When a vehicle struck and killed 73-year-old Alan Kern last month shortly after he walked off a Metro bus, he became the seventh pedestrian in the previous seven months to die on the streets of Kent.
Six pedestrians were hit by vehicles and one by a train, according to Kent Reporter news articles. Three collisions were on the East Hill, three in the Valley and one on the West Hill.
“Although these incidents have tragic impacts to all those involved, it serves as a reminder the importance of traffic safety for pedestrians and motorists, recognizing that each can prevent these types of incidents,” Kent Police Assistant Chief Jarod Kasner said in an email.
“Pedestrians need to be attentive, follow the laws of the road and to cross where it is appropriate and safe. Drivers also need to be attentive and watch for pedestrians and bicyclists, be sober and follow the laws of the road.”
The King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office has charged drivers in two of the cases with vehicular homicide. Prosecutors have yet to decide whether to file charges against drivers in three incidents and they declined to file a charge against a driver in one collision. The other death was a woman hit by a BNSF Railway train.
Three deaths happened in the evening, two late at night, one in the early morning and one in the afternoon.
“We as an agency partner with Washington Traffic Safety Commission and their Target Zero Program to conduct education and enforcement emphasis, focused on distracted driving, DUI, speed, seat belt and pedestrian safety,” Kasner said. “I would also like to add that we have partnered with Union Pacific Railroad to conduct enforcement focused on railroad crossing safety.”
Deaths up nationwide
Kent isn’t alone with the high number of pedestrian deaths, but part of a nationwide trend.
A study released last month showed that pedestrian deaths in the United States have reached their highest level in 30 years, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) report at ghsa.org.
GHSA projects that 6,227 pedestrian fatalities occurred in 2018, the highest number in nearly three decades. States were asked to report pedestrian fatalities for the first six months of 2018. After adjusting this raw data based on historical trends, GHSA projects a 4 percent increase in the number of pedestrians killed during the full 2018 calendar year. In 2017, 5,977 people on foot lost their lives in motor vehicle crashes.
“While we have made progress reducing fatalities among many other road users in the past decade, pedestrian deaths have risen 35 percent,” GHSA Executive Director Jonathan Adkins said in the report. “The alarm bells continue to sound on this issue; it’s clear we need to fortify our collective efforts to protect pedestrians and reverse the trend.”
The report noted pedestrians are projected to account for 16 percent of all traffic deaths in 2018, compared to 12 percent in 2008. While advancements in motor vehicle safety and technology have increased survivability for vehicle occupants involved in crashes, according to the report, pedestrians remain just as susceptible to sustaining serious or fatal injuries when struck by a motor vehicle.
In Washington state, pedestrian deaths are expected to decline by about 4 percent in 2018, with 42 killed by motor vehicles. Five of the 42 (11.9 percent) were in Kent.
Many unsafe driving behaviors across the nation, such as speeding, distracted and drowsy driving, pose risks to pedestrians, and alcohol impairment by the driver and/or pedestrian was reported in about half of traffic crashes that resulted in pedestrian fatalities in 2017, according to the GHSA report.
Vehicular homicide charges
Vehicular homicide charges were filed by prosecutors in the Feb. 23 death of Kern, allegedly hit by a then-city of Kent employee driving a parks maintenance pickup. Nicholas Slater, 37, admitted to drinking at a local bar prior to the collision.
Prosecutors also filed a vehicle homicide charge against the 21-year-old driver who hit Benito Rojas, 70, on July 25 on the West Hill as he walked along a Pacific Highway South sidewalk. The driver was allegedly speeding.
Prosecutors declined to file a charge against the driver who hit Joseph Page, 47, on Dec. 15 on the East Hill after a shootout at a nearby sports bar.
“The driver was fleeing a shooting, and the pedestrian made some contributing factors to the collision,” Kasner said.
Police arrested a Seattle man for investigation of vehicular homicide in a Oct. 6 incident on the East Hill following a domestic dispute. Prosecutors have yet to decide whether to file a charge in the death of Ana Leal, 43. Leal might have purposefully laid in the roadway wherein the vehicle ran over her.
“There are indications that the victim may have been making a suicide attempt,” Kasner said.
The Washington State Patrol continues to seek a hit-and-run driver who struck Long Wells, 46, on Dec.18 in a crosswalk on 84th Avenue South near Highway 167.
No charge expected
Prosecutors have yet to decide whether to file a charge against a 66-year-old Black Diamond woman who struck Frishta Noori, 25, as she walked in a crosswalk with two of her children in a stroller on Nov. 14 at East Smith Street and State Avenue North. The children were not injured.
“We forwarded all the information we had to King County, we expect a decline on this,” Kasner said about whether a charge would be filed by prosecutors. “The suspect was sober and not on her phone, with no excessive speed or other contributing factors, it was truly a tragic accident.”
The driver had a green traffic signal while the pedestrian had a walk signal when the collision occurred, according to police, who investigated the case as a vehicular homicide.
The woman drove a SUV, which the GHSA national report showed are involved in many collisions.
The number of SUVs involved in pedestrian deaths has increased by 50 percent since 2013, according to the report. By comparison, (non-SUV) passenger cars’ involvement in pedestrian fatalities increased by 30 percent over the same time period. Although passenger cars still account for the majority of pedestrian deaths, SUVs – which generally cause more severe pedestrian injuries – make up an increasingly large percentage of registered vehicles.
SUVs, trucks and cars can be made safer by installing automatic emergency braking systems that can detect and brake for pedestrians, according to the GHSA report. This technology uses information from forward-looking sensors to automatically apply or supplement the brakes when the system determines a pedestrian is in imminent danger of being struck.
“Crossing the street should not be a death sentence,” said Richard Retting, author of the report.
“We have a range of proven infrastructure, engineering, and behavioral strategies that we know can reduce pedestrian deaths. Critical improvements to road and vehicle design are being made, but take significant time and resources to implement.
“It is also important to conduct law enforcement and safety education campaigns now to ensure drivers and pedestrians can safely coexist. It’s crucial to do everything we can to protect pedestrians utilizing a broad approach.”
Kent pedestrian deaths
(July 2018 to February 2019)
• July 7 – Taryle Stalter, 55
By train, BNSF Railway James Street crossing at 7:20 p.m.
• July 25 – Benito Castillo Rojas, 70
By speeding vehicle on sidewalk in 27000 block of Pacific Highway South at 5:16 p.m.
• Oct. 6 – Ana Leal, 43
By vehicle during dispute with husband in 21200 block of 108th Avenue SE at 10:30 p.m.
• Nov. 14 – Frishta Noori, 25
By SUV in crosswalk at intersection of East Smith Street and State Avenue North at 2 p.m.
• Dec. 15 – Joseph Osell Page, 47
By vehicle in in the 23900 block of 104th Avenue Southeast at 1:45 a.m.
• Dec. 18 – Long Wells, 46
By hit-and-run vehicle in crosswalk at 84th Avenue South and Highway 167 at 5 a.m.
• Feb. 23 – Alan Kern, 73
By hit-and-run vehicle reportedly driven by a then-city of Kent employee at 108th Avenue SE and SE 204th Street at 6:08 p.m.