RACINE — On Wednesday, Joanie Williams, who volunteers to assist the local homeless population, received a call she will remember forever.
She learned that 64-year-old Clarence A. Ellis III, who she regularly worked with, was struck by a car at the intersection of Sixth and Marquette streets and killed Tuesday night.
He was reportedly struck by 36-year-old Keisha Marie Farrington, of Racine, who had been drinking, according to a criminal complaint.
Farrington has since been charged with felony counts of homicide by intoxicated use of a vehicle and operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated — third offense, and three counts of misdemeanor bail jumping.
‘Oh my God’
According to the criminal complaint, Ellis suffered a serious injury, was unresponsive, not breathing and had no pulse.
Standing nearby was Farrington, who admitted to striking Ellis with her car and who told investigators that she had a few drinks.
“Oh my God, I’m going to jail and I’ll never see my babies again,” Farrington reportedly said.
While getting her blood drawn, Farrington reportedly asked several times about the condition of the man she had hit.
Farrington had two previous OWIs and failed field sobriety tests. Her van was found in the parking lot of a nearby gas station with damage to its front.
As of Thursday, Farrington remained in custody on a $100,000 cash bond, online records show. A preliminary hearing is set for Aug. 7 at the Law Enforcement Center.
Williams, a retired hospice nurse and current Living Faith Lutheran Church parish nurse, remembers Ellis as a sweet, protective person who was well-known throughout the local homeless community.
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Williams said that Ellis, who had been homeless for approximately 1½ years, had been in prison and had a traumatic past, including health problems from previous injuries.
A few months after Williams met Ellis in June 2018, Williams said Ellis was extremely ill. She took him to the emergency room where he was diagnosed with pneumonia and was taken to the intensive care unit. He was released from the hospital five days later.
Williams said Ellis was uncomfortable staying at the HALO because of mental health issues. Worried that Ellis would go back to the streets, get sick again and die, Williams wanted to find somewhere for Ellis to stay. “Don’t worry, Clarence, God is going to answer our prayers,” Williams said she told him.
Williams and other volunteers working with the homeless community raised funds to get Ellis into the Knights Inn in Mount Pleasant for six weeks. She said she brought Williams food from the food pantry and clothing from Goodwill. “At the time, he said it was the first time he ever slept and felt safe,” Williams said.
Seth Raymond, the executive director of the Hospitality Center, the downtown day respite service for the homeless, said that Ellis was named the volunteer of the month a couple of months ago and had a good sense of humor. Ellis washed dishes for about three hours a day for quite some time, Raymond said.
“He was someone who received services here, but he was also someone who contributed where he could,” Raymond said.
Honoring his memory
This past December, Ellis received approval to be a part of the rapid rehousing program, which helps homeless people with mental illnesses pay for homes for about one year.
Williams said that Ellis found an apartment near Villa and 17th streets and discovered a love for cooking. “He was finally eating and cooking and gaining weight,” Williams said. She said that Ellis began to see a therapist and work through his issues, which included struggling with alcohol abuse.
Unfortunately, Williams said that during this past several months of Ellis’ life, he began to relapse more frequently and began missing appointments with his therapist. His apartment often made him feel claustrophobic and he would often wander places, including Downtown Racine.
Williams said Ellis was looking forward to his December birthday when he would turn 65 and be able to collect Social Security and find a stable place to live.
“He had his flaws and his weaknesses, but people who knew him said he was kind and protective,” Williams said. “People on the street sure knew and people who worked with homeless.”
Williams said that a memorial service is planned at 1 p.m. Tuesday in the sanctuary of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, 614 Main St.
“I feel the need to honor his memory,” Williams said. “I believe this memorial service with be healing for many of the broken-hearted homeless folks struggling here.”