When thinking of my years knowing Mandy Ferguson Weyant, I can remember two important moments at the beginning of our friendship. The first time I saw her at a Halloween party, strutting around in a leotard Batman suit and I just thought "Man! That girl has balls. I like it." I could never wear that costume with the confidence she had, and she owned that outfit. The second time, we went to a friend's birthday party and it was filled with people. Everyone was gathering in their small groups of close friends to take photos together while Mandy and I watched, not really having a group of girlfriends to take photos with. Finally, Mandy told me "Screw it! Let's just go together and take our own photo." And we did. It was that moment I realized I had a friend who no matter what, would be there. If I was out and uncomfortable, it didn't matter if I was with her. We'd get through it together.  Now I don't have that friend with me. It's because of a horrific accident, that has shattered the lives of her family, friends and the kids she adored teaching.

The Cincinnati Entertainment District is a place we both call home. The street is our version of Cheers, where everyone knows our names. Fools Gold is the watering hole for all my neighbors, Crawdaddy's has the friendliest bartenders, Sister Esther or Ditzy Duck is where we go dancing and Palomino is our second home. When I hear the bouncer yelling for me to get home safe, I know he means it. But there comes a time of the night where you either head out way ahead of closing time or find a place you feel safe to wait out the crowds on the street. This is when you see fights spilling out onto Mesa Street, girls stumbling in their heels off of the sidewalks and inebriated individuals getting behind the wheel and zooming off into the night. I wish I could say this was a rare occurrence but it isn't. The bars do everything possible in their power to try and keep people safe but there comes a time when they need help.

One of the first times I went out on Cincinnati Street a girl had her leg broken being hit by a car. That was six years ago and there have been many more since. If this has been an ongoing issue in the area, why has the city allowed our safety to be in jeopardy? The sidewalks on Mesa are cracked, there's loose gravel all over the ground, the corner pedestrians walk on is narrow and dangerous, and you are expected to walk from one section of the district to another right next to a busy roadway where the speed limit is 45 MPH. There are no railings, no reflective barriers, nothing to protect bar patrons from the busy roadway. The city says they want visitors to the Cincinnati Entertainment District to park in the Glory Road parking garage and then walk across the street but how do you expect that to happen when there's no safe way to cross the street? People go and park in the neighborhoods because the walk is shorter and sadly safer. But not by much. In 2017, a woman died when a drunk driver hit a traffic sign and it struck her in the head. Since this was on Mardi Gras and there was heavy police presence that evening, they were able to respond quickly to the scene. If there had been more police presence the evening Mandy died, maybe he wouldn't have been able to get away. He may have turned himself in, but we don't know if he was drinking. We don't know if he was driving impaired. Those are charges he may not have to face now because we can't prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he was driving drunk. All we do have is what witnesses have told police and her family.

We know that this man didn't stop to render aid. He didn't stop at the scene of the accident. He didn't even brake for her. He ran right through that light and struck our beautiful Mandy, and he killed her. Her family, friends, co-workers and this community want justice. We want to see the person responsible for her death to face justice. We don't want her death to be in vain. We want to make sure that the city of El Paso, TXDOT and our community all work together to find a way to make the Cinncinati District safer. There are new lights put in above the street to beautify the area. The streetcar now curves right around the street. But none of that matters if people visiting that area are scared they won't make it home from their night out and stop going.

Mandy deserved better, her family deserves better. They don't get to give her the gifts they already bought her for Christmas. Her mom doesn't get to hang out with her best friend. Her dad doesn't get to give her another hug. The Packers don't get their biggest fan to root them on next season. Her students don't get to have a passionate teacher who loved every moment she was in that classroom with them. Her friends don't get to see her sing every lyric to Eminem's "Rap God" at parties. And I don't get my friend who rescued even more dogs than I do and was always down for a dog costume contest. The world lost an amazing, beautiful soul in a way that was absolutely preventable. Is this the only way her death shouldn't have happened? No. There are other things that need to be done as well. But when it comes to the place that we both love going to, something has to change.

Mandy Ferguson