Getting Across The Street
Pedestrian Deaths Increasing In Northwest Arkansas
Posted: November 3, 2013 at 5 a.m.
The August grass along U.S. 71B in Rogers was overgrown, and the road had no sidewalk, so Jose Villatoro-Munguia decided to walk along the roadside. His body was thrown 60 feet when a vehicle struck him near 2305 S. Eighth St.
Villatoro-Munguia, 32, is among 46 people who tried to cross or walk down roads in Northwest Arkansas’ largest cities this year who were struck by vehicles. Last year, 84 pedestrians were in traffic crashes, up about 22 percent from 2011.
Incidents of drivers hitting pedestrians is increasing in Northwest Arkansas, police documents show, but few infrastructure changes or advocacy campaigns are planned to increase awareness, officials said.
“There’s just no visual awareness of what’s going on,” said Alan Ley, Bike Bentonville director and pedestrian advocate. “I think it seems as if our cities might be in a little bit of denial that there is a problem.”
Few departments cite pedestrians for walking across busy roads where they aren’t legally supposed to, police said. Distracted drivers and pedestrians often add to the problem.
“A lot of times (people) just have their heads down and keep texting away,” said Sgt. Craig Stout, Fayetteville police spokesman.
Departments, such as Rogers, plan to crack down on texting while driving, police spokesman Keith Foster said. But sometimes drivers and pedestrians just don’t pay attention, he said. The problem spans from children crossing streets before or after school to older people in crosswalks, a review of police records from Bentonville, Rogers, Springdale and Fayetteville shows.
In September, Dustin Franco, 13, tried to run across Sunset Avenue in Springdale with his friend Jesse Sibrian to get to school. A Dodge Dakota hit Dustin just as Jesse yelled out “No!” Dustin failed to look both ways and didn’t cross at an intersection.
Dustin told police he remembered standing on the side of the road and the next thing he knew paramedics were standing over him, according to the accident report. He plans to return to school in November, according to Debbie Houston, a math teacher at Southwest Junior High School.
By The Numbers
• People 65 or older accounted for 19 percent of all pedestrian fatalities nationally and had the highest fatality rate among pedestrians hit.
• Alcohol involvement for either the driver or pedestrian was reported in about 48 percent of traffic crashes where a pedestrian died.
• About 32 percent of pedestrian fatalities in crashes happened between 8 p.m. and 11:59 p.m.
• Children ages 15 years old and younger accounted for 6 percent of the pedestrian fatalities in 2011 and 19 percent of all pedestrians injured in traffic crashes.
Source: U.S. Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
The lack of educational programs disheartens Ley in light of the recent push in Northwest Arkansas encouraging people to ride bicycles and walk, including to school. People need to be reminded to focus on driving, to slow down before and after school, to watch out for pedestrians — especially to watch children because they don’t make safe choices, Ley said.
Children younger than 16 make up 19 percent of pedestrians injured in traffic accidents nationally, U.S. statistics show.
Rosa Maldonado, 71, became the fourth pedestrian to die this year in one of the four cities. Most pedestrian fatalities happen in urban areas.
On Sept. 12, a Ford Explorer stopped to allow Maldonado to cross the road. The Explorer was hit by another vehicle from behind and pushed into Maldonado, causing “severe damage to her upper body,” according to an accident report. She was taken to Northwest Medical Center-Springdale where she died. Maldonado was crossing at the intersection of Oak Avenue on Thompson Street in Springdale. The driver who hit the Ford was cited for careless and prohibited driving.
Unlike some pedestrians who police say dart in and out of traffic where they aren’t supposed to, Maldonado had the right of way and was using it correctly. But pedestrians in Northwest Arkansas must be more cautious than drivers because they aren't protected by being in an vehicle, Stout said.
“You might have the law on your side, but the law of physics — you do not,” Stout said.
Statewide, 42 pedestrians were killed in traffic crashes in 2011 while nationwide 4,432 pedestrians died, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration statistics. Pedestrian fatalities made up nearly 8 percent of the state’s traffic fatalities in 2011.
Nationally, the problem is getting worse, according to an August news release from the Traffic Safety Administration. The number of pedestrians dying in traffic accidents is up nationwide by nearly 8 percent since 2009. The statistics are the most recent federal numbers available.
