerfelt’s son, also named Randy, in the yard when they were growing up.
“He was a cool old guy, and he was funny. He couldn’t see, but if the washing machine broke, he was going to take it apart. I’ve seen it happen,” Graves said, describing Sommerfelt as “determined.”
“He thought he was going to need a wheelchair a few years ago, but he’s walked enough to where he doesn’t need one,” he said.
The Tribune-Herald reported in August 2012 that Sommerfelt endured several operations on his feet after serving in the U.S. Army during the Persian Gulf War.
Thanks to Habitat for Humanity and a few friends, Sommerfelt’s home, which he shared with his son and wife, Luzmila, was renovated to make it more accessible, given his injuries and health concerns.
Habitat made improvements to the home and made arrangements for Sommerfelt to get a wheelchair and walking ramp at the entrance.
He served seven years in the Army and spent six months in the Middle East during the Persian Gulf War, also known as Operation Desert Storm, which lasted from August 1990 to February 1991.
He was part of a United Nations-sponsored action, led by the United States, in response to Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait.
“We got the job done in six months,” Sommerfelt told the Tribune-Herald in 2012.
He went blind four years after his discharge and also suffered from a nervous-system disorder called chronic neuropathy that damaged his feet.
Graves said people in the neighborhood knew Sommerfelt as the man who walked back and forth to the store multiple times a day — though never at night — to exercise his feet.
Graves said Sommerfelt always walked on the east side of the street so he never had to cross Park Lake Drive.
“He had a GPS, and he just about knew where every crack in the pavement was,” Graves said.
But police said that Saturday morning Sommerfelt appeared to be walking in the bike lane on the west side of Park Lake Drive near North 22nd Street about 8:30 a.m. when Monica Juarez-Salazar, 18, drove off the road and onto the curb in a Chevrolet Tahoe and stuck Sommerfelt from behind.
Waco police Sgt. W. Patrick Swanton said she hit him on the driver’s side of the vehicle.
Paramedics performed CPR at the scene, where Sommerfelt had suffered multiple serious injuries, Swanton said.
He was pronounced dead at 9:09 a.m. at Hillcrest Baptist Medical Center. An autopsy has been ordered and the investigation is ongoing, Swanton said.
Swanton said Juarez-Salazar was only a few blocks from her own home in the neighborhood when the incident happened.
Sommerfelt’s neighbors were confused by the crime scene, Graves said.
“It doesn’t make sense. That man would only walk on the right side of the street,” he said as his son nodded in agreement.
“He never had crossed Park Lake; why was he on the other side?”
Even more perplexing is the mystery of why he was hit, Graves said.
“It’s messed up to mess up a little 18-year-old girl’s life,” he said, referring to Juarez-Salazar, “but if she was texting or (something) like that, well, what goes around comes around.”
Swanton said no charges have been filed against Juarez-Salazar and reiterated that the investigation continues.
He declined to comment on what might have caused Juarez-Salazar’s SUV to hit Sommerfelt.
“We don’t know if she swerved or drove off the road, and we have no reason to believe that they knew each other,” he said.
Swanton also confirmed that Sommerfelt was doing the right thing by using the bike lane, since there are no sidewalks in the area. Swanton said the police report confirmed that neighbors were familiar with Sommerfelt’s frequent walks.
“He wasn’t doing anything wrong,” Swanton said. “At this point, it looks like he just was the victim of what appears to be a very tragic accident.”