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Police: Suspect in deadly hit-and-run claimed he thought he hit a dog

EAST PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The suspect in a deadly Monday night hit-and-run on Newport Avenue claimed he thought he hit a dog when he struck a 46-year-old woman before leaving the scene of the crash, according to East Providence police.

Paul Newman, 53, of Jacksonville, Florida, was charged Tuesday morning with leaving the scene of an accident with death resulting.

Police said the victim, Maria Raposo of Coyle Avenue, was walking home Monday night shortly before 8 p.m after buying a couple items at a nearby pharmacy when she was hit by a red SUV.

“The Buick swerved to to the 2nd travel lane … and hit the female crossing the street,” an eyewitness said in a statement to police.

The car took off, according to police, and the witness and her husband followed.

“[T]he Buick was traveling at a high rate of the speed,” the witness said. “I was on the phone with 911 while we were following him. When the truck slowed down I was able to get the plate and give it to the operator.”

“Without that plate … it absolutely would’ve delayed the investigation,” East Providence Police Capt. Christopher Francesconi said in an interview with Eyewitness News.

Police tracked the car to an airport car-rental facility in Warwick, and discovered Newman had already returned it.

“It had clearly been washed, and also parts had been removed from that vehicle,” police inspector Craig Sroka told the judge at Newman’s arraignment Tuesday. Police said Newman told the rental place that he had hit something and needed a replacement car.

Police contacted Newman, who told police he thought he had hit a dog.

“It’s difficult to understand that someone could mistake a person for a dog,” Francesconi added.

Police said Raposo was not in a crosswalk when she was hit on Newport Avenue, which has two lanes of travel in each direction.

An Eyewitness News reporter noticed two streetlights were in darkness in the area where Raposo was struck Monday night. According to Department of Public Works director Steve Coutu, the unlit street lights are part of a program initiated several years ago to save money in the city. Certain “excess streetlights” were turned off, but some have since been turned back on, he said.

Coutu said city officials often turn streetlights back on after complaints from residents, and would consider doing so on Newport Avenue, particularly if police determine poor lighting contributed to the crash. Francesconi said that was part of the investigation.

Francesconi also said drugs and alcohol did not appear to be factors in the crash.

Newman posted $5,000 of his $50,000 surety bail Tuesday and was released. He’s due back in court in November.

His attorney Lawrence Signore said Newman is a native of East Providence and was in town from Florida to visit family and attend a wedding.

“He’s upset, he has remorse, and he’s concerned about the family of the woman that was struck and passed,” Signore said.

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