Each local police department categorizes and organizes incidents differently, but a search of each department’s records shows a combined and individual increase of pedestrians who were in traffic crashes in Bentonville, Fayetteville and Springdale.
In Springdale, the number of pedestrians in traffic accidents jumped about 45 percent from 2011 to 2012. Even in Fayetteville, which has the only local pedestrian awareness campaign, the number of people who initially reported being struck by a vehicle increased by about 22 percent between 2011 and 2012.
So far this year, Springdale has 19 and Fayetteville has 14 reported incidents involving a pedestrian and vehicle.
Only Rogers, where Villatoro-Munguia died, showed a decrease in pedestrian-traffic-related incidents, going from 14 in 2011 to eight in 2012.
Alcohol plays a roll in nearly half the fatal traffic accidents involving pedestrians and vehicles, according to the Traffic Safety Administration. Among those who were killed in Northwest Arkansas from 2011 to present, three may have involved alcohol, according to witness statements in the accident reports.
On Aug. 1, Gilbert Flores, 34, of Fayetteville left Hooters restaurant about 10 p.m. and “stumbled” toward North College Avenue, a witness said in a police report. A Honda Accord struck him first. He managed to get up and was struck by a Ford Econoline 30 seconds later.
Flores died after being taken to Washington Regional Medical Center and then flown to Mercy Hospital in Springfield, Mo.
Of the pedestrians who died in vehicle crashes, 37 percent had a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08 or more, according the Traffic Safety Administration. About 13 percent of drivers involved in deadly pedestrian crashes had a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08 — the legal standard for intoxication in most states — or more.
The drivers who hit Flores appeared normal, according to the police accident report. Witnesses to the accident said Flores seemed intoxicated. Results of his blood sample aren't yet known, Stout said.
• 8:57 a.m., Sept. 12: Rosa Malonado, 71, of Springdale, is in a crosswalk at the intersection of Thompson Street and Oak Avenue in Springdale when one vehicle strikes the rear of another vehicle, pushing the car into her.
• 9:40 p.m., Aug. 17: Jose J. Villantoro-Munguia, 32, of Rogers is struck by a vehicle as he walks down the side of South Eighth Street near Callahan Drive in Rogers. He had decided not to wait for a ride from family.
• 10:06 p.m., Aug. 1: Gilbert Flores, 34, of Fayetteville is hit by two vehicles while trying to cross North College Avenue near Shepherd Drive in Fayetteville. He had just left Hooters restaurant.
• 2:30 p.m., July 1: Gary Todd O’Neal, 52, dies 11 days after he is struck by a vehicle while trying to cross Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard between Sang and Lewis avenues in Fayetteville. The car that hit O’Neal sped away instead of stopping. Maurice Deshaun Evans, 22, pleaded guilty in October to leaving the scene of a death or injury and was sentenced to five years probation and 120 days in jail.
• 5:54 p.m., Nov. 22: Truman Lewis Patterson of Seligman, Mo., 74, is crossing Thompson Street near Searcy Avenue in Springdale when a vehicle hits him. He was leaving the parking lot of McDonald’s.
• 9:24 p.m., Aug. 11, 2012: Patricia “Patsy” Louise Nugent of Springdale, 60, tries to cross Thompson Street near Lakeview Drive in Springdale. A pickup ran over her after she stepped into the roadway.
Source: Fayetteville, Rogers, Bentonville and Springdale police departments, accident and incident reports for 2011-present. Bentonville reported no fatalities during the time frame.
Villatoro-Munguia may have been intoxicated too, according to police. The day he died, Villatoro-Munguia had been to a family event, according to the police report, but had left on foot at night. When Benton County Coroner Daniel Oxford found him with a broken right leg and head wound just after 10 p.m., he reported Villatoro-Munguia smelled of “intoxicants” and had a bag of marijuana in his pocket.
Villatoro-Munguia died about six weeks after moving to Rogers, a day after getting his first full paycheck and buying clothes, said Patricia Espinoza, a family member with whom Villatoro-Munguia was living. He was a friendly man “always caring for others,” she said.
“Everything was looking great for him and then this happens,” Espinoza said.
