Dangerous speeds and reckless driving: Deadly Windsor Hills wreck ‘is just the tip of the iceberg’

Phaedra Battle was just a 19-year-old student, leaving to watch a new Eddie Murphy movie, when a car slammed into hers on Slauson and La Brea Avenues.

More than three decades later, his mother, Francine Battle, 83, watched with emotion as footage of the horrific crash in Windsor Hills left five people dead, including a pregnant woman.

The tragedy happened in the same place where her daughter was fatally injured in 1987.

“They say time heals. It’s not,” Battle said. “He is constantly with you, he never leaves you. It may not be as intense, but you never get over the loss.

Losses are mounting at an alarming rate. The pandemic has been accompanied by a wave of motor vehicle deaths, encouraged by an upsurge in reckless behavior. Almost 43,000 people died in accidents in 2021, an increase of 10.5% compared to the previous year.

And the trend shows no signs of slowing down.

An estimated 9,560 people died in crashes in the first three months of this year in the United States, according to preliminary data released this week by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. This equates to one death every 13 minutes.

“When everyday life came to a standstill in March 2020, risky behaviors skyrocketed and traffic fatalities increased,” said NHTSA Administrator Steve Cliff. “We were hoping these trends would be limited to 2020, but unfortunately that’s not the case.”

Fatal collisions began to multiply during the pandemic, just as the roads emptied. People who are socially isolated and facing uncertainty have become more reckless at the wheel, speeding up and drinking more, the data shows.

“It’s almost like people have forgotten common sense road safety rules,” said Doug Shoupe, spokesman for the American Automobile Assn. “And they have unfortunately become more risky, not only for speeding, but also for distracted driving, even engaging in dangerous driving behaviors like street racing and street takeovers.”

There have been 48 crashes at La Brea and Slauson alone since last year. Speed ​​caused about a third of these collisions. And yet, it was not considered the deadliest intersection in Los Angeles County.

This grim distinction belongs where Rosecrans Avenue and Highway 710 meet; there were seven fatal crashes between 2011 and 2021, according to state data. A preliminary review of this data does not reveal the number of people who died in these crashes.

Authorities say Nicole Lorraine Linton, a 37-year-old registered nurse who worked at Kaiser Permanente’s West Los Angeles Medical Center, was speeding over 90 mph when she ran through a red light in Slauson and slammed into several vehicles.

The crash killed 23-year-old pregnant Asherey Ryan and her boy, posthumously named Armani, who was just a month away from his due date. He also killed Ryan’s 11-month-old son, Alonzo Quintero; her boyfriend, Reynold Lester; and best friends Nathesia Lewis, 43, and Lynette Noble, 38.

For decades, US cities have been building roads to accommodate higher speeds, experts say. Six-lane thoroughfares like the one Linton traveled can encourage drivers to exceed speed limits.

Safety experts discuss the best way to prevent more road deaths is to lower speed limits, redesign roads and use tools like speed cameras to slow drivers down. In some states — like New York, where authorities are grappling with pedestrian deaths — cameras have been installed. But similar efforts in the California Legislature have failed. And plans to narrow streets often meet strong opposition from drivers who chafe at the idea of ​​”road diet”.

Jonathan Adkins, executive director of the Governors Highway Safety Assn., said the Windsor Hills crash that claimed several lives might not have been so bad if the road had been designed with more obstacles in the way. speed acceleration.

“If there had been a more lenient infrastructure, this crash might not have been so bad because speed wouldn’t have been such a big issue,” he said.

The crash happened near one of Los Angeles County’s wealthiest black enclaves, View Park-Windsor Hills. Residents of the mostly black unincorporated neighborhood have long called for more speed bumps, red lights and other measures to curb speeding and dangerous driving.

“If a neighborhood that’s financially blessed like us can’t get the resources to protect our streets, I can’t imagine how other South LA residents feel and how they can be protected,” said Leon Blum, a View Park. -Resident of Windsor Hills.

Darryl Grayson, President of United Homeowners Assn. II, to put it more bluntly: “They appease us by saying: ‘We’re working on it, we’re working on it.’ Piecemeal things are being done, but nothing that is necessary to save lives. … This is the tip of the iceberg where Slauson and La Brea performed.

The rise in fatal crashes during the pandemic surprised academics who expected less traffic to improve safety. But the wide-open and relatively empty streets only seemed to encourage speeding and other dangerous behavior.

Speeding offenses over 100 mph have soared during the pandemic. In the first year of COVID-19, the California Highway Patrol nearly doubled the number of tickets issued from the previous year. Last year the number fell but remained well above pre-pandemic levels.

And while fatal accidents may seem random, government statistics tell a different story. Low-income neighborhoods and communities where people of color live also tend to have more traffic and people travel at higher speeds. Native Americans and blacks are dying in greater numbers. The statistics highlight the continuing disparities playing out in Los Angeles.

Neighbors say Windsor Hills’ Angeles Vista Boulevard has become a cross street to get from Crenshaw Boulevard to Slauson Avenue. A wide artery lined with palm trees, it is also one of the main arteries of the hilly district. Takeovers, street racing and chicken games happen regularly, residents say, and it has spilled over to surrounding streets.

” People are scared. I’ve heard people talk about PTSD just going down Slauson and La Brea,” Grayson said.

Two years ago, a high-speed car crashed into a kindergarten not far from the intersection. The car hit the door of the Enriched Education Center and landed in a classroom where children under 5 usually nap or circle. Luckily, the school was on winter vacation.

“It’s not like this incident was the first incident. It’s been going on for years, but nothing has been done,” said school owner Pamela Wiley.

LA County Supervisor Holly Mitchell represents the area along with Compton, Gardena, Culver City, Hawthorne and El Segundo. His district has the highest rates of vehicle fatalities in Los Angeles County; 749 people died in collisions last year.

Mitchell, who took his seat as the pandemic began, said one of the first calls she received from a constituent was about traffic safety. In Windsor Hills, she worked with the county’s public works department on 20 specific requests add speed bumps and do other things to reduce the danger. She expects many measures to be in place by the end of the year.

Mitchell also works to prioritize intersections and other locations to ensure road safety.

Offer Grembek, a security researcher at UC Berkeley, said America’s infrastructure was built so cars could get to places quickly. The speeds weren’t set to keep people from dying. Drivers largely set speeds on most streets by rules that base speed limits on the flow of traffic. And the whole infrastructure was based on the idea that people would follow the rules.

“The strategy proved to be ineffective. And that put the United States probably two or three decades behind in terms of road safety behind many European countries that went the other way,” he said.

Nancy Munoz said she proudly moved into her three-bedroom Tudor-style home on Angeles Vista Boulevard in View Park-Windsor Hills nine years ago. Three weeks later, while preparing dinner in her kitchen, a high-pitched cry startled her.

“The sound of the impact. It was a dull, loud sound. I know it in my sleep,” the 53-year-old nurse said.

A speeding driver had lost control and crashed into the palm tree in front of his house.

Neighbors rushed over, she recalls: “They told me that’s how we meet here. It happens all the time.”

Since then, she’s seen at least 10 crashes within two blocks of her home, including one in 2017 in which a driver slammed his two-door Mercedes into a tree.

Her screams woke Munoz. He was stuck inside the burning car. Harassed neighbors tried to free him, but flames engulfed the vehicle and he died.

The charred palm tree is still standing and Munoz now leaves a fire extinguisher by the front door – just in case.

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