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Driver Kills Hector Arana, 69; SFPD: “It Was Just an Unfortunate Accident”

2:09 PM PDT on March 15, 2013

Image: Google Maps

A driver hit and killed 69-year-old Hector Arana on Wednesday morning at 6:26 a.m. on six-lane San Jose Avenue in the Outer Mission neighborhood. According to reports, the driver was headed northbound in the direction of the nearby 280 freeway, when he hit Arana near the intersection of Liebig Street, where Google Maps shows legal but unmarked crosswalks.

SFPD spokesperson Albie Esparza told SF Weekly, "The driver was not speeding, there were no drugs or alcohol involved, it was just an unfortunate accident."

"The police are right that this is tragic, but calling it an accident tends to assume that there's no fault and that it's not preventable," said Elizabeth Stampe, executive director of Walk SF.

Stampe pointed out that in New York, police have officially dropped the term "accident" as of this week. As the New York Times reported Sunday, NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly announced that police reports will use the term "collision" instead. "In the past, the term ‘accident’ has sometimes given the inaccurate impression or connotation that there is no fault or liability associated with a specific event," Kelly wrote in a letter to City Council.

Will SFPD Chief Greg Suhr step up and make a similar policy change?

"It is possible to find fault," said Stampe, "and it is possible to prevent [crashes]."

When Streetsblog asked how investigators ruled out speed as a factor, Esparza said in an email, "We reconstruct the collision. There is math, science, physics to determine speed, distance, etc."

Was the driver who killed Arana watching the road? Could his death have been prevented with better enforcement and traffic calming measures on a street designed to be hostile to pedestrians? According to the SFPD, there are no lessons to learn from San Francisco's fifth pedestrian fatality this year.

"San Jose is, in all but name, a freeway," said Stampe. "It could really use gateway treatments to communicate to drivers that they have left the freeway and are now in a community where people live and walk, and they need to watch out."

"We are eagerly awaiting the mayor's Pedestrian Strategy, which will lay out how the MTA and the police will do what they can to penalize those at fault and prevent more of these tragedies."

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