SALEM — Feliksa Mieszczanski was tending her lush garden Saturday morning, as she does diligently each day. She crossed the street to dispose of a 5-gallon bucket of weeds, and when she returned she was struck and killed by a driver who did not stop, according to family members and police.
“It was so sudden; I can’t believe she is gone this way,” said Mieszczanski’s sister Laura, 80, who lived with her in their Loring Avenue home. “I feel lost. It’s tragic.”
Salem police Sergeant Marc Berube said officials are looking for a small, dark car, possibly a Honda or a Mazda, that witnesses say struck Mieszczanski, 83, around 9:10 a.m. as it headed south on Loring Avenue (Route 1A) toward Lynn or Swampscott.
“If anybody who was driving or walking in the area at that time has details, we urge them to call the department,” said Salem Detective Daniel Tucker.
Neighbors say the stretch of Loring Avenue in front of the Mieszczanski home — a major throughway to Lynn — has long been prone to traffic accidents.
Neighbor Joseph Therrien, 52, said three of his cars, which he parks in front of his home, have been hit by passing vehicles during the six years he has lived there. Many of his neighbors have had their front porches and fences destroyed in wrecks, he said.
“I understand people are in a big hurry, but when you’re behind a wheel, you have to be held accountable,” he said. “If you try to come out of a side street here, you’re dead.”
Berube said local authorities are aware of the traffic problems.
“We’ve definitely had issues on that bend of Loring Avenue, and there have been accidents there, some fatal,” he said. “We know there are speeders there and we’ve shown traffic enforcement in that area.”
Family and neighbors remember Mieszczanski, whom everyone called Phyllis, as an optimistic and unfailingly generous woman who was a talented cook as well as an avid gardener.
Mieszczanski, one of nine siblings, emigrated from Poland in 1965 and worked at the Parker Brothers toy and game manufacturing factory before she retired 20 years ago. She and her sister, both active members of St. John the Baptist Church, never married and lived together their whole lives, beloved by their 10 nieces and nephews.
“We were all like their children,” said one niece, Theresa Zak, 58, of Westford, who grew up in Salem. “It was a huge, joyful Catholic family.”
Ola Prochorski, 23, of Wilmington, one of Mieszczanski’s 19 grandnieces and grandnephews, remembers fishing and picking mushrooms in Salem with her great-aunt.
“She grew these magic tomatoes — I don’t know how she got them that huge,” Prochorksi said, smiling. “She taught me how to make all of the traditional Polish dishes, and she made her own wine and bread.”
Neighbors said many of these Polish dishes made it to their doorsteps. One man, who asked not to be identified, said he helped the Mieszczanskis plow their driveway in the winters and received homemade Polish beer each year in return for his help.
Following Mieszczanski’s death, some neighbors question why more has not been done to secure the safety of residents in the area. Many have to turn directly off the highway into their driveways or onto side streets.
“We have the right to cross our street and walk on our sidewalk,” said Elaine Grant, 44, who lives on Loring Avenue. “This is a residential area and the residents should come first.” Grant said she has asked local officials to paint a double yellow line on the street and place a stop sign at the corner of Mieszczanski’s home, but none of those changes have come.
“I’ve always been terrified that one of these days, it’s going to be one of my kids,” she said.