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Three Dead in 24 Hours in Westlake, North Hollywood, Torrance — A Grim Tuesday For Pedestrian Safety in Los Angeles

Relatives of Christian Vega speak. Photo courtesy of Rabi Abonour.

[dropcap size=big]A[/dropcap] ten-year-old boy in Torrance is dead after a pickup driver swerved to avoid hitting a dog. A woman standing at a bus stop in North Hollywood died after a car that ran a red light and hit two other vehicles landed on top of her. And in Westlake, a construction worker was hit while crossing Bonnie Brae to a street vendor before heading to work. The driver who killed him fled.

These three deaths on the streets of L.A. occurred between 6am and 9pm on Tuesday, March 26 — one day.

The dizzying string of pedestrian killings is sounding alarms in the safer-streets community. Los Angeles has a Vision Zero plan, aimed at eliminating traffic deaths across the city’s 6,500 miles of streets and 7,200 miles of sidewalks.

But transit reform activists say the city and other government agencies are responding too slow to stem the deaths of people on the streets. Within L.A. city limits, 127 pedestrians and 21 cyclists were killed in 2018, according to preliminary data first cited by U.S. News. Overall traffic deaths (including vehicle collisions) dropped slightly from 2017 but had spiked overall in 2016, Curbed LA reported.

Vision Zero, activists say, is not reaching its goals.

Leonides Rivas was 30 years old.
Leonides Rivas was 30 years old.

[dropcap size=big]O[/dropcap]n Tuesday, just before heading off for a shift, 30-year-old Leonides Rivas was stopping for a warm drink along the street vendor row of Bonnie Brae Street, in the dense neighborhood west of downtown. Reports said he had paused in the middle of the street just after 6 am, while crossing to wait for a passing vehicle. He was hit from behind by another vehicle, which ran him over.

The driver of a white pickup truck that hit Rivas did not stop to render aid and sped through a red light at Wilshire Boulevard, KTLA said. Rivas was crushed under the vehicle, and died at USC-County Medical.

Police quickly released a video that captured the incident and are asking for the public’s help in identifying it and the driver. Rivas's family said they are stunned.

Later that day, around 3pm, a suspected drunk driver behind the wheel of a BMW slammed into a Honda Civic at Vineland Avenue and Victory Boulevard. The black BMW then hit a parked car at a CVS lot, then bounced and landed upon a woman in her 60s who was at a nearby bus stop.

Passersby in North Hollywood rushed to the scene to try to lift the vehicle as a group before firefighters and medics arrived. The woman, whose identity was not released, later died. The driver, reportedly in his 20s, was also transported to a hospital and the case remains under investigation, but alcohol is suspected, according to ABC7.

On Tuesday night, five hours later, a pickup truck driving on Del Amo Boulevard near Crenshaw Boulevard in Torrance reportedly attempted to avoid hitting a dog, but instead hit a 10-year-old child crossing the street from a nearby park.

Reports said the driver stopped and was 58 years old. The boy was pronounced dead at the scene, which was closed till well into Wednesday morning as investigators pieced together what happened.

RELATED: She Killed South L.A. Cyclist and Drove Away, Then Attempted to Paint Vehicle ~ Arrest in Death of Fred ‘WOON’ Frazier

Relatives of Christian Vega speak. Photos by Rabi Abonour.
Relatives of Christian Vega speak. Photo courtesy of Rabi Abonour.

[dropcap size=big]T[/dropcap]he three deaths in one day marked a week that already began grimly when it comes to the reality of pedestrian deaths in the city. On Sunday, dozens of people gathered for a vigil for a 17-year-old killed by a motorist in Elysian Valley late last month, a case that is still reverberating in the area.

On February 27, Christian Vega was hit by a 2012 Toyota Camry making a left turn from Riverside onto Newell Street. The accident occurred at an intersection that neighbors have long complained to city officials for being unsafe for pedestrians. The consulate of Guatemala is located close by.

The collision that killed Vega happened around 9:30 pm. The driver was cooperating with investigators and drugs or alcohol were not related, initial reports said.

People held signs for motorists.
People held signs for motorists. Photo courtesy of Rabi Abonour.

Vega, a senior at LAUSD high school Sotomayor Learning Academies, was memorialized on Sunday in an emotional gathering featuring his siblings. Family and friends held up signs asking for drivers to slow down and save lives. A GoFundMe page said Vega’s family is from Guanajuato, Mexico.

David de la Torre, who leads the Elysian Valley neighborhood watch, said the young man’s death could have been prevented if more safety measures were taken on Riverside Drive. The street is notorious for its quick curves, and for drivers careening through at high speeds while avoiding congestion on the parallel 5 freeway.

“People will say Christian was jaywalking, and shame on that, or the driver did not stop, and I feel horrible that the lady will have to live with that the rest of her life, but we’ve had multiple incidents on Riverside Drive related to accidents, with vehicles going into homes, and it’s all speed-related,” de la Torre said.

A makeshift memorial for Christian Vega was apparently hit by a vehicle and flattened before the vigil.
a makeshift memorial of flowers for Christian Vega was later apparently hit by a vehicle and flattened.

Neighbors say they’ve been asking for relief from city officials, to almost no avail. Residents heaped criticism on their City Councilman, Mitch O’Farrell, who said through a representative that he was unable to attend the memorial for Vega, which incensed the community, according emails shared with L.A. Taco.

“The frustration from us residents of Elysian Valley, every effort we’ve brought to our council member, either it falls on deaf ears or it’s excuses, excuses, as to why what we’ve solicited cannot be done,” de la Torre added in an interview.

“Councilmember O’Farrell refuses to calendar a day to meet with Elysian Valley stakeholders in Elysian Valley, as requested,” wrote one angered resident in a message to O’Farrell’s office during discussions on the Vega memorial. “We will proceed as a community without the Councilmember’s engagement.”

On Wednesday, however, the city seemed to respond. The Vision Zero Twitter account posted about the Elysian Valley intersection, saying a left-turn signal light and new striping will be added to the street.

The VZ and @LADOTofficial staff are bringing rapid changes to Riverside Dr. and Newell St. Near-term improvements include a left turn signal and striping changes. Thanks to the many advocates and accountability partners in this work. #vz2025 #visionzerola #visionzero

— VisionZeroLA (@VisionZeroLA) March 27, 2019

Luke Klipp, a planner who is active in the safer streets movement, also attended the vigil for Christian Vega. His voice nearly cracked over the phone and he took a long pause as he remembered the victim’s family.

“Seeing the sisters and hearing them speak … I don’t know how to express that,” Klipp said. “This is what happens in our city and that is our only response … You have a broken family, a mother who lost her son who couldn’t speak …”

He added: “This happens a couple times every single week — and what have we done?”

RELATED: Police Seek Hit-and-Run Driver Who Dragged Victim for Blocks in Arlington Heights

* Story updated.

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