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Jackie Autry explains car accident that left homeless man dead

November 30, 2010 | 12:09 pm

Autry_300 Jackie Autry, the widow of former Angels owner Gene Autry, said Tuesday she's still reeling from a Thanksgiving night accident in which her car struck and killed a homeless man crossing a street in Palm Springs.

"The guy came out of nowhere," Autry said Tuesday, contacted by telephone at her Riverside County home. "It was an accident; it's what can happen when people cross a street with no lights wearing black clothes. I feel bad for the man and any family he may have."

Palm Springs Police Sgt. Paul Abshire said "there was nothing at the scene, and no statements, to indicate [Autry] was under the influence." Abshire added the investigation won't be completely closed until an autopsy is conducted on Jesus Cardova Diaz, 50, of Palm Springs.

Autry said she was returning from a Thanksgiving dinner in La Quinta with two friends seated in the back seat of her vehicle. She said she was not drinking alcohol at the dinner.

"We were in a 35-mph zone and I was going about 25," Autry said. "I had taken my foot off the gas because the [stop] light ahead was changing when he [Diaz] popped out of nowhere.

"I jumped out of the car and my friend called 911. I tried to talk to the man, but he didn't say anything. I told everyone not to move him. He was lying on his side/stomach. The ambulance came and took him to the hospital."

Diaz died about an hour after the 7 p.m. accident, authorities said.

"It's been a terrible thing to deal with," Autry said. "I'm not sure I've even dealt with it yet."

Autry, who annually presents the American League Championship trophy, said she received a comforting phone call from Rep. Mary Bono Mack (R-Palm Springs) who told her homeless people typically gather in Sunrise Park near where the accident occurred on Sunrise Way north of Ramon Road. Autry said the man might have been following others to a grocery store across the street from the park.

The death at the holidays has shook Autry, 69, she said, given her support of the Los Angeles Food Bank and an organization that assists homeless people in returning to work.

"We try to help people in need, and people especially need help these days, where so many are just one missed paycheck away from becoming homeless," Autry said.

-- Lance Pugmire

 Photo: Jackie Autry in 2002. Credit: Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times

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