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Plan Would Stop Traffic

Safety: Residents near Fullerton's Commonwealth Elementary want a signal installed at Lillie Avenue to prevent such tragedies as those that took two lives.

September 18, 1997|MIMI KO CRUZ | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

FULLERTON — The candles have burned and the flowers are dry but crosses and snapshots still mark the spots where a child and a senior citizen recently died while crossing the street in front of Commonwealth Elementary School.

If residents and relatives of the victims have their way, a traffic signal will stand next to the reminders of tragedy on Commonwealth Avenue, off Lillie Avenue.

Neighbors blame speeders for the two accidents and say such incidents will continue unless a signal is installed.

"Everybody is zoom, zoom, zoom, zoom on that street," said Konnie Owen, whose 8-year-old son, Armando Ibarra, was killed in July. "When I cross at Lillie, I take the kids by the hands and we run. We have to dodge the cars. . . . A light right there is the only way to save lives."

The neighborhood was jolted in March when Mario Hernandez Rodriguez, 62, of Pacoima was struck and killed while crossing the four-lane street near a crosswalk. Then in July, Armando was killed by a car as he darted across the crosswalk on his way from a friend's house.

The driver who struck the boy was charged with misdemeanor manslaughter for allegedly driving 20 miles over the 35-mph speed limit, Fullerton Police Lt. Al Burks said. The motorist who struck Rodriguez was not charged.

The boy's mother recently filed a lawsuit against the city, alleging it was negligent by not trimming trees she contends were covering speed limit and school crossing signs.

City officials, citing the pending lawsuit, declined comment.

Nevertheless, the city has been conducting traffic and pedestrian counts and recording speeds at the intersection to determine whether a signal would be warranted.

The Fullerton Transportation and Circulation Commission on Oct. 20 will hold a public hearing on the issue. Several options, including the signal, may be considered, traffic engineers said.

The city also may opt to install flashing yellow lights or rumble strips, or remove the striped Lillie Avenue crosswalk to force pedestrians to use signals at Acacia Avenue or State College Boulevard when crossing Commonwealth.

Meanwhile, residents off the half-mile stretch of Commonwealth between Acacia and State College have gathered about 500 signatures on a petition, urging the city to install the light.

"I don't want to see any more children hurt or killed," said Carol Tejeda, who is leading the campaign for the traffic signal. "One street light to save a lot of children. We need it."

Not everyone sees the signal as the only solution. Other steps, including more parental supervision, should be taken, said Esther Borah, a second-grade teacher at the elementary school.

"We don't need a signal," she said. "A flashing yellow light that would be activated only when school is in session would be fine."

Because of Armando's accident, Borah and all the other teachers at Commonwealth have been teaching their pupils about traffic safety. As a result, few children continue to cross the street at the Lillie crosswalk. A crossing guard also is posted at the crosswalk during school hours.

In addition, students who are picked up and dropped off in the school parking lot are prohibited from dashing to their parents' vehicles, Principal Gaye Bessler said. The children now have to wait in a designated area.

"I don't know if a traffic light is the answer, but we need to do whatever we can to keep the kids safe," Bessler said.

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NEIGHBORHOODS / Commonwealth Avenue

Bounded by: Acacia Avenue on the west and State College Boulevard on the east.

Housing: Several heavily occupied apartment complexes, and elementary school, a junior high school and single-family homes occupy the half-mile stretch of the avenue.

Hot topic: Residents propose erecting a traffic signal at the Lillie Avenue crosswalk in front of Commonwealth Elementary School.

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