Friends remember victim hit and killed in Elizabeth

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CHARLOTTE, N.C.,None — Autumn Soyka's friends told Eyewitness News Sunday night that the woman who was hit and killed by a drunken driving suspect was very popular and outgoing.

Investigators said the victim, 31-year-old Autumn Lynn Soyka, was attempting to cross 7th street, between Hawthorne Lane and Pecan Avenue at about 1 a.m., when she was hit by a car driven by Stephan Watts.

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According to authorities, Watts stayed at the scene of the crash until police arrived.

Watts was arrested and charged with DWI, involuntary manslaughter and a license restriction violation.

Soyka died at the scene.

SLIDESHOW: Photos of Autumn Lynn Soyka

SLIDESHOW: Woman killed by impaired driver crossing street

Watts' wife told Eyewitness News that he was not drunk, but he was just not wearing his glasses at the time of the accident.

"It blew me away," said Laura Gaffney, reacting to Soyka's death. Gaffney said she knew Soyka through a friend of a friend. "She was a vibrant young woman. She was always happy. She had a good attitude and everybody loved her that knew her."

Autumn was described as "popular" and a "regular" at Jackalope Jack's Restaurant & Bar by owner Rob Nixon.

Soyka was hit while crossing 7th Street, just a few yards away from Jackalope Jack's. The restaurant posted condolences to Soyka on its Facebook page Sunday.

Nixon and another Elizabeth area restaurant manager told Eyewitness News that Soyka's death should serve as a wake-up call for there to be lights and a crosswalk put in on 7th Street between Hawthorne and Pecan.

"Every night that's a busy street for people walking across and there definitely needs to be more crosswalks across the road," said Michael Palmer, manager of Kennedy's Premium Bar and Grill.

This was not the first time a pedestrian has been hit at that intersection. On Aug. 1, 2010, three people were hit by a car in that same stretch of East 7th Street.

In that case, police said Kirstie Pienta was driving drunk. Officers said after hitting the pedestrians, Pienta veered off the road, went across a sidewalk, struck a parking sign and then slammed into a tree.

Pienta was also seriously injured in the crash. All three pedestrians survived.

Pienta was charged with DWI, reckless driving and driving after underage drinking in connection with that crash.

Previous Stories: August 4, 2010: Bar Wants Changes After 3 Pedestrians Hit In Elizabeth Neighborhood August 1, 2010: Police Charge Woman With DWI After She Struck 3 Pedestrians