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

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.”

  • Anon

    Failure to yield, involuntary manslaughter.

  • Freud would have a field day with this one.

  • Mario Tanev

    A comment on SFGate is very insightful in this regard:

    “On most streets, the speed limit is 25 mph and the stopping distance is about 25 meters. It is pretty rare to see a pedestrian, even in San Francisco, step into a crosswalk less than 25 meters from a car barreling down the street.

    Vehicle accident statistics bear this out. The driver is at fault in the majority of collisions.”

    So the driver must not have been paying attention where he should. How can that be an accident?

  • Mario Tanev

    The driver may have been driving the legal speed limit, but the question is, did he break on time and could he. Assuming the pedestrian didn’t step right in front of the car, then the driver should have had sufficient time to slow down, but didn’t. That’s reckless negligence, and is absolutely infuriating that it is not treated as such.

  • reality check

    There is fault, but let’s face it, unless you have more details, you are speculating it was the driver’s fault. It would be nice if the SFPD spent some energy getting the necessary details and treating this more like an “oh well” moment and an “accident” – they are notorious for not following up thoroughly with collisions – but don’t bother playing jury when you have little evidence to work with.

  • Mario Tanev

    Fair enough.

    Maybe there should be a requirement to always identify the parties responsible. It could be the city (bumpy road) or the driver (inattentive), essentially who could have done something differently (without requiring a pedestrian to walk a mile to the nearest traffic light). Once those parties are identified, we should be asking what’s the best way to hold them to account.

    But something meaningful must come out of deaths like these. These are not just accidents.

  • vcs

    Stampe is confused. This is not the “freeway” section of San Jose Ave that splits off 280:

    This section of San Jose Ave is very close to Daly City and become Mission St/El Camino Real. It’s a state highway and used to be a main drag into town prior to the freeways being built. Therefore, it’s far too wide for current traffic, but it is still just a street. There’s no access limitations or other freeway-like elements.

    (AKA, it’s similar to Sloat Blvd where the other recent ped fatality occurred.)

  • reality check

    This section of San Jose Ave is ripe for a road diet. It has too many lanes and is a bike route that connects with the Alemany and Sickles/Sagamore bike lanes. It’s also a state highway so any changes have to come from Caltrans. Remove some lanes and add a bicycle facility, some wider pedestrian refuges, and high visibility crosswalks.

  • mikesonn

    Speed is the freeway-like aspect that needs to change. I think it was a fitting adjective.

  • vcs

    @mike – I think you meant “analogy”.

    In any case it wouldn’t past the smell test for the average person with a drivers license who is clearly aware of the difference. But if you want to present yourself as someone with an extremely limited perspective, that is your choice.