Parents and neighbors are raising concerns over a dearth of crossing guards and pedestrian safety near a Highland Park grammar school since a grandmother died after being struck by a car while walking children to school.
School families were galvanized into action after three children and two adults were injured Jan. 24 when the driver of an SUV ran a stop sign and struck the pedestrians in a marked crosswalk near Yorkdale Elementary School at Meridian Street and Avenue 57 (map), officials said.
The victims were two third-graders and a fifth-grader from the school, as well as the grandmother and mother of the children, according to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.
The children’s grandmother, Guadalupe Chavez, 52, died in the hospital two days after the accident. The 10-year-old fifth-grade girl, Marina Carrillo, remained in critical condition at LAC+USC Medical Center Monday.
Angel Carrillo, 7, Itahty Guzman, 8, and the children’s mother, Lilliana Chavez, 33, suffered non-life-threatening injuries.
Neighbors said the driver, Seymour Saunders, 87, was devastated after the accident and was repeatedly telling them his foot got “stuck on the gas pedal.”
Memorial candles lined the sidewalk of the crash site to remember Chavez, and community members are now saying that a crossing guard could make a big difference for the area's traffic safety.
“It’s dangerous,” one parent said Friday, referring to the sometimes crowded intersection of Meridian Street and Avenue 57. “They do need a crossing guard.”
Oscar Pacheco, another Yorkdale Elementary parent, said just being able to see someone there, with a yellow vest and a red stop sign, would help passing drivers with visual awareness.
The intersection is not currently controlled by any sort of crossing guard or volunteer, and it is unknown as to whether or not Yorkdale Elementary School will receive one.
The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) said the decision for assigning crossing guards is up to the City Department of Transportation (LADOT), but LADOT told NBC4 it had never received such a request from the district before Friday’s crash.
Parental outcry, according to transportation officials, does not necessarily result in the immediate implementation of crossing guards. For the time being -- because of the collision -- LAUSD has requested a traffic survey to be conducted by LADOT as soon as possible.
A traffic survey, according to officials, will take into account numerous factors -- such as foliage, visibility, number of cars and traffic patterns -- to assess whether or not a crossing guard should be staffed.
NBC4 obtained a copy of a letter addressed to school parents in which Yorkdale Elementary School Principal Carol Greene wrote: “I want to assure you that we are taking every step necessary to provide our students and staff with the emotional support that is needed during this difficult time.”
Yorkdale Elementary School officials declined to speak directly with NBC4.
Scott Bricker, the director of the pedestrian-friendly nonprofit America Walks, told NBC4 he was unsure as to whether a crossing guard would have prevented the accident, as he said the circumstances could point more to driver error or age rather than environmental error.
Deborah Murphy, executive director of volunteer organization Los Angeles Walks, added that a crossing guard may have been an additional part of the accident.
“There’s nothing you can do about a driver who runs a stop sign,” Murphy said.
But the presence of crossing guards at busy intersections, Bricker and Murphy agreed, is more helpful than tempting fate.
“Crossing guards are a very helpful thing to help [pedestrians] feel more comfortable,” Murphy said. “This could be a wake-up call to investigate where priority locations are -- where we need to have guards.”
“The more people we can get walking on the street, generally the safer it is,” Bricker added. “And school crossing guards can help with visual understandings that these are places where people actively cross.”
A city transportation official said 280 LAUSD schools are staffed with LADOT crossing guards, but each assignment requires an individual evaluation.
LADOT and LAUSD could not immediately determine how many district schools did not have crossing guards assigned; however, the district website has a “pedestrian route” feature that allows parents to view a map of walking paths, as well as determine which sites have crossing guards and where they are located in relation to the school.
Detectives from LAPD’s Central Traffic Division are still investigating the cause of the collision.
LADOT's traffic survey is underway, but the survey does not guarantee that a crossing guard will be assigned.