A deadly year: In O.C., a pedestrian is struck and killed every 6 days

Adriesue “Bitsy” Gomez pulled on a straw hat with a turquoise bow for a short
walk to the 99 Cents Only Store. The 72-year-old wanted to buy a roll of Bounty paper towels and some gladiola bulbs to plant in the yard of her Santa Ana home.

Spring had arrived, she told her daughters.

It was Sunday, April 19, around 3 p.m. Heading home, Gomez crossed Main Street between 15th and 16th streets, where there is no crosswalk or light. She glanced at the store receipt and something on it didn’t seem right, her daughters say. Their mother, a truck driver, Teamster and founder of the Coalition of Women Truck Drivers, was never too shy to speak up.

So, according to her family, Gomez headed back to the store.

She paused in the left-hand turn lane to wait for traffic to pass, police accounts and video footage indicate. That’s when Gomez was struck by a driver of a gold Nissan Maxima making a left turn onto Main Street.

The driver told police he saw three or four people run across the street as he turned, but didn’t see Gomez. The force of the impact threw Gomez onto her back in a northbound lane. Both of her sandals flew off; the left one landed several feet away.

When police arrived, they saw blood pour out of Gomez’s mouth and course down her chest. Fearing she would choke, an officer rolled her on her side and propped up her head on the roll of paper towels. She died in the intensive care unit of the former Western Medical Center two days later.

Tragically, the circumstances of Bitsy Gomez’s death are all too common. It’s been a particularly deadly year to walk Orange County’s busiest streets.

Forty-eight people have died since January – including two just in the past week – according to county coroner data through Oct. 15. That’s roughly one pedestrian killed every six days.

The county is on track to beat the previous year’s total of 55 pedestrian deaths, continuing an uneven, but upward trend over the past five years. Orange County coroner’s data going back to 1992 show that the worst year on record was 1994, when 70 pedestrians died.

Over the last month, the Register interviewed families, witnesses and authorities; reviewed police reports and other records; and analyzed a decade of Orange County traffic injury reports collected in the UC Berkeley Transportation Injury Mapping System, along with nearly six years of coroner’s data.

Rules of the road

• Pedestrians have the right of way in marked and unmarked crosswalks.
• Motorists should always stop for any pedestrian crossing at a corner or a crosswalk, even if the crosswalk is in the middle of the street or not marked by painted lines.
• An unmarked crosswalk, often found in residential areas, is defined as an extension of the "boundary lines" of sidewalks at intersections where the roads meet at approximately right angles.
• Outside of a marked or unmarked crosswalk, pedestrians should yield the right of way to vehicles that are an "immediate hazard." Motorists, at the same time, must "exercise due care" for pedestrian safety.
• Motorists should not pass a vehicle that has stopped at a crosswalk.
• Pedestrians should never assume drivers will give them the right of way and should make eye contact with drivers.
• Pedestrians should increase their visibility at night by carrying a flashlight when walking and by wearing reflective clothing.
• It is much safer to walk on a sidewalk. If a sidewalk is not available, pedestrians should walk on the shoulder, facing traffic.

Sources: California Department of Motor Vehicles; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Huntington Beach

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