Distraction, DUIs behind string of recent traffic fatalities, LBPD says

It’s been a deadly few days in Long Beach traffic. Now, police are asking for help breaking that cycle.

They’ve got two requests: Pay attention and don’t drive under the influence.

The plea comes after three pedestrians were killed in crashes and two motorists died when they slammed into trees or parked cars between Jan. 31 and Feb. 4.

In each of those wrecks, police said impaired driving, a distracted pedestrian or a distracted driver were at least partially to blame.

In response, police are going to be on the lookout for telltale violations like cellphone use and speeding in certain areas, according to the department. All the wrecks have happened between 5 and 10 p.m., so in the coming weeks, officers will have an extra emphasis on spotting problems during those times.

“We have made a direction to have our patrol officers focus on this,” LBPD spokeswoman Arantxa Chavarria said.

That’s on top of the LBPD’s typical efforts to safeguard drivers, she said. But, police said, they need help:

“However, keeping our roadways safe is a shared responsibility,” police said in a statement. “Drivers and pedestrians must work together to demonstrate safe behaviors on the road, helping to protect themselves and those around them.”

Five days, five fatal crashes

Long Beach’s recent string of back-to-back fatal collisions started at the end of last month:

  • On the night of Friday, Jan. 31, a man was killed while crossing the street at Redondo Avenue and Hill Street near Signal Hill.
  • On the evening of Sunday, Feb. 2, a 56-year-old woman, who police suspect was under the influence of drugs or alcohol, crashed into a parked car and died after being ejected from her vehicle, the LBPD said.
  • The same night, a pedestrian was hit and killed by at least one vehicle while he was crossing Pacific Coast Highway at Caspian Avenue in West Long Beach.
  • On Monday, Feb. 3, a man speeding the wrong way on Harbor Scenic Drive near the Port of Long Beach was killed when he lost control and crashed into a pole and trees, police said. Investigators also suspect drugs or alcohol were a factor in that wreck.
  • On Tuesday Feb. 4, an SUV’s driver tried to avoid hitting a pedestrian who was standing in the roadway at Artesia Boulevard and Atlantic Avenue but ended up hitting the man, according to police.

Despite the unusual concentration of traffic deaths, police say there hasn’t been much of an overall uptick this year.

There have been seven fatal traffic collisions in 2020. There were six at this point last year, police said, and in 2018, there had been four, Chavarria said.

By the end of 2018, 31 people died in 30 crashes; in 2019 there were 31 deaths in 29 crashes, according to police.

Chavarria said police are constantly reevaluating how to deploy officers throughout the city where they can best tamp down on traffic violations before they turn deadly.

That could include sending out motorcycle cops or just telling normal patrol officers to be on the lookout for specific problems that have prompted calls to police or caused collisions, she said.

Since the beginning of this year, the LBPD said it’s already run 18 different traffic-enforcement operations including DUI education campaigns at Downtown bars and stings focused on intersections where pedestrians, bicycles and cars converge.

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Jeremiah Dobruck is the breaking news editor for the Long Beach Post. He began his journalism career in 2007 as an intern at Palos Verdes Peninsula News and has worked for The Forum Newsgroup in New York City, the Daily Pilot and the Press-Telegram. He lives in Torrance with his wife, Lindsey, and their two young children.