Pedestrian Death Shakes Cow Hollow Neighborhood

Arthur Sebastian saw the grizly aftermath from his hair salon, which overlooks the intersection. Photo: Streetsblog
Arthur Sebastian saw the grizly aftermath from his hair salon, which overlooks the intersection. Photo: Streetsblog

Yesterday afternoon marked San Francisco’s first death from traffic violence for 2017. From a Walk San Francisco release on the incident:

A woman, estimated to be in her 60s or 70s, was walking at the intersection of Union and Buchanan, when a person driving a truck struck her in the crosswalk. She died within hours from the trauma of injuries at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital’s Trauma Center.

The woman was struck by a pickup towing a trailer. It’s unclear how the crash happened, but one witness to the aftermath said the truck didn’t seem to be turning. The driver, according to reports, stayed on the scene. “I heard it,” said Arthur Sebastian, whose salon looks over the intersection. “I ran to the window and saw the person’s legs shaking under the trailer.”

Kalina Vitela works in Shaw Shoes, across the street from where the collision occured. “I heard tires screeching and expected a crash, but that never came,” she said. “Then I heard yelling and screams. I walked out and saw a large black pickup truck.”

Vitela in front of her shop. Photo: Streetsblog
Vitela in front of her shop. Photo: Streetsblog

It’s not yet known if any laws were broken, but it appears–going by a photo taken by Fox 2 News–that the truck was altered in a way that could make it harder for the driver to see a pedestrian or cyclist. “The front of the truck was raised…it was more elevated towards the front,” said Vitela, who thinks that cut the driver’s visibility and contributed to the tragedy. “He didn’t know he’d hit someone and he began to back up…people were yelling at him to stop.” The yelling stopped him from running over the victim a second time, she explained.

“California law limits the degree to which a vehicle can be jacked up. Even if a vehicle is within those parameters, it is clearly less safe than a standard vehicle,” said Andy Gillin of GJEL Accident Attorneys. “The same is true of oversize tires.”

Streetsblog has reached out to the San Francisco Police Department to try and confirm Vitela’s theory. But it speaks to a point this publication was trying to make at the start of the year: street engineering is important, enforcement is important, and drivers have to pay strict attention to the road, but achieving Vision Zero requires accountability on all fronts. And modifications such as raised suspensions, tinted windows, and some after-market bumpers present a serious hazard to cyclists, pedestrians and other motorists. Gillin said shops that install some after-market treatments “can be held partially negligent.”

“Regardless of the car or truck being driven, failure to yield to pedestrians in crosswalks and speeding continue to be the top causes of death and serious injury in San Francisco,” wrote Nicole Ferrara, Executive Director of Walk SF, in an email to Streetsblog. But, she added, “The larger the vehicle, the more likelihood of death when a crash occurs.”

Perhaps it’s time to restrict dangerously modified and over-sized vehicles from San Francisco?

Vitela said police and fire had the intersection closed for a few hours, but it was open again and back to normal at five p.m. By the next day, when Streetsblog came to the scene, there was no sign whatsoever of the tragedy. Why aren’t there temporary signs, obstacles, or a traffic officer, to slow things down until investigators can fully establish what happened?

The intersection doesn’t fall on the high-injury network. And it does not appear that SFMTA has any plans to upgrade the intersection. And maybe the crash was just a horrible oddity, but more likely there are things that can be done to the intersection to make it safer–bulb outs and raised crosswalks are an obvious one. Couldn’t some safe hit posts or planters and paint be put in right now, until something more permanent can be done? In other words, shouldn’t SFMTA learn from any tragedy, collect as much data as possible, and make sure it isn’t repeated? Or will this be another case of cleaning up the blood, shrugging, and moving on to the next horror?

Streetsblog, of course, will revisit these issues. In the meantime, it is chilling to learn of yet another macabre incident on our streets–and that the year is off to such a disheartening start.

By the next day, there was no sign of what happened. Photo: Streetsblog
  • SFnative74

    The weight of a trailer would pull down the back and elevate the front.

  • Jeffrey Baker

    If there can be “assault weapon” enhancements to felony charges based on the cosmetic features of a gun, surely we can have the same kinds of enhancements for driving around in one of these things.

  • A A

    No worries! The SFPD is doing a Bike & Pedestrian Safety Enforcement Operation on January 20, 23 and 30th. People who jaywalk when crossing the street or do a rolling stop on their bikes will be cited. If you drive, you’re safe. Go through a stop light or stop sign, double park, drive over the speed limit, … with impunity. This operation will certainly help decrease the number of pedestrians and bicyclists being killed on SF streets tremendously. This is the SFPD way of achieving Vision Zero!

  • Frank Kotter

    Can anyone tell me when this corner was redesigned and why it doesn’t conform to the stated design requirements as stated by the city itself as of 2009?

    On page J-1 there is the statement ‘These guidelines provide a general overview of the bulb‐out design process. However, because bulb‐out design is sensitive to a wide range of variables, these guidelines cannot replace professional judgment and technical analysis. Each project should consider the particular characteristics of the site, and adjust the design as necessary’.

    So, these are the questions I have:

    Which intersections have been reconstructed in SF since 2009 when this these design requirements were implemented?

    Which of these contain the required bulb out design elements?

    Of those which do not, who was the authority which deemed these design elements inappropriate for these corners? Why?

    Are corners, crossings, and total streets being built currently without these required design elements? If not, who is currently making these individual design decisions and how, when and where are they being made?

  • Flatlander

    Not sure where you’re getting that bulb-outs are required. I personally love them but they don’t necessarily work everywhere.

  • Bicyclists coasting through stop signs at low speeds are annoying! People jaywalking are annoying! Car drivers killing people are tragic accidents that are no one’s fault, and so are not annoying, at least not to car drivers. Vision Zero–aligning city resources to reduce car driver annoyance to zero–while not entirely successful, is a consistent, well-funded program that SFPD fully supports.

  • Corvus Corax

    You took the words right out of my mouth!

  • Karolyn Harrington

    Inner Sunset, Hugo 7th – 4th. Cars & bike zoom or roll through no regards to signs or SOMEONE X the s/r. But I see KRON 4 & SFPD and its like no one cares about wallkers anymore😚 my A*s

  • StrixNoctis .

    Horrible! Being crushed by a truck and suffering in pain for hours seems like one of the worst ways to die. RIP.

    Why aren’t drivers forced to watch documentary videos of the horrific, gory aftermath motor vehicles cause? My friends, siblings & I were forced to watch such videos back when we took driver’s ed’ in high school, and that’s probably why most drivers used to obey the traffic laws and drive safely here in the SF Bay Area back then. It seems like drivers these days don’t really understand the horrors they can cause with their vehicles.

  • Ziggy Tomcich

    Another fatality in another monster-sized intersection that requires people to walk over 50′ just to cross two traffic lanes. What this city is doing towards vision zero is effectively zero. The only way to prevent tragedies like this is to take a systematic safety approach to our street and intersection designs. Right now the city uses a reactive approach that only fixes dangerous streets after a enough blood has been spilled.

  • Frank Kotter

    Is that not what is enshrined for any design within the design guide I included in my comment?

  • Todd

    The driver in this case has not been charged with any crime, so there is nothing to hang an “enhancement” onto.