On Wednesday, a day after a St. Paul pedestrian was killed by a minivan as she crossed the street, St. Paul police were out in force again trying to get motorists to slow down, pay attention and yield to people in crosswalks. That same afternoon, a different woman was struck by a car and injured crossing a different St. Paul street.
So far, motorists don’t seem to be getting the message.
Tuesday, during the city’s 23rd “Stop For Me” event this year — during which neighborhood volunteers cross a busy street while nearby police pull over and ticket drivers who do not stop for them — police issued dozens of tickets to drivers who ignored or didn’t see people crossing Johnson Parkway on the city’s East Side. In 22 events earlier this year, police made 764 stops, issued 341 citations for failure to yield to pedestrians, wrote 257 tickets for other offenses and issued 12 warnings. At some point, officer Santiago Rodriguez said, the lesson has to sink in.
“It’s entitlement,” said the 15-year police veteran as he stopped a half-dozen drivers Wednesday afternoon. “People aren’t paying attention to where they’re going, or they don’t care about anyone else.”
Drivers striking and sometimes killing pedestrians have become more than an anomaly on streets in the Twin Cities, Minnesota and the rest of the country. Crossing the street has become downright dangerous. Between 2010 and 2014, there were 3,069 crashes with pedestrians in the Twin Cities and its suburbs and 95 people were killed. Two-thirds of those crashes took place in Minneapolis and St. Paul.
So far in 2016, St. Paul pedestrians have been struck by cars 67 times, with three fatalities. Minneapolis police say 29 pedestrians have been struck by cars or trucks this year, with one fatality. Statewide, 18 pedestrians have been killed on Minnesota roads in 2016, according to the Department of Public Safety. Twelve were killed by this time last year.
Still, Minnesota’s numbers pale in comparison to the rest of the country. Nationally, the number of pedestrians killed by motor vehicles has risen and fallen in the past 10 years, with a high of 4,892 deaths in 2005 and a low of 4,109 deaths in 2009. But Minnesota ranks far below the national average for pedestrian-car fatalities per 100,000 population. Just one state, North Dakota, had a per capita death rate lower than Minnesota’s in 2014, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association.
A third fatality
St. Paul police on Wednesday identified the woman struck and killed by a minivan Tuesday as Channy Kek of Eagan.
Kek, 55, was crossing Cayuga Street at Arkwright Street when she was killed about 4:15 p.m. outside the HealthPartners Specialty Center. HealthPartners identified her as a Regions Hospital employee.
“This is a difficult time for all of us,” the company said in a written statement. “… Grief counselors will be available for colleagues in the coming days. Our thoughts and prayers go out to our colleague’s family and loved ones.”
Police identified the driver of the minivan as Said Ali Mohamed, 41, of St. Paul. He stopped at the scene and cooperated with investigators. Police have said there were no signs of alcohol or drug impairment.
Kek had the right of way and was in the crosswalk, police said, and was nearly across the street when she was struck.
Then, on Wednesday, an elderly woman was struck by a vehicle near Como Avenue and Eustis Street at 2:30 p.m. The woman was not seriously injured but was transported to the hospital as a precaution, officials said.
An hour later, seven community volunteers began warily crossing Johnson Parkway at Ames Avenue in the city’s continuing effort to stop such crashes from happening.
Kong Xiong, Nelsie Yang and Dave Pasiuk were among the volunteers who took turns crossing the busy street as police spotters and squad cars identified and stopped cars that either came too close while they were in the crosswalk — or failed to stop at all.
“This is where we live,” Yang said. “It needs to be safer.”
Pasiuk said the issue of pedestrian safety is critical to livable neighborhoods. Each time the volunteers crossed, it seemed, cars passed them in the intersection or stopped close.
“This work is so important and it’s a big problem,” he said. “If you don’t see a pedestrian or you don’t stop for a pedestrian, you’re not looking.”
Rodriguez needed no convincing. For a decade, he has led the police department in DWI arrests and has participated in many “Stop For Me” details this year. Crosswalk safety, he said, is a critical issue.
In the first hour, he stopped a silver Jeep Cherokee from Red Wing, a white Toyota Tundra pickup and a blue Toyota Corolla, both from St. Paul. Citation, citation, citation. In less than two hours, he issued six tickets. Several other officers working the detail had similar numbers. Many times Wednesday, squad cars pulled over multiple cars just a few feet from each other.
The excuses ranged from drivers not seeing the pedestrians, not knowing they had to stop for them or thinking the pedestrians were waiting for the driver to pass before crossing. Rodriguez smiled.
Minnesota law says drivers must give the right of way to any pedestrian crossing any street at a corner or intersection whether or not it has a painted crosswalk.
“I hope it’s changing their behavior and keeping them from hitting or killing someone,” he said of the drivers exasperated at being pulled over. “If all I did is piss you off, you’re going to be a better driver because of it.”
Staff writer Chao Xiong contributed to this report.