Hit-and-Runs Raise Street Safety Concerns

By Jacqueline Garcia, EGP Staff Writer

A new bill signed by Gov. Jerry Brown Monday could help solve many hit-and-run cases in California.

AB 8, authored by Assemblyman Mike Gatto, calls for “yellow alerts” showing details about a fleeing vehicle — such as color, make, model and license plate number — to be displayed on digital freeway and street signs. Such alerts are already used during kidnappings.

Lea este artículo en Español: Casos de Atropello y Fuga Incrementan Preocupación

The practice could have been of use during two recent hit-and-runs in Highland Park where the suspects are still at large.

On Sunday around 1:30 a.m., a motorist crashed into the Highland Café on York Boulevard near Avenue 50. There were no injuries, but the café is still closed due to the extensive damage caused by the driver who managed to back his truck out of the building and flee the scene.

Participants at a vigil and march Friday - at the same crosswalk in Highland Park where a woman was struck and killed by a hit-and-run vehicle – demand justice and safer streets. (EGP photo by Jaccqueline Garcia)

Participants at a vigil and march Friday – at the same crosswalk in Highland Park where a woman was struck and killed by a hit-and-run vehicle – demand justice and safer streets. (EGP photo by Jaccqueline Garcia)

On Sept. 18, a woman was hit by a car while walking in a marked crosswalk on Figueroa Street at Avenue 54. The driver took off without stopping to render aid.

Fifty one-year old Yolanda Espinoza-Lugo died from her injuries two days later.

In some neighborhoods, people blame incidents like these on street conditions they claim are unsafe and allow people to speed. Slowing traffic will save lives, they say. Others claim too many hit-and-run drivers are never caught, making more people willing to risk trying to get away with their crime. They say you can’t blame street conditions for people deciding to speed, drive while intoxicated or not stopping if they hit someone.

Mobility is a hot button issue in Los Angeles. There are countless transportation studies and plans aimed at making streets safer for pedestrians, bicyclists and autos. They include encouraging people to reduce driving speeds, moving people out of cars and on to public transportation, and making walking and cycling safer and user-friendly.

Every plan to improve traffic flow, reduce congestion or to allow more room for bicyclists has supporters and detractors that are passionate, and often unyielding, in their positions.

At a vigil and protest march last Friday marking the hit-and-run death of Espinoza-Lugo, Highland Park residents said they no longer just have to worry about gangs in the neighborhood, but more reckless drivers.

“Our streets are not at all safe,” said protesters gathered at the crosswalk where Espinoza-Lugo was struck.

“We want justice … they need to catch the man responsible,” Susana Salgado, friend of Espinoza-Lugo told EGP in Spanish.

Ricardo Rodriguez, a former co-worker of Espinoza-Lugo, called on the city to make improvements that will make streets safer for pedestrians. “We need flashing lights in the crosswalks, like the ones installed in more affluent areas like Glendale and Pasadena,” Rodriguez said.

Historic Highland Park Neighborhood Council (HHPNC) President Monica Alcaraz told EGP the board has sent letters to the area’s councilman, Gil Cedillo, requesting safety improvements.

In June 2014, the HHPNC supported plans calls for installing bike lanes on Figueroa Street as part of the City’s Complete Streets proposal to improve transportation and “create safer, more accessible streets for all users, including pedestrians, cyclists and public transportation passengers.”

Complete Streets calls for “road diets” that reduce the number of lanes available to drivers to make room for bike lanes.

In August, the neighborhood council voted to support the city council approved Mobility Plan 2035, a controversial transportation plan that calls for major changes to streets and transportation routes across the city. Proponents say the plan will improve traffic flow throughout the city and make streets safer and more attractive to people that want to commute on foot or by bike.

Both plans are facing challenges. The road diet part of the Complete Streets plan has been placed on hold and the Mobility Plan 2035 is facing a lawsuit by the Fix the City group which says the plan will add more pollution and cause more traffic.

Opponents to implementing a “road diet” along Figueroa in Highland Park and Cypress Park say it will make traffic in the area worse. Instead, they have proposed moving the bike lanes to adjacent streets with less traffic, a suggestion that has angered bike lane advocates.

