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A pile of old running shoes, a life lost — and a warning to Lexington drivers

It was cold and rainy Thursday morning, which “Digits” would have hated, members of her running group said. But she would have run anyway.

Digits was the nickname members of a Lexington Females In Action group gave Dianne Sullivan Wells. She was an accountant who was “all about the numbers,” her friend Betsy Bridger said.

Bridger and more than a hundred other community members gathered in the front courtyard of Lexington High School Thursday morning, near where Wells would have been kicking off a 5 a.m. run as usual. But Thursday the runners were standing still, hand in hand, heads bowed. They formed concentric circles of prayer for their friend who was killed Tuesday morning when she was hit while on a run by a vehicle.

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Over 100 runners gathered near Lexington High School to join in a prayer circle for Dianne Sullivan Wells, 36, who was crossing U.S. 1 near Lexington High School around 5 a.m. Tuesday when she was fatally struck by a truck. They also brought ‘retired’ running shoes and made a memorial tree on the side of the road. 12/20/18 Tim Dominick

Wells, 36, was crossing U.S. 1 near Lexington High School before dawn when she was struck by a Chevrolet pickup truck, officials say. She was wearing reflective clothing and lights — the same kind the group of runners at her vigil wear — and she was in the crosswalk.

Wells was a mother of three young children, a wife and a leader of a FiA group called “Running Wild,” which met every Tuesday and Thursday morning before the sun came up. That time, Bridget Winston said, was for women who had busy lives to come together, exercise, share and connect with their faith.

Winston, 43, said she met Wells when they were training for the Palmetto Relay 200 in March. Winston was apprehensive, she said, but Wells was the type of person to make you feel empowered.

“She was energetic and cheerful and funny,” Winston said.

Wells would write encouraging cards for runners who were training for upcoming races, she said.

Betsy Bridger co-led the Tuesday-Thursday running group with Wells. They were part of another group and when it got too large, they splintered off. September was the one-year anniversary of them founding “Running Wild” together. One thing Bridger said she loved about Wells was how she embraced every new runner, no matter how much of a novice they were.

“She welcomed everyone as if they were the fastest one in the world,” Bridger said.

And Wells loved others. FiA for these women — and F3 for men — is more than just a workout group. Faith is an important part of what brings hundreds of runners from throughout the Midlands out at 5 a.m. At the end of a run, they gather together and pray. Every time a new runner joins, called “Friendly New Girl” or FNG, she shares her story and then is given a nickname.

FiA groups share throughout the day, too, with texts and phone calls. On Sunday, Bridger, Wells and the rest of their group went for a 6 a.m. run and then had a “Christmas social” at the Lowe’s Foods across from Lexington High School. They drank coffee and exchanged silly socks. Wells brought a pair with a photograph of an elderly couple, Bridger said, and she got a Superwoman sock in return.

She was wearing those socks when she was killed.

In the hours and days since, members of FiA and F3 groups around the country have posted tributes to Wells on social media. An online fundraising page collected more than 500 donations totaling nearly $47,000 for Wells’ family. Runners gathered Wednesday morning for a candlelight vigil in her honor.

And Thursday morning, dozens of people walked together to a few yards away from that same Lowe’s Foods she was laughing in on Sunday. They formed a Christmas tree out of old running shoes, right on the corner of the crosswalk.

“I wanted it to be a visual reminder to people driving by to slow down,” said Bridger, who came up with the idea.

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Over 100 runners gathered near Lexington High School to join in a prayer circle for Dianne Sullivan Wells, 36, who was crossing U.S. 1 near Lexington High School around 5 a.m. Tuesday when she was fatally struck by a truck. They also brought ‘retired’ running shoes and made a memorial tree on the side of the road. 12/20/18 Tim Dominick

The FiA/F3 groups in Lexington, which are often linked by marriages and friendships, have been rocked by two deaths in two years. Last year, runner John Flanagan, 38, was struck by a car while running with a group in Lexington. His wife is part of the local FiA group and knew Wells. In November 2017, Wells participated in a run honoring Flanagan.

“It’s not just about the running,” she wrote. “It’s coming together like this to honor the legacy of one of our own’s husband. This is my village, and I’m beyond blessed to have them in my life. This is what it’s about.”

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On Wednesday, Flanagan’s wife, Rebekah, posted on Facebook about Wells’ death.

“I pray that they are together now,” she wrote.

Bridger said there is only so much runners can do to protect themselves from these accidents. They wear lights on their backs, reflective clothing, stay along the edge of the road in the many areas without sidewalks or bike lanes, but it’s not enough.

“One death is one too many, but maybe now two will have our community leaders talking about that,” Winston said.

Winston said there must be a push for sidewalks, bike lanes and other safety measures to make it safe for pedestrians around Lexington. She said Wells’ children and Flanagan’s children should be able to walk to school without fear.

Lexington County saw the biggest jump in year-over-year traffic fatalities in 2018 in all of South Carolina. Deaths increased by 36 percent from December 2017. At least 67 people have been killed in traffic fatalities in the county this year.

Isabella Cueto is a bilingual multimedia journalist covering Lexington County, one of the fastest-growing areas of South Carolina. She previously worked as a reporter for the Medill Justice Project and WLRN, South Florida’s NPR station. She is a graduate of the University of Miami, where she studied journalism and theatre arts.
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