Adriesue “Bitsy” Gomez put on a straw hat with a turquoise bow to walk the 99 Cents Only Store. The 72 year old woman wanted to buy a roll of Bounty paper towels and some gladiola bulbs to plant in the garden of his home in Santa Ana.
Spring had come, he told his daughters.
It was Sunday April 19, around three in the afternoon.
Way home, Gomez crossed Main Street between 15th and 16th Streets, where there is no crosswalk or traffic lights. She gave him a look at store receipt and something did not seem right, as discussed their daughters. His mother, a truck driver, Teamsters member and founder of the Women’s Coalition truck drivers, never too shy to speak.
So, according to his family, Gomez headed back to the store.
She stopped in the turning lane to the left to let the traffic pass, according to police and a video sequence. That’s when Gomez was hit by the driver of a gold-colored Nissan Maxima vehicle while making a left turn toward Main Street. The force of the impact threw Gomez back on a northbound lane. Two sandals rose into the air;Left landed several feet away.
When police arrived, they saw blood emerging from the mouth of Gomez and ran down his chest. Fearing he drowned, an officer laid it on its side and placed his head on the roll of paper towels. She died in the intensive care unit Western Medical Center two days later.
Tragically, the circumstances of the death of Gomez Bitsy are all too common. It has been a particularly deadly for walkers in the busiest streets of Orange County year.
Forty-eight people have been killed since January, according to data from the coroner’s office at the rate of 15 October.
That equates to almost a pedestrian died six days.
The county is on track to beat the total of pedestrian deaths last year, 55, following an irregular but upward trend that has spread over the past five years. Data from the coroner’s office in Orange County originating from 1992 show that the worst year on record was 1994, when 70 pedestrians were killed.
For a month, the newspaper The Register interviewed families, witnesses and authorities; reviewed police reports and other records; and analyzed a decade of traffic injury reports collected by the Injury Mapping System Transport UC Berkeley, along with nearly six years of data from the coroner’s office.
The analysis suggests several common factors in the deaths of Gomez and others:
• The victims are usually elderly. Many walk at night when visibility is reduced.
• Over the past decade, nearly half – 47 percent – of pedestrians killed were hit crossing the road outside the crosswalk painted area.
• Drugs and alcohol played a role in less than 6 percent of deaths from 2004 to 2013. In only 4 percent of cases the driver received a ticket for speeding.
• Crosswalks make any difference, but less than expected. A quarter of pedestrians are hit and lose their lives while in a crosswalk designated.
• During the past five years, more pedestrians have been killed in Santa Ana that in any other city in Orange County, according to data from the coroner’s office, and most of its residents have died this year than in previous years going back to 2010 . Orange, Anaheim, Huntington Beach, Garden Grove and Westminster have also proved deadly cities.
And it’s not surprising. These are large and densely populated designed to accommodate vehicles with wide avenues built for fast moving traffic locations.
“The streets here are not designed for pedestrians,” said Gomez’s daughter, Rita Gomez, 52.
Statewide, the roads have been made safer for motorists, but not for pedestrians. Federal data show that deaths involving motor vehicles in California declined by 45 percent in the decade running from 2003 to 2013, while the rate of pedestrian fatalities has remained virtually at the same level.
California is the most deadly for pedestrians ninth state, according to the National Security Administration Highway Traffic with 701personas, or about two pedestrians per 100,000 people dead in 2013, the latest year with available data.
Tamara Redmon, program director of pedestrian safety with the Federal Highway Administration, said it’s hard to tell why pedestrian deaths appear to have changed. She points to the culture of state vehicles, lack of infrastructure for walking and biking and a growing interest in healthy activities such as walking.