Homeless Arizona woman killed by Uber self-driving SUV was 'like everyone's aunt'

TEMPE, Ariz. (Reuters) - The Arizona pedestrian killed by an Uber self-driving vehicle was a homeless woman close to getting off the streets, her friends said, describing her as a fighter who took care of those around her.

Traffic passes an intersection just north of the location where a woman pedestrian was struck and killed by an Uber self-driving sport utility vehicle in Tempe, Arizona, U.S., March 19, 2018. REUTERS/Rick Scuteri

Elaine Herzberg, 49, known fondly as “Elle” and “Ms. Elle,” was widely known and liked throughout the homeless community of Tempe, Arizona, a suburb of Phoenix.

“She was like everyone’s aunt,” said Benjamin Jeffrey, a friend of Herzberg and also homeless, who spoke to Reuters from an encampment near the scene of Sunday’s accident.

“She didn’t need to be on the streets and yet she did it with style and with couth and with originality,” Jeffrey said.

Police said Herzberg was killed while walking her bike across a four-lane road outside the crosswalk when she was struck by an Uber self-driving sport utility vehicle traveling at about 40 miles per hour (65 km per hour). Further details are unknown and a police investigation is ongoing.

Uber suspended its self-driving program in North America in the wake of the incident.

Jeffrey said he knew Herzberg before he himself became homeless and took her in. She later repaid the favor.

“She took care of me when nobody else cared,” he said. “Against insurmountable odds she maintained her composure.”

Another camp resident, Kriss Kidd, said the homeless community considered Herzberg one of their caretakers.

“She has such a big heart, she had to help anyone she could,” said Kidd, 51. “She definitely made an impact on people’s lives - she made you want to have hope.”

She was also fiercely loyal.

“She could be a fighter,” Kidd said. “You mess with her, that’s it.”

Those who knew her said Herzberg, who struggled with family and financial troubles, was close to getting off the streets, working with a local organization to secure a roommate and an apartment.

“She didn’t want to be out here anymore,” Kidd said. “The longer you’re out here, the streets just eat you up.”

Herzberg’s death marked a very real collision between the world of high-tech and the underbelly of society. For Jeffrey, there was an element of irony — he had formerly been an Uber driver in Tempe for the company’s traditional ride service.

Jeffrey said local residents respected Uber, “but we also respect the pedestrian right of way.”

“I never would have imagined that Ms. Elle and this Uber thing ... would collide.”

Editing by Alexandria Sage and Matthew Lewis