Did city, UNM know about ‘dangerous crosswalk’ before deadly crash?

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We’ve heard a lot about crosswalk safety since a driver hit and killed a 12-year-old middle school student earlier this year.

Even before that however, someone was calling on the city to do more to stop dangerous crosswalks from becoming deadly.

That ongoing fight involves a crosswalk outside one of the busiest venues in Albuquerque. People in charge are accused of knowing it was dangerous and doing nothing about it.

Lobo Fans Witness Deadly Crash

The night started with the excitement of a Lobo basketball game inside The Pit. Outside, it ended in frantic calls for help.

“Yeah, we have a pedestrian hit by a car right in front of The Pit,” a witness told a dispatcher after calling 911. 

“Yes, we seen everything. The guy was crossing, and the lady just drove and hit him,” another witness said.

It happened just after 8:30 p.m. on Nov. 14, 2016.

“He was everybody’s dream as a human being, as a husband, as a father, a grandfather, a friend,” Kae White said of her husband of 45 years, Jay White.

White was a former APS elementary school teacher and a UNM alum.

As a loyal Lobo fan, he had basketball season tickets.

“It’s hard to take it in, what happened because… he just went out to enjoy a ball game, you know?” Kae said.

On that night nearly two years ago, Kae was tired and stayed behind at home.

Her husband never returned to join her.

A driver hit and killed the 74-year-old as he used the crosswalk at Avenida Cesar Chavez and Bradbury, just west of University, on his way home from the game.”You feel like this could have been prevented?” KRQE News 13 asked Kae.

“Absolutely, 100 percent,” she responded.

Lawsuit Alleges Negligence

Kae is suing the city and UNM for negligence, saying records show both parties knew the crosswalk was dangerous and did nothing about it.

“They need to fix it ASAP. I do not want anybody else wearing my shoes,” she said.

The police report from the crash stated that there was “no driver error.”

“We were just going home. We were just driving,” she told police at the scene.

She told police she didn’t see the crosswalk.

The lawsuit points to faded striping of the crosswalk, no warning signs before the crosswalk, no traffic lights and the only sign, blocked by a line of trees.

KRQE News 13 wanted to know who decided to put a crosswalk there in the first place, and what they did to make sure it was safe. However, the city cited pending litigation and said no one would do an interview—not about the specific crosswalk or about the city’s general procedures to install and maintain crosswalks. 

KRQE News 13 received the following statement via email instead:

The City of Albuquerque has mid-block crosswalks in various locations throughout the city, those crosswalks are installed based on infrastructure, pedestrian traffic and with community input.

The city of Albuquerque also denied a records request for its public emails on the matter, emails it provided in discovery as part of the lawsuit.

KRQE News 13 obtained those, and emails from UNM, from Kae’s attorney instead.

They show then-Athletic Director Paul Krebs called for all the crosswalks outside The Pit to get re-striped before basketball season.

He even suggested flashing signs because it was “dark and hard to see people directing traffic.”

The response he got from Senior Associate AD for Facilities Scott Dotson was, “Sorry I have dropped the ball on getting the crosswalks painted before basketball season.”

That was two weeks before Jay’s death. 

Dotson did not respond to our request for comment, and a UNM spokesperson said no one would be available for an interview due to pending litigation.

Emails Kae’s attorney gave KRQE from the city reveal a debate over whether the crosswalk in question should even be there.

In one email, a traffic engineer wrote the city doesn’t support mid-block crosswalks with no stop signs or traffic signals, that “they give the pedestrian a false sense of security and don’t change driver behavior.”

In another email, the engineer claims to have warned against some of the crosswalks outside The Pit before Jay’s death, saying the city installed them despite the “written objection of traffic [engineers].”

Creation of the Crosswalk

“A decision was made to place it there in 2010. The decision wasn’t backed up by an engineering traffic study, wasn’t backed up by engineering, an engineer’s sound judgment and there it is,” said Rachel Higgins, Kae’s attorney on the case.

The city told KRQE News 13 it follows national guidelines outlined in the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, so we looked it up and it does appear to call for a study in a case like this. 

It states, “An engineering study should be performed before a marked crosswalk is installed at a location away from a traffic control signal or an approach controlled by a STOP or YIELD sign.”

Yet, the city said it has no records of doing a study at the Bradbury and Avenida Cesar Chavez crosswalk.

Emails from 2010 show UNM proposed the crosswalk, and the acting Director of Municipal Development at the time, Michael Riordan, approved it.

In explaining why Riordan wrote, the crosswalk will be used mostly during games with “police presence.”

However, when Jay left the game a little early in 2016, officers were not yet at the crosswalk.

The Aftermath

The city has since re-striped the crosswalk and put up signs that continuously flash—whether someone is crossing or not.

Still, the City of Albuquerque denies negligence.

In a motion filed in court last week, the city stated the driver should be added to the wrongful death lawsuit because “she is 100 percent at fault,” not the city.

The motion cited the deposition of the driver and witnesses as evidence to argue that she was driving too fast and not paying attention.

It contradicts the police report, which did not note speed or driver inattention as contributing factors to the crash. In addition, the District Attorney’s Office didn’t find evidence that the driver in the crash broke the law.

Yet, as the city continues to fight this lawsuit, it could soon get hit with another.

“I love my baby girl. She will always be my princess and something that I would always tell her is, ‘We’re going to be best friends forever,’” Jennie Gonzales said in March, days after her daughter died while using a crosswalk outside Cleveland Middle School.

Eliza “Justine” Almuina was 12 years old.

Gonzales has since hired Attorney Joleen Youngers.

“There are lights, but they aren’t on. There’s striping, but it’s not visible,” Youngers said of the conditions of the crosswalk at the time of the deadly crash.

“Who should be held accountable?” KRQE News 13 asked.

“Well, certainly the City of Albuquerque has responsibility in maintaining traffic devices,” she responded.

In this case, the city has previously spoken up about the need to take action.

“This is a tragedy that should never happen,” Mayor Tim Keller said in March. “I think what’s so important is to make sure we are doing everything we can, so it doesn’t happen in the future.”

City Council voted to create a task force to take a closer look at crosswalks near Albuquerque elementary and middle schools.

In addition, construction has already been completed to convert the Cleveland Middle School crosswalk into a HAWK signal, which stops drivers with a red light as people cross.

However, Kae is still waiting.

Nearly two years after her husband’s death, she is still hoping the city will do a traffic study or install a stop sign or signal to ensure the safety of the thousands of fans going to games at The Pit.

“I know my husband is not coming back. That’s a given but… I don’t want anybody… I don’t want his death to be in vain, and I don’t want anybody to get hurt,” she said.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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