Copper wire theft blamed for ‘pitch black’ crossing where St. Paul man, dog killed in Christmas Eve pedestrian crash

Widow shares frustration over dark St. Paul streets after husband, dog die in car crash

Widow shares frustration over dark St. Paul streets after husband, dog die in car crash

A widow whose husband and dog were killed by a truck while crossing the street in St. Paul on Christmas Eve says she and her neighbors complained to the City “for months” about the lack of street lighting.

It was “pitch black” on their Maryland Avenue West block, said Laurellee Wirtz, when her husband Steven “Steve” Wirtz, 64, and 2-year-old German Shepherd, Gunther, crossed the street at Park Street around 8:15 p.m. on Sunday.

“I’ll never, ever ever get that scene out of my head,” Laurellee Wirtz said in an exclusive interview on Wednesday afternoon. “When I went out there and saw him, all I could do was yell, that they killed him. ‘They killed him. They killed him.’ That’s all I could say over and over again…I wanted to go up and touch him one more time, tell him I love him, but I couldn’t move. All I could do was yell.”

As her grief ebbs and flows, so does frustration. Laurellee Wirtz and her neighbors — sitting with her — said it’s too dark on their street at night and that they’ve complained to the city, including reaching out to Mayor Melvin Carter’s office, several times to turn the street lights on.

“It’s been months and months months,” Laurellee Wirtz said.

St. Paul Public Works Director Sean Kershaw, later on Wednesday evening, was at the intersection checking out the issue after 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS reached out to the city for a response.

The lights are off due to a “combination of copper wire theft and the timing” of a contractor’s installation of the newer LED lights, which started just a couple of weeks ago, Kershaw said.

He said he instructed crews to reconnect the light at Maryland Ave. W. and Park Street by the end of the night on Wednesday.

Wirtz’s death highlights “why we keep going back and installing the copper wire even when [theft] happens,” Kershaw said. “We can’t let up.”

Victim’s partner of 36 years speaks up

Days after the apparent accident, Laurellee Wirtz was back and forth between tears and laughter, sharing memories with her longtime neighbors who loved her husband too.

Steven Wirtz was a lifelong St. Paul resident, only leaving for a time to serve in the U.S. Marine Corps, she said.

She recalled the moment she met her husband in 1987 on April Fools Day.

“It was a Wednesday night,” Laurellee Wirtz said.

“And when I met him I knew,” she said, before pausing to cry. “And we’ve been together ever since.”

Mayor Carter offered the following statement on Wednesday evening in response:

“I extend my deepest condolences to the Wirtzes as they grieve the sudden and heartbreaking loss of Steven Wirtz and Gunther. This tragedy is a stark reminder that copper theft dangerously darkens streets and puts us all at risk. 

We are investing in local theft prevention strategies, while pursuing state policy to help prevent tragedies like this in the future.”

As for the driver who hit Wirtz and Gunther, St. Paul Police said they stopped after the crash and are cooperating with investigators. As of Wednesday, a spokesperson said the investigation is ongoing and couldn’t say yet whether or when charges could be filed.