Two accidents in one week’s time at Russell-Claremont intersection

By Judith Scherr, Daily Planet staff
Friday December 21, 2001

The Berkeley police released detailed information Wednesday regarding last Friday’s auto vs. pedestrian accident at the intersection of Russell Street and Claremont Avenue. 

The victim, identified by The Associated Press as Berkeley resident Susan Wood, was crossing Claremont Avenue, walking westbound from the northeast corner of the intersection at about 10:05 a.m. The intersection is among those where flags are available for pedestrian use to enhance their visibility as they cross the street. The flags were placed at the intersection just the day before the accident. 

“She took the flag (from its container) and, waving the flag, began to cross from east to west,” said Lt. Bruce Agnew of the Berkeley Police Department Traffic Division.  

A northbound white Jeep Cherokee came toward the pedestrian, then veered left, hitting the left side of Wood’s body. 

While the driver avoided hitting the pedestrian head on – the impact merely spun Wood around and caused her to fall – the Jeep drove across the center line and struck a teal Jeep Grand Cherokee. Both vehicles were towed from the scene. 

Wood complained of pain and bruises and was transported by ambulance to Kaiser hospital and later released. 

The driver was cited for “failure to yield the right of way to a pedestrian,” Agnew said. 

This citation can be remedied by paying a fine or, if the driver is eligible, she can have the accident removed from her record by going to traffic school, he added. 

Agnew explained that a ticket for hitting someone in the crosswalk is identical to that of a driver entering the crosswalk when a pedestrian is crossing, where there is no contact with the pedestrian. 

In cases where death results, however, police will forward the case to the district attorney who has the option of charging the driver with manslaughter. 

In this case, if the victim opts to do so, she can go to the driver’s insurance company to recover damages or file a civil suit, Agnew said. 


Another accident 

Police reported another accident this week at the Russell Street and Claremont Avenue intersection. The two-vehicle accident occurred at 12:39 p.m. Monday.  

A driver, later found to be at fault, was driving southbound on Claremont Avenue and stopped at Russell Street to allow a pedestrian to cross. The car then turned east on Russell Street and collided with another vehicle. Both vehicles were towed from the scene. Both drivers complained of pain, but neither were transported to a hospital.  

The driver of the vehicle turning east was cited for failure to yield to oncoming traffic. 


What can be done? 

Neighborhood traffic watchers have asked the city for additional officers to beef up the traffic patrol – there are now seven officers with one out on a leave with a job-related injury – and the City Council authorized the new officers months ago. But that does not mean they are in place.  

The problem is, Agnew said, it takes about a year to get new officers on board. There is first a search, then an extensive background check, then candidates go to the Police Academy. Those who successfully complete the academy continue with four months of field training. These new members become patrol officers, and more seasoned officers move into the traffic division. The length of time it is taking to get new officers on board has been exacerbated by a high number of retirements from the department. 

The need for increased enforcement in not disputed. 

A 2000 city report cites Berkeley Department of Health statistics, which note that the city has more than two times the rate of pedestrian and more than four times the rate of bicycle injuries compared to other areas of the state.  

While complete statistics are not available for 2001, so far this year there have been two traffic-related deaths reported, one in which a pedestrian was killed when she was crossing the street at Hearst and Shattuck avenues, and another when a vehicle, pursued by a highway patrol officer, slammed into a second vehicle making a turn at San Pablo and Ashby avenues. (On average, there are one to three traffic-related deaths each year, Agnew said.) 

By contrast, there have been no homicides in Berkeley this year.