LONG BEACH — The latest victim was Ada M. Yarno.
At four minutes to 3 on Monday afternoon, the 78-year-old great-grandmother was crossing Bellflower Boulevard near Hartwell Park, a bag of groceries in her arms, when a 1984 Chevrolet Z-28 Camaro struck her, then sped away. She died minutes later at Los Altos Hospital.
By evening, police had gone to the home of Chuck Manning Bryant, 29, and arrested him on suspicion of manslaughter hit and run. Police said they acted on a tip from a passenger in Bryant's car.
The tragedy marked the 54th time this year that someone has died from a traffic accident in the City of Long Beach. And it shared some of the characteristics of the previous 53; like roughly half of the others, this one killed a pedestrian and allegedly was caused by a person between the ages of 20 and 34. And, as in most of the others, the driver allegedly failed to stop after the accident.
Statistics like those have been emerging in recent weeks from a Long Beach Police Department enforcement program launched in the fall, when the city seemed destined to set a record for traffic fatalities. After a state computer analyzed dozens of local accident details--from causes to locations to time of day--the department's 350 patrol officers embarked on a get-tough campaign that will continue through the holidays.
National studies have shown that "when citations for 'hazardous violations' go up, the accident rate goes down," Lt. John H. Bretza said this week. So officers are more strictly enforcing the 18 principal traffic and pedestrian codes, from stop-sign violations to jaywalking.
As a result, the citywide accident rate is 10% below the rate this time last year, according to Sgt. Jack Jankowski, and the death rate has slowed sharply. Because only three people have died since the program began on Oct. 25, the year-end toll isn't likely to reach 1979's high of 69. Last year, 43 people were killed in traffic accidents.
But if only three more drivers, passengers or pedestrians die before New Year's Day, 1985 will go out as the city's highest fatality year since 1979. The worst year for traffic deaths since then was 1981, when 56 died. Bretza declined to predict the local holiday accident rate but said that traffic deaths "usually go up" during the holiday season "because more people travel together" in the same vehicle.
The department's principal target over the next two weeks will be drivers under the influence of drugs or alcohol--the second most frequent cause of 1985 Long Beach traffic deaths behind the failure of a driver to yield the right of way. (Stop light and stop sign violations rank third and speeding is fourth.) Police Chief Charles B. Ussery has slapped a limit on the number of officers taking vacations or time off in December so that more can be available for patrol.
Special units will cruise major hotel and restaurant districts, downtown along Ocean Boulevard, as well as major thoroughfares such as Artesia Boulevard and Pacific Coast Highway. The department's helicopter will search out erratic drivers and radio their positions to street patrols.
"If you drink and drive in Long Beach," said Bretza, "you will be stopped, you will be tested, you will spend time in jail and you will be convicted."