Each morning, Kunlek Wangmo and her husband, Lobsang Jorkhang, walked St. Paul’s W. 7th Street neighborhood near downtown, their home since the late 1990s.
Their daily routine came to a tragic end Thursday morning, when about a mile from their apartment a car struck and killed Wangmo, 63, at the intersection of W. 7th and St. Clair Avenue.
“My wife! My wife!” Jorkhang cried, according to a witness.
Wangmo and Jorkhang were walking southwest on W. 7th when she was struck about 6:45 a.m. by a car traveling west on St. Clair, police said.
Jorkhang had just crossed St. Clair when he heard a thud, turned around and saw his wife lying on the pavement behind him, said St. Paul police spokesman Steve Linders.
It’s unclear where Wangmo was standing when she was struck, but her body was in the crosswalk when authorities arrived, Linders said. She died at the scene.
The driver of the car, a 29-year-old woman, stopped at the scene and was cooperating with authorities. Linders said that drugs and alcohol don’t appear to be factors in the collision, and no arrests were made.
Few answers were available Thursday as police investigated what led to the collision.
“We’re not sure why it happened, but the message to pedestrians and drivers … is to be aware of your surroundings, even if it’s a route you take on a daily basis,” Linders said.
The driver reported having the right of way, Linders said, but that had not been officially determined. He noted that sunrise and sunset times are changing with the turn of the season and could pose additional challenges.
“Stay on the lookout for each other,” Linders said. “Make sure that you can see who’s coming, and make sure they can see you …”
Jorkhang was too shaken up to talk publicly about his wife or the collision, said a friend who described Wangmo as a caring person.
“She cared about her family and her community,” said Tsering Nyatsatsang, who worked alongside Wangmo in housekeeping at United Hospital in St. Paul.
Wangmo regularly sent money to relatives in India and Bhutan, and had recently returned from a trip to India.
“She got an opportunity to be here, and she has the resources that she can take care of them,” Nyatsatsang said.
Nyatsatsang said that she and Wangmo were in Rochester on Wednesday and saw the Dalai Lama, who was making a visit to the Mayo Clinic.
Gregory Smolik, a longtime resident of the area where Wangmo was struck, said the intersection can be tricky to navigate because the streets intersect at sharp angles west of Nugent Street.
“All I can say is, it’s a difficult situation,” said Smolik, adding that he’s seen about a dozen fender benders there.
Linders said he did not know whether the intersection was particularly difficult, but noted that fatal car-pedestrian collisions are rare.
Kevin Welna was waiting for a bus at the intersection Thursday when he witnessed the collision’s aftermath. Welna said that Jorkhang told police “something about [Wangmo] tripping or falling” before she was hit.
The driver pulled into a parking lot nearby, Welna said, “extremely distraught and screaming.”
A woman called 911, then checked Wangmo for a pulse and reported feeling a faint one, he said.
When paramedics arrived, they hooked Wangmo up to a couple of machines, “and you can tell it ain’t good,” Welna said. “Within three or four minutes they cover her.”
Sean Kershaw, who lives nearby, started a GoFundMe page — gofundme.com/ua5ejyc4 — to help Wangmo’s family.