Danilo Aguilar died as he checked the mail outside his Blaine home. An alleged drunken driver careened down 119th Avenue at more than 60 miles per hour and slammed into a parked car, flinging Aguilar into the air.
The fatal hit-and-run on the evening of May 5 — the only suspected case of homicide in the city so far this year — has ignited a political firestorm in the north metro suburb: What to do about speeders cutting through residential neighborhoods.
While some residents point a finger at the City Council for years of fast-moving traffic and a host of high-speed crashes, others say that drivers are squarely to blame — including the one involved in Aguilar’s death.
The crowd was clearly divided at a special council meeting called last month at the Blaine High School auditorium to discuss closing 119th Avenue or limiting it to local traffic.
Andrew Kuempel, one of dozens of Blaine residents who packed the meeting, reminded the council that he had presented a neighborhood petition in 2009 to reduce the rising number of cars using 119th Avenue as a shortcut.
“It almost felt like I was just shooed away,” Kuempel said at the meeting. “There has never been anything to help make our street safe. I am so disappointed this has been brought to you [in] terms of someone possibly dying, and now it has happened.”
“The incident was caused by a speeding, intoxicated driver,” countered Gail Brown. “This was not caused by a poorly designed road. What you see is an emotional reaction to a very, very bad situation.”
The driver involved in the fatal crash, Adam Joseph Rodman, 27, of Blaine, is awaiting trial on a criminal vehicular homicide charge. Police found Rodman passed out at his home after the crash, a pool of his own vomit nearby, according to court records.
Traffic is one of the top complaints received by police in Blaine, as in many low-crime suburbs. “The majority of our problems are traffic concerns and neighborhood issues,” said Blaine Police Lt. Dan Pelkey.
Council members, acknowledging that more should be done, commissioned a traffic study by an outside engineering firm and agreed to immediately install three additional stop signs.
“We’ve given enough lip service. Nothing was solved,” said Council Member Mike Bourke, who made the motion to install the stop signs. “I’m not going to procrastinate anymore.”
The council also is considering hiring two more full-time police officers for neighborhood traffic enforcement, and a proposal by Council Member Jason King — who is challenging incumbent Mayor Tom Ryan this year — to create a citizens task force on traffic. The council will discuss those ideas in July.
The mayor agreed to the new stop signs and the traffic study, but bristled at accusations that Aguilar’s death could have been foreseen.
“If everybody is waiting for an apology for what I’ve done, you ain’t going to get it … Are there traffic problems here? You bet there are. We are 64,000 people,” Ryan said.
Choking up a bit, the mayor said that while his daughter was once involved in a serious crash, he supports policy changes backed by engineering and facts rather than emotion. “We’ve got to do it in a way that makes common sense,” he said.
The scene of the fatality, 119th Avenue, is a residential street lined with houses between Central Avenue and Raddison Road. Between 1,650 and 2,350 vehicles daily use the road, which has a speed limit of 30 miles per hour, said Blaine City Engineer Jean Keely.
Some neighbors said it’s a cut-through for drivers who want to avoid the traffic signals and congestion on two parallel routes, 109th Avenue to the south and Main Street to the north. At least some of that traffic is generated by residents of the Lakes neighborhoods, where each single-family household typically makes about 10 trips a day.
On a sunny day last week, Farrah Sanders’ three young children and a few friends worked a lemonade stand in front of their house on 119th Avenue. The children waved a homemade sign as a near-constant line of cars and trucks whizzed by, just feet from the children’s table.
Sanders said she hopes the city can figure out a way to make 119th a less attractive route. “The biggest thing is to figure out how to get rid of some of these cars,” she said.