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Response to Venice Boardwalk Crash Should Be Model, Not Outlier

9:18 AM PDT on August 5, 2013

Saturday in the late afternoona, Nathan Lewis Campbell got in his car and created carnage on the Venice Boardwalk. The 38-year-old native of Colorado drove on to the boardwalk and swerved through the area injuring dozens and killing Italian Alice Gruppioni, a 32 year old newly waling barefoot on the beach next to her husband. They were on their honeymoon.

Later, Campbell abandoned his car and sauntered into a Santa Monica Police Station to turn himself in. The psychopath's bail is set at $1 million and he is being held on "suspicion of murder." Unlike a recent high-profile hit and run in Gardena, Campbell is unlikely to be released on his own recognizance.

There are literally hundreds of stories covering this crash circulating the Internet, from CNN to the L.A. Times, from ABC to Yo Venice!, from CBS to Leggo in Italy.

All of the major power players are giving an appropriate response. Local Council Member Mike Bonin and Mayor Eric Garcetti are promising an infrastructure improvement, the media is treating the case with the solemness it deserves, the LAPD is talking about murder and not "accidents."

The reaction to this devastating crash should become the template for how the city and those in power react to a crash of any sort, but especially a hit and run crash. Whether it be state law, a culture of lawlessness on the streets, a lack of serious investigation  by the LAPD, a lack of urgency by the City Attorney or District Attorney, poor road design, or any of another thousand reasons, the City of Los Angeles is not a safe place to walk and ride a bicycle. At least, it's not as safe as it could and should be.

If the city truly wants to honor the memory of Alice Gruppioni, it should make a point that the response to this weekend's tragedy becomes the standard response, and not an outlier.

Each case of a hit and run or serious car crash should bring a strong police response. The police department's job is not to make excuses for dangerous driving. Too often, unless the driver at fault runs or is drunk, deadly and destructive crashes are shrugged off as "just an accident." This "these things happen" attitude has to go.

The city should push for changes to state law so that the penalties for a hit and run crash are at least as strong as those for a DUI. If someone hits someone with their car and fleas, they shouldn't be allowed to drive again and should face jail time. Current state law, which has much lighter sentences for hit and run than it does DUI, encourage drunk drivers to leave the scene of a crash.

The City Attorney and District Attorney should have a zero tolerance policy for hit and run crashes and other forms of deadly and dangerous driving.

As Bonin, Garcetti, and city staff are now taking a second look at the safety design of the Venice Boardwalk, the city should do the same every time there is a major crash. When a pedestrian is hit at an intersection with an unmarked crosswalk, the city should consider putting in a crosswalk. When a local residential street is so wide and straight it encourages faster driving than the neighborhood can support, the city should look at how to calm traffic.

And last, the City Council and Mayor's Office should keep on top of city departments to make certain they are diligently working on making our streets as safe as they can be. The Public Safety Committee of the City Council is off to a good start, but that's all it is. A good start.

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