Family mourns victim of hit-and-run
For more than a week, relatives of Daphne Cola gathered around her bed at Interim LSU Hospital, holding out hope that the 37-year-old mother of two would wake up from a coma.
She had been unresponsive since a speeding four-wheel all-terrain vehicle slammed into her while she was leaving Kermit’s Treme Mother-in-Law Lounge late on July 27.
In the end, the odds were insurmountable, and on Tuesday the family decided to remove her from life support.
On Wednesday, they grieved the loss of a woman they described as “beautiful” and “philanthropic,” while police continued to search for the unknown driver who hit her and left her for dead.
As Cola was leaving the lounge about 11:30 p.m. after a night out with family and friends, several souped-up motorcycles, ATVs and dirt bikes were racing up and down North Claiborne Avenue before one of the ATVs hit Cola at Columbus Street, according to witnesses.
After striking her, the driver lost control of the ATV and slammed into a parked Jeep. The ATV flipped, and he was tossed from it as it continued to roll down the road.
He and his passenger then got up and walked away.
“I know it was an accident. I’m pretty sure he didn’t intend to hit her, but … this is a neighborhood. What possesses you to be so dangerous?” said Vegas Cola, Daphne Cola’s younger sister.
Lt. Anthony Micheu, the NOPD’s Traffic Division commander, said ATVs are not designed for city streets and it is illegal to ride them in urban areas.
“It’s not meant to be driven on the street,” he said. “It’s very dangerous.”
The impact was so severe, Vegas Cola said, that her sister never really had a chance.
“Whoever hit her, he hit her so hard she never woke up from it,” she said.
Daphne Cola, a financial planner, graduated from McDonogh No. 35 High School and earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of New Orleans, her sister said.
She was a loving mother to a 5-year-old Stuart Hall School student and a 12-year-old about to enter Jesuit High School, Vegas Cola said.
“She’s a wonderful mother, a wonderful friend, sister, daughter, aunt,” Vegas Cola said. “Whatever you can think of, she’s good at it.”
The decision to take Daphne Cola off life support wasn’t easy, but the family said it was the right action.
Her body might have been in the bed, but her spirit was gone, Vegas Cola said. “Daphne was absent the whole time,” she said.
The question, she said, was, “Would Daphne come out of this?” The family decided she would not.
Micheu vowed to make an arrest in the case but said it could be a challenge, despite tips the department has received.
“It’s always a challenge when you’ve got someone in hiding,” he said. “It’s not a question of if we make this arrest, but when.”
The Orleans Parish Coroner’s Office is still trying to determine Daphne Cola’s exact cause of death, said Brian Lapeyrolerie, the office’s chief investigator.
Police will discuss with the District Attorney’s Office any charges the driver and his passenger could face, Micheu said.
“It’s just disgusting,” Micheu said of the collision. “It’s really unfathomable to think that someone would leave a human being lying there without any assistance or any care,”
The driver of the ATV is described only as a black man who wore a dark shirt with writing on the front and dark shorts. His female passenger possibly wore light-colored clothing.
Anyone with information is asked to call Crimestoppers at (504) 822-1111.
WWL-TV reporter Monica Hernandez contributed to this report. Follow Danny Monteverde on Twitter, @DCMonteverde.