Spate of pedestrians, bicyclists killed by motorists puts spotlight on street safety


The streets of Orange County were particularly deadly over the Halloween weekend, with a total of five pedestrians and cyclists struck and killed by cars.

The death of a 17-year-old girl in Huntington Beach on Tuesday, Oct. 28 brings to six the number of lives lost in the last week in fatal car vs. pedestrian/bicyclist incidents.

In the most high-profile tragedy, three 13-year-old girls were killed while trick-or-treating in Santa Ana.

On Monday, Santa Ana Police released the name of the driver suspected in that fatal hit-and-run.

Bell mug

Jaquinn Ramone Bell, 31, of Orange, is suspected of killing three 13-year-old trick-or-treaters in a hit-and-run in Santa Ana.

Jaquinn Ramone Bell, 31, of Orange, faces charges of felony hit-and-run causing death after the Honda CRV he was driving struck twins Lexi and Lexandra Perez Huerta and their friend, Andrea Gonzalez, as they were walking in a crosswalk in the 1400 block of East Fairhaven Avenue.

Also Halloween night, Irvine resident John Roger Alcorn, 65, was killed and his 4-year-old son critically injured while trick-or-treating. The driver in that accident was not cited.

The bloodshed continued Saturday night when Daniela Rafaela Palacios, 44, of Anaheim died after a motorist struck her in Anaheim while she was riding a bike. Police still are looking for the suspect in that hit-and-run.

Despite the tragic loss of life in the last week, the number of pedestrians and cyclists accidentally killed by motorists (as opposed to suicides or homicides) actually is tracking below last year’s numbers — although such deaths sharply are up in Huntington Beach. Statewide and throughout the nation, there has been an uptick in bicycle-involved fatalities, not just in Huntington Beach, a recent study shows.

Last year through Nov. 2, a total of 62 pedestrians and cyclists accidentally were killed by motorists in Orange County, said Donna Meyers, a research analyst with the Orange County Coroner.

This year, the toll through Nov. 2 is 52.

By the end of last year, a total of 72 pedestrians and bicyclists accidentally were killed by motorists in Orange County (eight were on bikes and the other 64 were pedestrians), Meyers said.

Between now and the end of the year, 20 more people would have to be killed in such a manner to match last year’s tragic toll.

Such deaths, however, sharply are up in Huntington Beach, which so far this year has had 10 such fatalities, up from five in 2013.

When other traffic fatalities are included, such as drivers hitting another car, a tree or other object, Huntington Beach so far this year has 15 traffic deaths — eclipsing its recent five-year average of 11 per year.

“Zero is our goal,” Sgt. David Dereszynski told Behind the Badge OC on Monday. “If we can learn from our investigations and address the root cause (of these fatalities), we’ll be that much better off.”

There has been a 16 percent increase nationally in bicycle deaths between 2010 and 2012, according to a report released last month by the Governors Highway Safety Association, which represents state transportation safety agencies. Most of the cyclist deaths in the three-year period occurred in California, Florida, Texas, New York, Illinois and Michigan, the report said.

In Santa Ana through Nov. 2, a total of 10 pedestrians and bicyclists have been accidentally struck and killed by cars — one shy of last year’s total of 11, Meyers said.

In Anaheim, the total through Nov. 2 is six. In all of 2013, a total of 10 such deaths were recorded, Meyers said

The spike this year in Huntington Beach has not gone unnoticed.

“The common denominator in most of these cases has been alcohol,” Dereszynski said.

He wasn’t just referring to drunken drivers.

In several of the fatal traffic incidents in Surf City USA this year, it was the pedestrian or bicyclist who had been drinking, he said.

“Most people tend to focus on the driver, but in many of these incidents, it’s been the pedestrian or bicyclist who was doing what they shouldn’t have been doing, such as darting out into traffic or basically not following the rules of the road, because their judgment had become impaired,” Dereszynski said.

The Huntington PD has responded with several public-awareness campaigns, including a Know Your Limit program, in which officers walk through local bars to educate the public on just how much, or how little, it takes to be over the legal blood alcohol level of .08 percent.

On its Facebook page on Friday, the Huntington Beach PD said that 10 of the city’s 15 traffic-related fatalities so far this year involved alcohol.

“(We continue) to be proactive in DUI and traffic enforcement to help make our roads safer,” the post read, in part.

Dereszynski said the Huntington Beach PD is urging people to “Be aware, Be involved, Be proactive” by being in tune with your surroundings at all times and calling the police when motorist are observed driving dangerously.

He also said the PD is boosting bicycle and pedestrian safety education programs and making sure its patrol officers are up to speed on the latest trends in traffic-related incidents and the latest laws through monthly training sessions.

La Habra has seen slight increases in 2011 and 2012 in the number of persons killed and injured in traffic collisions after seeing a dramatic fall in such incidents between 2006 and 2010. To help reverse that trend, the La Habra PD in October was awarded a $108,425 grant from the California Office of Traffic Safety (OTS) for a year-long program of special enforcements and public awareness efforts to prevent traffic-related deaths and injuries.

The La Habra Police Department will use the funding to keep roadways safe and improve the quality of life through both enforcement and education.

“Traffic safety is a high priority for our community,” LHPD Chief Jerry Price told Behind the Badge. “This funding provided by OTS will help us greatly in making our streets safer from motorists who disobey the laws, as well as assist us in helping to better educate drivers, bicyclists, and pedestrians in La Habra.”

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Behind the Badge Reporter Tony Dodero contributed to this story.

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La Habra police receive grant to improve traffic safety