After 4 fatalities in 2019, Long Beach police crack down on Pacific Avenue traffic violations

Long Beach police are on the lookout for distracted and speeding drivers on Pacific Avenue after four pedestrians have been killed on the stretch between Willow and Anaheim streets so far in 2019.

A 63-year-old man was using a crosswalk on Pacific Avenue when a driver crashed into him, killing him in February.

Ricky Gonzalez, a 60-year-old homeless man from Long Beach, was using the crosswalk at 16th Street when a driver hit him, stopped momentarily and then fled the scene in May. A day after police announced Gonzalez’s death, they said a 44-year-old Long Beach woman was killed in another hit-and-run crash while she was crossing near 25th Street.

A month later, an Uber driver caught on video a white sedan crashing into a couple who were nearly completely across the crosswalk at Burnett Street. That crash killed 30-year-old Elyssa Negrete and left a Wilmington man in critical condition. The driver fled the scene and hasn’t been found yet.

“There were no traffic fatalities in the area in 2018 and according to detectives, the four this year were caused by vehicles failing to yield to pedestrians,” police spokeswoman Shaunna Dandoy said.

The department recently cited 65 people in one day near the intersection of Pacific Avenue and Burnett Street for speeding, crosswalk violations and distracted driving, according to Dandoy. They have also put up a digital traffic sign, she said. 

While some residents in the area seem relieved at the increase in traffic enforcement, neighborhood watch leader Josephine Villaseñor is worried it’s not a long-term solution.

“Thanks to the police department for coming out but are they going to stay there?” she asked. “Or are they going to wait until everything dies down? Something needs to change there at that intersection.”

Three of the fatal crashes have happened in the Wrigley area, with two specifically near the  Burnett intersection where there is a marked crosswalk, but no street lights or stop signs. 

“(That) particular crosswalk on Pacific (is) always dangerous to cross,” Villaseñor said. “Even in the daytime because of the cars, sometimes they don’t stop.”

Over the last few years, she and a handful of others in her neighborhood watch group have created a small network that helps elderly people and those who need help to cross the road safely.

For many residents in the area, they have to cross Pacific Avenue to get to the grocery store or nearby convenience stores. If they don’t cross at the Burnett crosswalk, they have to walk down to the Willow Avenue streetlight, about a third of a mile down the road, Villaseñor said. Her own parents have nearly been hit by cars while crossing at that street, she said. 

A big issue, she says, is that there’s not enough light on that road at night, let alone anything to alert drivers of the crosswalk other than two signs on the side.

“You just can’t see people in dark clothing—even when they’re in white T-shirts, you can barely see that,” Villaseñor said. 

For now officials are hoping an increased police presence on that road will slow drivers down.

Dee Andrews, who is the councilman for the district the crashes are in, said his office is working with the city to put in stop signs along the Pacific Avenue corridor. He’s hoping that stop signs that have flashing red lights will slow drivers down, especially since putting in a streetlight can cost upward of $250,000, according to Andrews.

“Its just too dangerous,” Andrews said. “No one should have to lose their life walking across the street.”

It’s unclear when exactly the signs will be put in, but Andrews is hopeful it will be within the next few months.

“Meanwhile, we’re going to have the other signs up: the police.”

 

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Valerie Osier is a breaking news and crime reporter for the Long Beach Post. She’s a Riverside native who found her love for journalism while at community college. She graduated from Cal State University, Long Beach journalism program in 2017 and covered the Palos Verdes Peninsula for the Daily Breeze prior to coming to the Post. She lives in Long Beach with her husband, Steven, and her cat/child, Jones.
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