Blood samples on Villatoro-Munguia aren't yet finished, Foster said. The case remains open, he said.
Espinoza said if there had been a sidewalk, Villatoro-Munguia would have used it and not have been anywhere close to the dangerous roadway. She noticed the city cut the grass where Villatoro-Munguia had died a couple of days after the crash.
“It’s just hard for us,” she said. “We drive by there every day.”
Balentina Ortiz of Rogers was driving home after meeting her daughter in Springdale when she heard a noise and felt something hit her Hyundai Santa Fe. She didn’t immediately know she hit Villatoro-Munguia.
“I couldn’t see nothing until I hit him,” Ortiz said.
Villatoro-Munguia was wearing dark-colored clothing. Ortiz said South Eighth Street in Rogers needs lights. It was dark on the stretch of road she was driving, she said. Ortiz said she’s afraid to drive at night now and she drives on the inside lanes because she’s afraid someone will jump out into the road in front of her.
“I see people, and they just run across the street, and it’s dark,” Ortiz said, her voice wavering.
Ortiz was driving about the speed limit when she collided with Villatoro-Munguia. Police said she wasn’t driving distracted, and she didn’t seem impaired. A blood sample showed she had no alcohol, Foster said.
“She was perfectly fine,” Foster said.
But Ortiz was so shaken she was taken to the hospital.
The impact was severe enough to break the right headlight assembly and part of the right front bumper and fog light. The car fender and hood were crushed and dented. A small amount of hair was caught in the hood near the right corner of the windshield, according to the accident report.
Ortiz said pedestrians should go to crosswalks, but she wants to see some streetlights or flashing lights to warn drivers too.
To install lights or sidewalks at that location the city must apply for a state permit, said Danny Straessle, an Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department spokesman. Rogers Mayor Greg Hines said the stretch of road where Villatoro-Munguia died is the state’s responsibility.
The city recently has expanded its sidewalks, starting nearly 10 miles of sidewalks and trails this year. Next year, the city plans to begin building roughly 30 miles of sidewalks for nearly $4 million, said Carey Anderson, assistant to the mayor.
No pedestrian overpasses for South Eighth Street are on the drawing board, Straessle said, but cities are thinking more about pedestrians.
Two Springdale elementary schools were awarded state money in 2012 to build sidewalks or install flashing beacons. Fayetteville was awarded money for a pedestrian bridge last year too, according to Kimberly Sanders, Safe Routes to School coordinator/bicycle-pedestrian coordinator with the state Highway Department.
Springdale officials also talked about pedestrian-friendly construction in downtown during a recent meeting.
In Bentonville, Ley recently talked with city officials about an awareness campaign. The city is planning major sidewalk expansion projects, Mayor Bob McCaslin said. People in Bentonville seem more open to pedestrian safety, Ley said.
In Fayetteville, Paula Marinoni, founder and organizer of Crosswalk Safety Awareness Day, plans to start a website to teach other cities about her brand of educational campaign on pedestrian safety.
But pedestrian awareness and safety aren’t changing fast enough for some families.
Megan Davis was struck by a school bus after school Oct. 4, 2012. The then-17-year-old was crossing Southeast 14th Street near Southeast P Street to go to the Walton Life Fitness Center, said her dad, Tom Davis. Less than two weeks after Megan’s traffic accident, another schoolchild was hit while trying to cross East Central Avenue where the road intersects with Southeast J Street.
McCaslin said he wouldn’t comment on Megan’s accident. Traffic signals in the city and along state highways are “functional,” he said. The city striped a crosswalk at the intersection in July after the Highway Department rejected a request from the city for the state to stripe and maintain a crosswalk. The intersection had crossing signals but no crosswalk.
Megan wanted to be a geneticist before the crash, now she’s planning to be an occupational therapist, her father said. She lowered her expectations because she had a traumatic brain injury, and she lost her math skills, he said.
Megan graduated and walked across the stage by herself this May, but Tom Davis is bothered by what hasn’t happened since the accident. A few months ago, he drove by the intersection where Megan was hit. The speed limit remains 45 mph. The crosswalk Megan used remains hard to see and no flashing warning lights have been installed, Davis said. What happened to Megan could happen again, he said.
“I’d hate to see some other family go through what we’ve gone through,” he said.