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Slow Down; It Saves Lives

April 08, 2001

On March 31, Maritza Huete, 36, of Winnetka was struck and killed by a hit-and-run driver as she crossed Roscoe Boulevard near Penfield Avenue with her 3-year-old son, who was critically injured. She was the 23rd traffic fatality in the San Fernando Valley this year.

The numbers are bad enough. Add names--and faces and families left behind--and the toll is devastating.

* Valley Village resident Nasrollah Rezaie, 77, was killed March 25 when a sedan ran off the road and struck him as he stood on a sidewalk waiting for a bus on Sunnyslope Avenue near Riverside Drive.

* Delores Collins, 70, of North Hollywood, died March 5 when her pickup truck was hit by a passing fire engine as she tried to turn left, apparently trying to get out of the way of its blaring horn and flashing lights.

* On Feb. 15, Teri Lynn Wooles, 30, of Canoga Park managed to cross five lanes of traffic on the 118 Freeway to reach a call box on the shoulder, but was struck by several vehicles and pronounced dead at the scene after trying to get back to her car.

* On Feb. 14, Anna Epoya, 18, of Glendale, was ejected and killed when the 1999 Mercedes-Benz sport-utility vehicle she was a passenger in allegedly ran a stop sign and collided with an identical vehicle at the intersection of Hamlin Street and Coldwater Canyon Avenue.

* Judith Lopez of Sylmar and her 8-year-old daughter, Beatrice, died Jan. 20 after the driver of a pickup heading south on Tampa Avenue allegedly ran a red light at Parthenia Street and broadsided the Toyota Corolla station wagon she was driving.

Were we to name every person killed on Valley streets this year, the list would be three times this long. And it's only April. The Valley is on its way to surpassing last year's record of 78 deaths and more than 450 serious injuries.

As the names above show, no one is immune, whether old or young, a pedestrian standing on a sidewalk or a passenger riding in an SUV.

LAPD Deputy Chief Ronald Bergmann, the Valley Bureau's new commander, is right to put more emphasis on writing tickets. Excessive speed causes or contributes to most accidents, according to the Los Angeles Police Department's Valley Traffic Division. And studies show that tickets, not warnings, deter violations.

Bergmann has begun pairing motorcycle officers, who typically handle the bulk of traffic citations, with patrol officers. He has targeted certain streets and intersections for stepped-up enforcement.

But there's more to public safety than demanding more police. The public--drivers and pedestrians alike--shares responsibility. Police, fire and California Highway Patrol officers offer these tips:

* Slow down. Stop treating the Valley's wide boulevards as freeways.

* Wear seat belts. Protect children with safety seats and with helmets and safety pads when riding a bike, skates, a skateboard or scooter.

* Drive defensively. The Valley is notorious for red-light runners, so when the signal turns green, proceed cautiously.

* As a motorist, watch for children, the elderly and pedestrians who jaywalk or cross streets without looking. As a pedestrian, use crosswalks and signals. Make sure the driver sees you before crossing.

* When you see a firetruck or any emergency vehicle, use your signal, pull over to the right and stop. If you can't, then stop where you are and the engine will move around you.

* If you break down on a freeway, move to the right shoulder, put your four-way flashers on, turn the wheels to the right, set your parking brake, move into the passenger's seat, put your seat belt on, lock the doors and wait for the Highway Patrol. If the car stalls near the center divider or in a carpool lane, do the same except get over to the left as far as possible and turn the wheels to the left.

* To report complaints about speeding and other traffic hazards, call the LAPD's Valley Traffic Division at (818) 756-9203.

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