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Over 130 pedestrians were killed by drivers in 2019 in Los Angeles. With 134 people to be exact, that’s about one death every two-and-a-half days. Since 2014, the city of LA has experienced a 55% increase in pedestrian deaths. However, hundreds more are injured by drivers each year.
Despite the existence of comprehensive measures designed to get people to drive slower and safer. According to Damian Kevitt, executive director of the nonprofit Streets are for Everyone (SAFE), improving safety after someone is killed is an all-too-common trend in Los Angeles.
“I’ve seen that happen so many times,” Kevitt told LAist. “And even though an intersection is a known problem, it does take a tragedy before a council office will step up and advocate and put in the extra effort to demand that the changes get done.”
In 2017, the City of Los Angeles implemented Vision Zero, a program with the very public goal of ending such deaths by 2025. However, as already mentioned, traffic violence in the city has only gotten worse, with not even the coronavirus pandemic eliminating nor drastically decreasing this pervasive problem.
Being a victim of traffic violence himself, — he lost part of his leg after he was struck by a hit-and-run driver while riding his bike near Griffith Park — Kevitt’s organization works with victims of these types of incidents and their families to advocate for safer streets for all road users.
And while city officials repeatedly say that safety is a top priority, little is done to remedy it. In Oct. 2019, a pre-schooler named Alessa Fajardo was killed by a driver in Koreatown while crossing with the light in a crosswalk, holding her mother’s hand. The intersection where she died is within a project zone that’s slated for safety improvements through LADOT’s Safe Routes to School (SRTS) program. Alessa died on her way to school.While funding for Safe Routes comes primarily from state and federal transportation grants, and there being a long-identified need, money for safety upgrades proposed for the surrounding streets was denied in 2018.
Per LAist reporting, which looked at LAPD arrest data from 2010 through 2019, 158 people were booked on a charge of vehicular manslaughter in that 10-year period. However, in the same time frame, 2,109 people were killed in traffic collisions on L.A. streets, according to city and state data, of which nearly half were pedestrians. What these findings imply is that the vast majority of drivers who kill someone with their car are not arrested.
The woman who killed Alessa, Indira Marrero, was not arrested, for example. Police said she cooperated with the investigation and was allowed to leave the scene. She was eventually charged with vehicular manslaughter without gross negligence and driving without a license, both misdemeanors. Marrero didn’t end up showing up for her arraignment this past Nov., and a warrant was issued for her arrest. As of Jan. 2021, she has not been arrested.
Currently, neither the L.A. County DA’s office nor City Attorney’s office track charges based on the victim, making it unclear how often drivers face felony or misdemeanor charges for killing pedestrians. LAist requested a breakdown of how many of those vehicular manslaughter charges led to a conviction. The publication wrote: “Ruth Low, a county deputy D.A., listed : 2,996 convictions, the same as charges. [When] asked if the D.A.’s office had a 100% conviction rate prosecuting felony vehicular manslaughter in those 10 years[,] [t]he answer was an opaque: ‘The stats are the stats.’”
Moreover, according to data provided by the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office, they filed nearly 200 misdemeanor charges for vehicular manslaughter from 2010 through 2019. Roughly half of those charges led to convictions, though a few dozen were the result of plea deals for a lesser charge.
An expert interviewed by LAist said: “The city is designed for cars, and it’s not designed for people. In L.A., we’ve got this kind of cultural divide between people that want to make the city more [people centric], and people whose feeling is [that] the streets should be wider and faster. And we know that speed kills, that the faster cars go, the more likely the people they hit are likely to be killed.”