Residents, city frustrated by controversial crosswalk
July 23, 2016 at 10:12 p.m.
Updated July 24, 2016 at 6 a.m.
City officials and residents are feeling a sinister sense of deja vu after a woman was severely injured and her dog killed in a Victoria crosswalk.
"At least once every two weeks, you hear somebody slam their brakes right there," said Jorge Caicedo, who works about 200 feet away from the crosswalk at Stockbauer Lube Center. "It's bad."
Katie Parker, 24, and Riley, her 4-year-old Great Dane, were legally using the hike-and-bike trail crosswalk at North John Stockbauer Drive when tragedy struck about 10:15 a.m. Wednesday.
They were hit by a black 2008 Ford Mustang driven by Victoria resident Michael DeLaGarza Jr., 19, who drove around a car that had stopped for Parker and Riley to cross. The impact threw their bodies several feet down the street, fracturing Parker's skull and breaking her pelvis in several places. As of Saturday afternoon, she was undergoing treatment at Brooke Army Medical Center's intensive care unit in San Antonio, said Laura Chovanec, Parker's cousin.
Victoria resident Persephanie Cano, 17, was struck by a car at that intersection in April 2015.
"I looked, and I thought I was so sure, but (the car) came out of nowhere," she said. "I remember seeing it in my peripheral vision, and then I was going down."
In August 2009, Danny Herrera, who was 11 at the time, was struck by a car while using the same crosswalk. That car also failed to yield the right of way, inflicting injuries to his head and leg.
Council member Jan Scott said a curving roadway, high speeds and heavy traffic at the crosswalk have made it more dangerous than the other crosswalks on the hike-and-bike trail.
Since assuming office in 2015, she has been instrumental in implementing the most recent safety improvement. That measure added a median, allowing pedestrians to cross two lanes of traffic at a time instead of all four.
But Cano said she still has doubts the crosswalk is safe.
"When I saw the median, it made me happy. I was like, 'Thank you,'" she said. "But, then, of course, it seems like nothing is working."
Scott said although she has compassion and sympathy for the crosswalk's victims, city funds are tight.
Budget limitations, she said, make a skybridge or tunnel difficult propositions.
"At this particular point in time, our sales taxes are down. Our hotel occupancy tax revenues are down," the council member said. And the city has numerous other vital issues to focus on, including police and fire departments, drinking water sanitization and road repairs, she said.
"I don't mean to diminish the trauma and agony of everyone involved, but there are times when accidents happen," she said.
City spokesman O.C. Garza raised other issues about the effectiveness of a skybridge.
"Those things are very impractical," he said.
Skybridges, apart from high price tags, require high clearance for other tall vehicles and handicapped accessibility.
"You also have to secure them so people don't throw the stuff off the top," he said.
And other safety remedies, Garza said, have been tried but found lacking.
When the City Council voted to block the crosswalk altogether with barricades in 2009, pedestrians hopped the barriers and continued crossing, he said.
And Scott also expressed doubts about the effectiveness and legality of a button-activated stoplight to warn motorists of crossing pedestrians.
"There are transportation rules that you have to follow, and I don't know if we can legally put a flashing light there," she said. And a protected crosswalk with button-activated warnings already exists about 300 feet away at the intersection of Leary Lane and North John Stockbauer Drive.
Garza and Scott said the best option for safe crossing is personal responsibility.
"We're concerned about it as they are," Scott said. "Our hearts go out to anybody who is injured, but we really want to stress that it's imperative that they don't rely on other people or traffic to cross safely."
Garza said pedestrians should take the extra time to walk the short distance to the protected crosswalk at the intersection - especially if traffic is too heavy to use the hike-and-bike crossing without absolute safety.
"Don't just stop and look both ways," he said. "Look and wait for traffic to stop before crossing. That has been mentioned many times before, but unfortunately, people sometimes don't listen."
Although Cano said she understands finding a perfect solution is difficult, she thinks the city has a responsibility to protect its residents.
"How much is a life worth? How many people can get injured on that crosswalk?" she asked. "I understand it may be expensive, but can't (the city) find a way to pay for it?"