Tuesday, July 12, 2016

The Salem area's Fourth Walking Fatality this Year

This is old news and sad news, and there was enough uncertainty in the news reports that it seemed best to wait. There are still questions.

Last week, July 4th, the fourth area person on foot died as a result of injuries after being struck by a person driving a car.

The initial report on Friday, July 1st suggested the person driving had the right-of-way unambiguously and the person on foot mainly at fault:
A 20-year-old man from Keizer suffered life-threatening injuries after being struck by a car early Friday morning.

At about 2:41 a.m. on Friday, officers from the Keizer Police Department were investigating an alarm at a business located in the 5000 block of River Road North when they heard a vehicle strike a pedestrian on River Road North.

According to a Keizer Police Department, 65-year old Walter Westgarth of Keizer was driving a 2005 Volkswagen Passat northbound on River Road in the curb lane through the intersection of Chemawa Road NE with a green traffic signal when the male pedestrian stepped off the sidewalk into the roadway. He was struck by the motor vehicle.

Westgarth stopped his vehicle immediately on River Road and cooperated with the investigation.

Officers who were nearby when the incident occurred aided the pedestrian who was later transported by Keizer Fire District paramedics to Salem Hospital with life-threatening injuries.

The name of the pedestrian in not being released until his next of kin can be contacted.
And last Tuesday's notice of the Monday death seemed to confirm this:
A pedestrian struck after walking into the path of an oncoming car last week in Keizer died Monday from his injuries, police said.

Anthony Jon Ernest, 20, of Keizer, was hit by a Volkswagen Passat at the intersection of River Road North and Chemawa Road NE early Friday morning, Keizer Police Deputy Chief Jeffrey Kuhns said.

Officers were responding to an alarm at a nearby business when they heard the accident.

An independent witness reported that the driver of the car, Walter Westgarth, 65, of Keizer, had a green traffic signal when he drove through the intersection. Kuhns said he stopped immediately and cooperated with the investigation.

Keizer police are unsure whether Ernest saw the oncoming vehicle or if he was distracted.

No criminal charges have been filed, and no citations were issued.
So the best available public evidence suggests that Ernest suffered the ultimate penalty for a bad decision.

There are a few things to note here, then.

1) We engineer "forgiveness" into road design to forgive driver errors. Road design allows recovery for driver errors in speed, steering, and braking. There is little forgiveness engineered into road design for pedestrian errors. There's just a vast, vast asymmetry here.

2) Because of the severity of injuries to persons on foot, too often we don't get to hear their side and description of a crash. Because of the way jaywalking has been criminalized and those in cars have come to believe that the roads belong to cars, even when witnesses say a person on foot entered the road against a signal, you still wonder about how reliable truly is the description. There's a bias in the system, and maybe not here, but some proportion of crashes are described wrongly even by witnesses of good faith. "Of course the person walked into the path of the car." There is a default interpretation or bias in favor of the person driving.

3) The conjunction of "responding to an alarm at a nearby business" and crash may be an innocent detail, but it also plants the idea that Ernest may have been involved the events of the alarm and was fleeing the scene. Or maybe he was just stumbling home tipsy from the bar. Do we need to know the details? Maybe not. But it seems like crash narratives too often cluster details to ensure the driver and our autoist system is blameless, and then we don't really have to deal with the fact that a young man lost his life for what appears to be an error in walking judgement. It's just a sad, tragic accident, the person on foot wasn't careful enough, and "carry on, nothing more to see here."

No matter what mistakes Ernest may or may not have made early that morning, none of them warranted the loss of his life.

If new information comes out, this post may be updated.

Previously killed this year:

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