Stopping by a Crash on a Balmy Evening…

photo (c) sahra

Fountain Ave. seemed unusually crushed, even at rush hour.

As I rode up the hill towards Hyperion, the cars parted and I saw a woman lying on the ground in front of a white compact car.

She was clutching her leg and crying.

And she was all alone.

Lying in the street.

It was bizarre.

How was it that a handful of people were standing around and no one was talking to her or trying to help her?

I got off my bike next to her and asked if someone had called 911.

They had.

“Do you speak Spanish?” asked a woman.

The woman on the ground was crying on the phone in Spanish to her father.

I was hit by a car, dad, and it hurts so much. I was hit by a car. It hurts. It hurts…

Her ankle was absurdly swollen and her foot flopped awkwardly in the wrong direction.

A Sheriff came up with a blanket that he tried putting under her thigh.

“It’s her ankle,” I said, moving the blanket to a position that supported her leg better.

He got up and walked away, talked to some guys at the scene, and then moved off to wave sporadically at traffic.

I put my hand on the woman’s good leg, hoping it was comforting.

The heavyset bald guy leaned up against his car continued to stare down at her.

He was distraught.

He hadn’t seen her, he said.

She came out of nowhere.

He didn’t know how it happened.

Actually, I think it was pretty easy to see how it happened.

Judging by the positioning of the car — the body was straddling the white lines of the pedestrian crossing and the front end was well into the intersection — he had probably been looking left to see if he could merge into traffic and never looked right to check for pedestrians. He probably also rolled right through the stop to get a better view of oncoming cars, as the intersection is on a bit of a curve. I have seen it happen a million times at that spot.

“This has never happened to me before,” he repeated, shaking his head and looking down at the woman on the ground, who was still sobbing into her phone.

“I never saw her.”

One of the witnesses comforted him, telling him these things happen.

I squeezed her good leg — she looked like she was in a lot of pain and still shocked at having been hit..

She hung up the phone.

Habla usted inglés? I asked.

“No, no,” she cried.

OK, I nodded. Me quedo con usted. (I’ll stay with you)

The fire truck arrived.

They told me they had a paramedic that spoke Spanish, so I got up and let them do their thing.

I left very puzzled by how surreal the whole experience had been.

Was it the language barrier that kept people from reaching out to the injured woman? Or just that people are uncomfortable around those in pain?

I didn’t know. Whatever it was, it was incredibly clear that people preferred comforting the driver to assisting the woman on the ground.

I also thought about pedestrian collisions, in general. Given how much time I spend out in the streets on my bike, I do see a tremendous number of close calls. Many times, there is no question that, if the incidents had resulted in collisions, the driver impatience or inattentiveness would be to blame. But, I’m also surprised by how many pedestrians walk out into intersections as soon as lights turn, often without looking to see if a car is gunning it through a red. Too often, we expect drivers will respect our right of way, when the reality is that, too often, they don’t. And in the battle of human vs. motorized vehicle, the human is always going to lose.

Am I the only one that has come across a surreal crash scene? What has been your experience?

  • Ubrayj02

    Yup, been there. Nothing “normal” about each instance.

    This is only what I have been able to capture when I’ve been able to pull out an image capturing device. I refuse to accept this is as “the way things are and ought to be” – as my baby boomer elders always seem so ready to tell me.

  • Such a shame. Glad you were there to do the right thing.

    I walk LA everyday. And almost everyday I find myself having to assert my right-of-way in the crosswalk. I wave, I yell, the drivers rarely care to look or yield. Oblivious jerks. All of them.

    As far as the accident scene, it is a diffusion of responsibility. The language barrier must have put some people off, but in most cases people just don’t want to get involved.

  • Alex Thompson

    Many times, and some as lacking in compassion as this seemed.  BTW – please drop the term accident, as it’s use acts to excuse negligent and even malicious driving, to forgive bad traffic engineering and to condone car culture.

  • Erik Griswold

    “…he had probably been looking left to see if he could merge into traffic and never looked right to check for pedestrians.”

    Right turn on Red strikes again!!!

    The only two countries in the world to have developed this threat to pedestrians and cyclists?  East Germany and the USA.

    It was done hastily in 1973 in the USA as a response to the Yom Kippur War Oil Embargo, to “save oil” when most cars were sedans and most cars got at best 14 Miles to the Gallon.  Now cars and even the SUVs that have replaced them have almost doubled their efficiency at yet we keep this old Road Sewer trick so as to be able to perform that highest priority, “move more cars”, even in a dense urban area like Silver Lake?

    Screw the lady who was just following the “Walk” sign.

    Thanks again “Traffic” Engineers! Bravo!

  • PC

    Interesting. At every accident scene I’ve come upon, traffic or otherwise, language barrier or no, including the handful where I’ve been the person on the ground, there have always been people hovering around trying to help. What ends up happening is that they/we quickly discover that there’s not much they/we can do–either the injuries are not that bad, or they’re not evident, or they’re clearly so severe that people are afraid they’ll make it worse if they try to treat. So everybody….stands around.

    Why nobody was talking to the woman you saw on Fountain, I don’t know. Were they ignoring her when she wasn’t on the phone?

