It was the day after Christmas and Willie Morrow was driving to work when he noticed a small group of people huddled together near the intersection of 42nd and Market streets. Morrow parked his car and walked over to ask what had happened. One young man shook his head slowly as he replied, "Somebody got killed again. It's a shame, man, it was a woman."
Something inside Morrow snapped. He went back across the street and up the stairs to his office at radio station XHRM-FM, which he owns.
"I was very emotional. I told my program director that I want the airwaves for a few minutes . . . I said, 'I'm sick and tired of it, I don't want it to happen any more . . . We have asked for a light here and because we have not gotten it, I'm appealing to the listeners to call your city councilman and the city manager's office . . . one death is too many,' " Morrow said.
By the time Morrow was through venting his anger about the dangers of the intersection, more than 3,000 people were moved to write letters to Councilman William Jones' office demanding that a traffic light be installed near the intersection. Members of the community began circulating petitions, and a meeting with the City Council Transportation and Land Use Committee was scheduled for Monday at 8:30 a.m.
Morrow and other members of the Southeast San Diego neighborhood are convinced that not only the 42nd Street intersection but the whole stretch of Market Street between Interstate 15 and Interstate 805 is extremely dangerous for pedestrians to cross, especially during rush-hour traffic. In the last 18 months, three pedestrians have been killed in or near the intersection, according to city officials. In another case, Morrow said, a motorcyclist was killed in the 3900 block of Market.
If a traffic light is not installed, Morrow is convinced that more deaths will follow.
The recent deaths include Elvira Valtierra Hernandez, 39, who was killed Dec. 26 by a speeding driver. She had nine children, the oldest two of whom now have the responsibility of taking care of the rest of the family in a one-bedroom apartment while going to school and working part-time.
Another woman was killed in April after being dragged almost 100 feet down Market Street by the car that hit her. The first to be killed during the 18-month period was a 9-year-old child who was hit while crossing Market Street in June, 1984.
Bruce Herms, associate traffic engineer for the city, said that the 42nd Street intersection isn't considered that dangerous compared to other intersections. Nevertheless, the city is installing a traffic signal at the nearby intersection of 45th Street and Market.
Mike Santos, a spokesman for Jones, said Jones is "advocating that the engineers look into whatever measures are appropriate." Santos said "appropriate" could include more stringent traffic enforcement. He would not say specifically whether a push for a traffic light was being made.
"As I understand it, this intersection doesn't qualify as one that requires a traffic light . . . not enough traffic crosses at Market Street," he said.
Darryl Cox, general manager for the radio station, has another opinion.
"They say there's not enough traffic? They're crazy, it's like playing dodge cars . . . I've been seven to eight minutes late to work because I couldn't get across the street," he said.
Cox said that, if a light is not installed, "we'll send more letters, stage more protests and do whatever is necessary to get a traffic light installed."
Olean Morrow, Willie Morrow's mother, has lived half a block away from the intersection for 11 years, and she said it has been dangerous for as long as she can remember.
"I want to know what we're paying taxes for? It looks like somebody just don't care. . . . We've been trying and trying and nothing ever happens," she said.