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Pedestrian deaths on the rise in Visalia

Pedestrian deaths on the rise in Visalia

Seven people were killed in the city limits in 2017; three have already been killed this year

By Reggie Ellis @Reggie_SGN

VISALIA – A man visiting from Colorado going for a early morning stroll through downtown. A man in wheelchair crossing the street. And a homeless man just trying to survive. What do these three people have in common? They were all hit and killed by cars in Visalia. 

Between March 21 and April 5, three pedestrians were killed in the city limits, nearly matching a total of four killed in both 2014 and 2015. Two were hit on the same day albeit in different parts of the city. 

At 3:15 p.m. that day, a 64-year-old man in a wheelchair was crossing Tulare Avenue at Garden Street when he was struck by a 2001 Honda sedan. Officers found the man in the roadway and paramedics transported him to Kaweah Delta where he was pronounced dead due to his injuries. 

Earlier that same day, a 71-year-old homeless man was struck by a car at the intersection of West Kaweah Avenue and South Mooney Boulevard. Paramedics were able to stabilize the man at the scene and then transport him to Kaweah Delta Medical Center. He later succumbed to his injuries on April 15. He was identified as Randy Leo Williams, a transient from the Visalia or Goshen area. Now, more than a month later, the Tulare County Coroner’s Office is still searching for any living relatives of Winters. Anyone with information is encouraged to call Det. Perryman or Sgt. Knight of the Tulare County Sheriff’s Coroner’s Office at 559-687-7000 or they can remain anonymous by calling or texting 559-725-4194 or email at tcso@tipnow.com.

Randy Winters 71 years old

Randy Winters
71 years old

At 6 a.m. on April 5, Hugh Phillips, 78, of Colorado, was crossing Acequia Avenue east of Church Street when he was struck by a 2002 Ford F150. Officers arrived to find Phillips in the roadway and he was pronounced dead upon arriving at Kaweah Delta Medical Center just a few blocks away.

So what do all of the pedestrian crashes have in common? Very little, which is the problem, according to Sgt. Damon Maurice, public information officer for the Visalia Police Department. None of the drivers were arrested in any of these collisions because none of the drivers were under the influence of alcohol or drugs. The only pattern is that pedestrian related fatalities are on the rise, peaking at nine in 2017 and already three less than halfway through this year.

“These are random accidents and they are occurring at a rate we haven’t seen before,” Sgt. Maurice said. “These appear to be random. There isn’t any clear pattern.”

Between 2007 and 2014, there were 213 pedestrian collisions in Tulare County, killing 43 and injuring 210 people. Most pedestrian related accidents (95%) occurred in unincorporated areas. The largest unincorporated area, Cutler-Orosi, had the largest percentage of pedestrian crashes with 16%. Over one-quarter (26.48%) of those hit or injured were children 14 years old or younger, followed by people ages 15-19 (11.86%), ages 20-24 (11.46%) and ages 50-54 (7.51%). 

According to data from UC Berkeley’s Transportation Injury Mapping System (TIMS), most collisions happen on Sunday with the highest number between 6 and 9 p.m. More than half (56%) of pedestrian related injuries are caused by pedestrian violations. Of those, more than one-third (37%) took place at night where there are no streets lights or street lights that are not working. Less than 20% of pedestrian related accidents involved people in crosswalks or on sidewalks.  

“Our message to pedestrians is simple, You are responsible for your own personal safety,” said Sgt. Maurice. “Assuming a driver will slow down or assuming they will see them can have unfortunate and even deadly consequences.”

Forty-two percent of pedestrian collisions were caused by jaywalking, and just under 10% were for walking in the roadway with traffic. Pedestrians are supposed to walk in roadways against traffic for greater visibility.

Weather had little to do with the safety of pedestrians as people tend to not walk in inclement weather and obviously walk more during the daytime and when it is light out. Dark streets without lighting or streets where the lighting did not function accounted for one-third of all pedestrian accidents.   

In 2013, the most recent number available from the California Highway Patrol, Tulare County ranked in the middle of the pack (27 of 52) among counties for non-fatal pedestrian injuries and the seventh lowest rank for pedestrian fatalities in the State. Officer Steven Beal with the Visalia Area CHP said pedestrian fatalities around in and around the city of Visalia peaked in two years ago, but also noted the three fatalities through the first four months. 

He offered the following safety tips for pedestrians:

  • Use crosswalks and follow traffic signals when crossing at streetlights, but still pay close attention to vehicles on the road.
  • Be careful at intersections where drivers may fail to yield the right-of-way to pedestrians while turning onto another street.
  • Before stepping in front of a car, make eye contact with the driver. Make sure they see you, that they plan on stopping, and they have time to stop.
  • Increase your visibility at night by carrying a flashlight and wearing light-colored or reflective clothing.
  • It is safest to walk on a sidewalk, but if you must walk in the street, walk facing traffic.
  • Pay attention. Always be aware of your surroundings and watch for vehicles when crossing a street or stepping off a curb.
  • Keep your eyes up and off your phone. Do not talk/text on a cell phone or listen to music when walking.
  • If you have been drinking, walk with someone who has not been drinking to make sure you get home safely.
  • Be careful crossing multiple lanes of traffic. Make sure each lane of traffic is clear before you cross.

He also cautioned motorists to:

  • Watch for people walking and people bicycling; obey all speed limits; avoid distraction; and know the laws regarding pedestrian right-of-way.
  • Be prepared to yield to pedestrians in crosswalks (marked or unmarked).
  • Never pass a vehicle that is stopped for pedestrians.
  • Before making a turn, be sure the path is clear of any pedestrians.
  • Slow down in areas where you are likely to find people walking, such as near bus stops, schools, parks and playgrounds.
  • Look carefully behind your vehicle for approaching pedestrians before backing up.
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