According to data from the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD), traffic collisions involving pedestrians in the Northeast area have actually decreased this year, with 98 so far compared to 107 for the same period in 2014. The number of traffic collisions involving cyclists has also dropped, with year to date statistics showing a decrease from 96 in 2014 to 88 for the same timeframe in 2015.

The Highland Café has been closed since Sunday wheb a hit-and-run driver crashed into the building. (EGp photo by Jacqueline Garcia)

The Highland Café has been closed since Sunday wheb a hit-and-run driver crashed into the building. (EGp photo by Jacqueline Garcia)

The data is little comfort to people mourning the death of Espinoza-Lugo and a cyclist killed by a drunk driver on the corner of Pasadena Avenue and Figueroa Street back in June. The alleged drunk driver was caught hours later, at home, asleep in his bed. Three months later, Espinoza-Lugo died after being struck and carried 50 feet on the hood of a white 2003 Mitsubishi Lancer before she fell off as the driver steered around her and fled the scene. The driver is still at large.

Prosecuting hit-and-run cases is also challenging, according to Det. Felix Padilla with LAPD’s Central Traffic Division. In order to get a conviction, authorities must prove that the suspect was behind the wheel at the time of the incident, Padilla said, referring to cases where the driver flees the scene.

Padilla said having the vehicle’s license plate number can lead police to the car’s owner but it doesn’t prove who was behind the wheel at the time if the accident. “We [have to verify] with DNA tests or with the help of witnesses who saw the person driving the vehicle,” the detective said.

The Los Angeles Department of Transportation (LADOT) is working with local authorities on a study targeting corridors across L.A. with high collision numbers, including North Figueroa Street. The Vision Zero Program is looking for ways to reduce injuries and death from collisions down to zero, LADOT spokesperson Lisa Martellaro-Palmer told EGP.

The goal of the Vision Zero program is to promote smart behaviors and roadway design that anticipates mistakes so that collisions do not result in severe injury or death.

The plan is to eliminate traffic deaths in the city by 2025, Martellaro-Palmer said.

Earlier this year, the city council approved increasing standing rewards from $1,000 to $50,000 to generate leads to capture hit-and-run drivers.

“We shouldn’t have to put up $50,000 rewards to try to catch somebody,” said Assemblyman Mike Gatto during a Monday press conference where he urged the governor to sign his “yellow alert” legislation. “We should give law enforcement tools to try to catch somebody by crowd-sourcing it, if you will.”

Councilman Cedillo, who has earned the wrath of bike lane advocates for halting plans to install bike lanes on Figueroa, has obtained funding for two crosswalk beacons along the Figueroa corridor in Highland Park. One will be placed on Avenue 60 and cost $65,000; the other will be placed on Avenue 55 and cost $85,000, according to Cedillo spokesman Fredy Ceja.

The funds are from Highway Safety Improvement program, which approved grants for 46 projects, including the two in Highland Park and two more in the Eagle Rock area, Ceja told EGP via email.

Funding for a full traffic signal at Avenue 51 and Figueroa, costing $300,000, has also been identified and should be received by January, said Ceja.


Today, Thursday at 7pm, the Highland Park neighborhood council will meet with LADOT representatives to discuss transportation issues along North Figueroa, specifically Avenue 51, 55, 56 and 59. The meeting will be held at the Highland Park Senior Center.


Twitter @jackieguzman


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October 1, 2015  Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.


3 Responses to “Hit-and-Runs Raise Street Safety Concerns”

  1. Morning Links: Coronado bike lane madness hits big time, Rowena redux, and OC deputy gets bike law wrong | on October 2nd, 2015 3:26 am

    […] EGP News takes a surprisingly even-handed look at the issues surrounding North Figueroa, while KPCC discusses the street as ground zero in the […]

  2. Today’s Headlines | Streetsblog Los Angeles on October 2nd, 2015 8:42 am

    […] Hit-and-Run Crimes Plaguing Highland Park (EGP News) […]

  3. Outrage | Figueroa For All on October 28th, 2015 10:37 pm

    […] of California is trying to bring an end to its rampant hit-and-run epidemic.  On October 2nd, both Eastern Group Publications, and La Opinión cover the Lugo tragedy with an emphasis on Assemblyman Mike Gatto‘s new law […]

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