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Residents Believe That Officer in Fatal Accident Was Speeding

The severity of the crash leads some to doubt initial reports. But Long Beach police say the investigation is continuing.

October 19, 2006|Nancy Wride | Times Staff Writer

Residents who rushed onto the street after a Long Beach police officer's squad car struck and killed a mother of five said Wednesday they believe the driver was speeding.

"There is just no way he wasn't speeding to create the horrendous commotion we heard, and then you see how far [the impact] threw her body, probably 50 feet," said Mitch Stath, who lives on 36th Place a few hundred feet from the accident scene on Ocean Boulevard.

But police investigators Wednesday had not determined how fast the officer was going when his car struck Kathryn Stephens early Tuesday, said Sgt. David Cannan. Initially, police had said the officer was driving "normally."

Stephens, 39, ran a catering business out of space at First United Methodist Church and lived with her four sons, ages 9 through 22, in Lakewood. She died at the scene.

While the probe continued into the first pedestrian fatality by a Long Beach officer in a decade, detectives were examining the squad car and Stephens' scattered belongings to re-create how the crash occurred.

Stephens was leaving her boyfriend's apartment, probably headed home to help her sons get ready for school, when she was hit about 6 a.m., relatives said.

Stath said the nearest crosswalks are a quarter-mile away in either direction.

Resident Lara Holland, 26, said almost nobody drives under the 30-mph speed limit. Holland said a car may have been in a left-turn lane that would have obscured Stephens' and the officer's views.

Stath said a pedestrian was nearly killed crossing Ocean Boulevard last December. But city traffic engineer Dave Roseman said that stretch of Ocean has a third fewer accidents than the statewide average for similar roads, although it carries 38,000 vehicles daily.

Stephens' sister-in-law, Nikki Poling, said Stephens' eldest son, Michael, got his brothers to their schools before they learned of their mother's death.

Donna Robinson said she had known Stephens for three years through the Flossie Lewis Recovery Center in downtown Long Beach, where Stephens got sober 15 years ago and returned for weekly visits with female residents.

Two weeks ago at a dinner party, Robinson said, "there was an evening where I was feeling a lot of discontent, and Kate reached out to me."

"She was a woman with a heart."

Stephens' boyfriend did not know that she had been killed until he arrived for a 6 p.m. meeting at the center, where friends broke the news, Robinson said.

On Wednesday, he added flowers to a growing curbside memorial near the crash site.

"They really need to put a flashing light there," Stath said Wednesday, gazing out at the street where Stephens died. Meanwhile, people continued to dart across the four-lane road to leave flowers and notes.

The officer, who has not been named, resumed his normal graveyard shift the night after the crash, Cannan said.

nancy.wride@latimes.com

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