Media reports initially quoted family members saying Gage had the walk signal when she crossed Mission in the crosswalk between Fourth and Fifth Streets, with Gregory and her twin brother in tow. The SFPD now says Gage was crossing against the signal, had left Gregory in the street unattended to retrieve her brother from the sidewalk, and that the driver had a green light.
“The investigation showed some evidence that there was some child neglect that resulted in the death of the two-year-old toddler,” SFPD spokesperson Albie Esparza told KTVU.
On the day of the arrest, SFPD Sergeant John Bragagnolo targeted citations towards “jaywalking” pedestrians at the crosswalk where Gregory died, telling KTVU he pointed to Gregory’s memorial when ticketing them.
“Pedestrians feel their speed and their hurry is more important than their safety,” Bragagnolo said.
Putting aside generalizations about the feelings of people who walk, this is an unusual case among pedestrian crashes: The SFPD’s data show that the top five causes are all driver violations, which the SFPD has pledged to focus enforcement on. In May, however, we reported that although SFPD’s “Focus on the Five” citations were reportedly increasing, its tickets issued to people walking and biking were increasing far faster. After a peak of 723 citations issued to pedestrians in March [PDF], the monthly number dropped at 444 in June [PDF], the latest month for which citation data has been reported.
Police say it’s unclear whether the driver who caused Gregory’s death was even aware he or she had run over an infant.
Walk SF Executive Director Nicole Scheider said “it’s a really challenging case, in that the arrest is broader than just an issue of pedestrian safety at this point.”
“I think it’s really important, in terms of the police department and the media, that we still focus on the fact that this helpless two-year-old girl was killed by a hit-and-run driver and dragged,” she said. “The collision happened on Mission Street, a known high-injury corridor. I think it’s important that we focus on these systematic problems that need systematic solutions.”
“Figuring out how to slow traffic on this street is going to be the most critical next step,” Schneider added.
The incident, and the SFPD’s subsequent arrest of Gage, seem to raise broader questions than most pedestrian crashes. Should streets be designed in such a way that a mistake such as Gage’s has fatal consequences? Does she deserve to be charged as a felon for it, while she wasn’t the one piloting a motor vehicle?
Some commenters on Streetsblog and social media have also questioned whether the fact that Gage is African-American affected SFPD’s treatment of the case, while others have fired back by saying that allegations of police racism are premature.
— Jen Clarke (@jaclarke21) August 20, 2014
Race appeared to play a major role in a 2011 case in Georgia, where Raquel Nelson, also African-American, was convicted of “vehicular homicide, jaywalking, and reckless conduct” after her four-year-old son was killed by a drunk, repeat hit-and-run driver as they crossed a street with no crosswalks in sight. She was convicted by an all-white, non-transit-dependent jury.
If anything’s clear in Gregory’s crash, however, it’s that an SFPD ticket blitz aimed at people who do cross the street safely will not prevent crashes like hers.