  • sahra

     It was odd–I saw her laying on the ground alone well before I got up to her, so I don’t really know how long they had been just looking at her. But it was for a while. It was just weird…

  • Anonymous

    Right turn on red only needs to be prohibited (red right arrow) during the pedestrian Walk and blinking Don’t Walk phases. If there is no Walk phase (because no pedestrian hit the button), then it can be treated as a normal red light (red ball).

  • Erik Griswold

    traal:  There needs to be far fewer installations of beg-button at intersections at urban intersections.  

    Red Arrow or no, the motorist is still inclined to not stop at the stop line but instead stop so that they violate the crosswalk (and bike lane plus bike box if one is installed).  

    Right turn on Red has no place in any Census tract deemed urban.

  •  great article and photo! but I agree with Alex – better to use “crash” or “collision” than “accident”. Cars killing and maiming people are not accidents – they’re the way the system is designed. They’re predictable.

  • Candice K.

    Many years ago, before it turned into a Korean spa, I took a first aid class at the Red Cross on Wilshire. We started the class by watching a video showing all of the different things that go through a bystander’s head when they see an injured person–some people are afraid that they might do more harm than good, some people are afraid of blood, some people are in shock from witnessing the injury/accident, some think they might get sued or caught up in a lawsuit, some assume you should call 911 but leave the injured party alone, some are on their way somewhere and assume others will stop to help . . . the list was pretty long. 

    Our instructor basically said that for many people, emergency response is something that people have to learn or be coached in so that there’s a blueprint of what needs to be done in their heads, even in a chaotic situation. 

  • I have been first on scene or witnessed 5 serious or fatal motor vehicle wrecks, not counting my own, so 6 fatal or serious injury wrecks with one I couldn’t help the victim. One wreck was an SUV rolled over and took the driver’s arm off below the elbow but ended up on top of the arm, and I was wearing soft-soled shoes and had nothing I could use to get to the driver to enable me to render aid. Another I was I was first on scene when a Chevette went under a flatbed truck, I prevented the driver from rubbing his face until paramedics came on scene, then I delivered the pizza I was supposed to be delivering. Another wreck was a Pontiac Sunbird convertible hit a guy wire from a telephone pole and flipped back into the road crushing 3 of the 4 occupants, I helped get the 4th one out of the car. I can’t remember the other 2 clearly, only that there was a lot of blood in one and only one injured/fatal in that wreck (don’t remember if the person survived), and that it was freezing cold at the other one. And I don’t remember much about the wreck I died in either, except the guy that hit me swore at me from the other side of the street before he made the U-turn and came back to hit me, and that I woke up in the ambulance in the middle of the punchline to a very bad joke about getting hit by a truck because it was too late at night for the buses to be running. Turns out I did a lot of talking before I regained consciousness, including giving the wrong phone number, my home address for my senior year in high school (which was not the location of the phone number I gave) and a bunch of other stuff that while true at some point prior in my life was not true at the time of the wreck…. This was the only wreck that I don’t remember giving what aid I could. And obviously I didn’t stay dead in my wreck, or I don’t know I’m a zombie….

  • Anonymous

    Except, there’s no light at Fountain and Hyperion. From the article: “probably also rolled right through the stop

    But hey, traffic engineers are glad to be a scapegoats for other people’s poor decisions.

  • sahra

     Yes, this was a stop, not a light…it was where Hyperion crosses Fountain.

  • sahra

     Interesting… Thanks!

  • Roadblock

    Yup… Right turn on red is a menace to pedestrians and sidewalk cyclists and skateboarders… All who assume drivers arent mindlessly lulled by the comfy love seats strapped to their asses.

    Ive also seen plenty of crashes. Mostly on my hometown street known as Barham blvd in hollywood.. otherwise known as the defacto freeway connecting burbank to the 101 that universal has and continues to carve up. I remember when there was parking on that street. Every few months a speeding maniac would crash. Seen a dude die, another barf into the face of the person giiving cpr… Families torn apart right there at my doorstep… A car took out our front porch. It was all accepted as norm… Definitely seemed like crashes were normal based on all the car chases and crashes on TV.

  • Erik Griswold

    Drivers are encourage to drift past stop signs and stop lights by the existance of Right-turn-on-Red.  They don’t feel the need to come to a full stop anymore before the pedestrian crosswalk.

    So yes, I will continue to scapegoat the traffic engineers, northendmatt.And look at the intersection: seperate stop line, and a center line that continues through the FHWA “standard” painted crosswalk, a design that Zegeer has proven cannot be seen as well by approaching motor vehicles as more modern “Continental” or “Ladder” crosswalk patterns. 

  • Anonymous

    Yes, ladders are more effective, and no traffic engineer would dispute that. The issue is getting the city to change its standards. But visibility shouldn’t have mattered here anyway because the driver had a stop sign. Don’t drivers have to have some responsibility for their actions? 

    Design can always be better. But reflexively berating traffic engineers doesn’t help. Having worked in that field, and having friends who are still in it, I can tell you it’s just not true that engineers don’t care about pedestrian safety.

    As an example, I once worked on the intersection of two major roadways, which only had crosswalks on three legs. I said we should put in the crosswalk on the fourth leg. I was told that it would hurt car capacity and that no one walked there… which was amusing, because I had observed people crossing illegally many times. I won that argument but as the engineer, there’s only so much you can do if the state/city disagrees with you.