Orange PD, amid unusual spate of pedestrian traffic fatalities, urges safety precautions

By Greg Hardesty

September is California Pedestrian Safety Month, and reminding the public about tips to avoid tragedy is especially important this year for the Orange PD.

While Orange averages between six and 12 traffic-related fatalities per year, so far in 2018, eight people have died in traffic-related collisions.

What’s unusual, says Sgt. Dave Natividad, is that all eight of the deaths — in seven separate collisions — have been pedestrians.

“A lot of pedestrians step off the sidewalk and immediately assume they have the right of way,” said Natividad, who heads up the OPD’s Traffic Unit. “As for drivers, if people would just get back to driving, and not do other things like texting when they’re behind the wheel, then we’d all be much better off.”

The eight pedestrian deaths in Orange this year haven’t followed a pattern.

Some fatalities have happened at night, some during the day.

One pedestrian was killed when he fell off his bike and was struck by a car.

A couple of incidents have involved drivers suspected of being under the influence.

The bottom line, Natividad said, is that pedestrians always should be cautious when they step off a curb and into a crosswalk or a section of a street they legally are allowed to cross.

For example, it isn’t jaywalking when a pedestrian crosses a street outside of a crosswalk if there are opposing side streets without traffic lights between the closest intersections with traffic signals. If a pedestrian crosses a street between two streets with traffic lights, that’s jaywalking.

Courtesy OTS

Regardless of where they’re crossing — legally or illegally — pedestrians should never attempt to cross when there’s a vehicle close enough to be considered a hazard.

Natividad urges pedestrians to be hyper vigilant.

“Even when I walk down the sidewalk,” he said, “I still watch out for cars.”

The most recent pedestrian fatality in Orange happened on Aug. 20. A 39-year-old man was killed when he was crossing Glassell Street outside of a crosswalk near Quincy Avenue at 8:40 p.m. The female driver, Erin Meacham, 50, of Orange was arrested on suspicion of vehicular manslaughter and driving under the influence. The investigation is ongoing.

A little more than a week after that fatality, two men were convicted of a 2015 fatal hit-and-run after speeding through a red light and killing a 9-year-old boy in a crosswalk.

Roderick Kent Jerro, 53, of Orange faces 22 years in state prison and Miguel Villagomez, 29, of Anaheim faces six years in state prison for the death of Jesse Rosales in the Aug. 6, 2015 collision.

Sentencing for Jerro and Villagomez is scheduled for Oct. 12.

At about 9:30 p.m. on Aug. 6, 2015, Villagomez got into a minor traffic collision with Jerro’s vehicle on Tustin Street and Palm Avenue in Orange and attempted to drive away. Jerro pursued Villagomez’s vehicle, according to the Orange County District Attorney’s Office.

File photo of Orange PD Sgt. David Natividad by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

During this chase, both defendants sped northbound through a red light at the intersection of North Glassell Street and Wilson Avenue. Jerro hit Jesse Rosales as he was crossing the street with his older sister.

Both Jerro and Villagomez failed to stop to render aid or assistance to Rosales. The defendants continued speeding away from the scene.

Villagomez continued to drive northbound, attempted to make a left turn on West Taft Avenue, and crashed into a brick wall, which disabled his vehicle.

Jerro stopped his vehicle near the site where Villagomez had crashed.

Rosales was taken to the hospital where he was pronounced dead.

The goal of Pedestrian Safety Month is to reduce the numbers of pedestrians being killed and injured on California roadways. The OPD has joined state agencies, community partners and law enforcement agencies throughout the state to urge pedestrians and drivers alike to be aware of each other at all times and share the road responsibly.

Pedestrian deaths are on the rise both in California and nationally.

In 2016, 867 pedestrians were killed and more than 14,000 were injured on California roadways alone, according to the state Office of Traffic Safety.

Since 2012, pedestrian deaths have increased by nearly 33 percent, growing substantially faster than any other type of traffic-related death, the OTS says.

The OTS’ campaign this month is “Pedestrians Don’t Have Armor.” The campaign highlights the importance of pedestrian safety, whether one is on foot or behind the wheel.

The campaign features everyday pedestrians clad in body armor made from car parts, a symbol that in real life, pedestrians don’t have any protection when hit by a vehicle, no matter who is at fault.

“Pedestrian safety goes both ways,” OTS Director Rhonda Craft said in a news release. “Whether you are walking or driving, there is a shared responsibility when it comes to looking out for one another.”

The following tips come from the OTS:

Pedestrians

Be obvious and predictable, crossing at crosswalks or intersections only, walk facing traffic and as far from the lanes as possible if there is no sidewalk.

Make eye contact with drivers; never assume a driver sees you.

Look left-right-left before you step into the crosswalk: having a green light or the “WALK” signal does not mean it is safe to cross.

Look for cars backing up, including white backup lights or signs the vehicle is running.

Don’t dart out between parked cars.

Avoid distractions. Don’t walk and use your phone at the same time.

Wear bright clothing during the day and reflective materials (or use a flashlight) at night.

Drivers

Be alert for pedestrians, especially at intersections and crosswalks where they have the right of way.

Put down the cell phone and just drive.

Use extra caution when backing up. Look for bicyclists or pedestrians who may be approaching.

Be patient and courteous. Wait for pedestrians to cross street or intersection before proceeding.