East Palo Alto officials added signs and flashing lights in this crosswalk after 6-year-old Sioreli Torres was killed in 2011. photo by Noah Berger
Joseph Molinaro was not jaywalking when he was hit and knocked 30 feet on Sept. 26, 2009. The 85-year-old was in a crosswalk. Investigators found that the driver’s failure to observe the pedestrian’s right of way was the primary cause of the fatal collision.
But Pittsburg police did not give the woman driving a ticket, and the Contra Costa County district attorney did not file criminal charges.
Sixty percent of the 238 motorists found to be at fault or suspected of a crime faced no criminal charges during the five-year period, CIR found in its analysis of thousands of pages of police and court records from Alameda, Contra Costa, Santa Clara, San Mateo and San Francisco counties.
When drivers did face criminal charges, punishment often was light. Licenses rarely were taken away. Of those charged, less than 60 percent had their driving privileges suspended or revoked for even one day, an automatic penalty in drunk driving arrests.
Forty percent of those convicted faced no more than a day in jail; 13 drivers were jailed for more than a year. By contrast, those charged in accidental shootings often serve lengthy jail terms, according to media reports.
Walkers are perhaps the most unprotected users of the transportation system. The human body is no match for 3,000 pounds of speeding steel. Autopsy reports routinely describe blood-soaked clothing, fractured skulls, cracked ribs and broken limbs. In the Bay Area, minorities make up a majority of the dead, and the elderly are more likely to die walking than people from other age groups.
Families of the victims and advocates say that until there are more serious consequences for drivers who kill pedestrians, the deaths will continue.
“If there isn’t a penalty, the message is that it’s all right to run people over and kill them,” said Elizabeth Stampe, executive director and the sole paid employee of nonprofit advocacy group Walk San Francisco. “There’s a joke from New York that maybe isn’t very funny: If you want to kill someone and get away with it, use a car – and that’s true here as well.”
read more: center of investigative reporting, 29.04.13.