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East Los Angeles

Hit-and-Run on Cesar Chavez Sidewalk Kills 66-Year-Old Woman

The site of a hit-and-run last week. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA
The site of a hit-and-run last week. Click to enlarge. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA
The site of a hit-and-run last week. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

Normally, you think of a sidewalk as a relatively safe place to be.

They have their problems, and are often in pretty lousy shape, but they usually manage to provide a sufficient buffer between pedestrians and the cars whizzing by in the adjacent roadway.

Not so in East L.A. last Wednesday, when the driver of a Red Dodge Durango came barreling down the sidewalk at Cesar Chavez Ave. and Eastman, injuring two women, one fatally.

I first heard about the incident from Jon Leibowitz, who was doing outreach for CicLAvia along the October route. He was in shock from having seen a truck slam into people in a busy business district and keep going.

Shop owners in the area confirmed it had been a horrific scene.

The manager of the bakery (the far sign, at left) said she heard a terrible noise and looked up to see a truck flying past her shop's window, scraping the bricks and damaging the security gates as it went.

It was so violent, she said in Spanish. So violent.

We heard screaming, she continued. My first thought was for my son -- he had just walked out the door. We ran outside and that's when we saw the women.

The two pedestrians, aged 66 and 49, had been knocked into the street.

The driver moved back into the roadway and disappeared.

His battered SUV was found soon after, abandoned. And, according to a CHP officer I spoke with, the driver later turned himself in.

What officers do not know, I was told, is why he drove onto the sidewalk, as he apparently was not drunk (although he turned himself in later, meaning that he may have been impaired at the time).

Perhaps that explains the wording of the incident report, which reads, "For unknown reasons currently under investigation, the driver of the Dodge Durango allowed the vehicle to veer to the right and up the south curb of Cesar E. Chavez Ave." (emphasis mine)

Although "allowed" may be the word officers have to use to explain such incidents where motives are unknown, it does make it sound as if the driver, Propelled by the Hand of God, innocently "drifted" onto the sidewalk. While it is unclear what was behind the driver's behavior, given that he would have had to have made a real effort to, first, get such a large vehicle up onto the curb, second, squeeze it between the palm tree (where he first drove up onto the sidewalk), the pole, and the building, and, finally, flee the scene, it would seem he was in at least marginal control of his faculties for the duration of the incident.

The women were both taken to the hospital, where the 66-year-old later died from her injuries. Charges are still pending in the case.

If you have any information regarding the case, the CHP requests that you call (323) 980-4600.

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