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Pattern in pedestrian fatalities

Most deaths in past 20 months were after dark and outside crosswalks

Posted: April 3, 2016 11:37 a.m.
Updated: April 3, 2016 11:37 a.m.

In the past 20 months, 10 pedestrians have died on Santa Clarita Valley streets and freeways — or, in one case, a parking lot — all killed by moving vehicles.

And, while each life cut short carries its own set of circumstances, two common threads run through eight of the 10 tragedies that might help explain them: darkness and walking outside designated crosswalks.

The two killed by cars since August 2014 in broad daylight in a crosswalk or parking lot were:

n Karl Heinz Stratz, 74, of Stevenson Ranch, who stepped off the sidewalk into the parking lot in front of a CVS drug store at Valencia’s Granary Square shopping center and was hit by a car driven by an 81-year-old woman.

Rescuers had to lift the vehicle off Stratz with jacks before transporting him to Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital, where he died of his injuries. The incident happened about 9 a.m. Jan. 26 this year.

n Wyatt Savaikie, 15, of Saugus, was hit and killed by the driver of an SUV as he crossed at the intersection of Bouquet Canyon Road and Seco Canyon Road in Saugus on July 16, 2015.

The driver, Ralph August Steger, 74, of Canyon Country, faces charges of vehicular manslaughter, speeding and running a red light. The time of the fatal crash was 2:45 p.m.

Steger’s was the only arrest among the 10 fatal collisions in the Santa Clarita Valley during the past 20 months.

In August 2014, 17-year-old Jennifer Stift, a senior at Saugus High School, was killed while out jogging on a summer evening. Since then, other pedestrians have been hit on roads where no crosswalks or signal-regulated intersections were located during periods of darkness or dusk.

The list includes a 65-year-old man crossing Sierra Highway north of Soledad Canyon Road on foot on a September 2014 evening, a 31-year-old man and an 18-year-old man killed on Whites Canyon Road in Canyon Country in August and September 2015 — the first before dawn and the second around 6 a.m. — and a 64-year-old woman killed in the northbound lanes of Orchard Village Road in Valencia late one night in September 2015.

The California Vehicle Code clearly gives the right-of-way to pedestrians “crossing the roadway within any marked crosswalk or within any unmarked crosswalk at an intersection,” with a few exceptions.

But it also cautions: “This section does not relieve a pedestrian from the duty of using due care for his or her safety.”

Outside a marked crosswalk or an unmarked crosswalk at an intersection, pedestrians “shall yield the right-of-way to all vehicles upon the roadway so near as to constitute an immediate hazard.”

Motorists, it cautions, bear the “duty to exercise due care for the safety of any pedestrian upon a roadway.”

Sgt. Scott Shoemaker of the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station warns that having a right-of-way isn’t enough.

“As a pedestrian, even when you have the right-of-way, don’t assume the vehicle will yield,” he said. “Always make sure that the vehicle is stopping and that they see you.”

Saugus resident Jim Crowley raised the issue of illegally tinted windows during this week’s “Coffee with the Captain,” pointing out pedestrians may not be able to make eye contact with the driver in such cases.

Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station Capt. Roosevelt Johnson said the department can only issue fix-it tickets in such cases.

Sgt. Richard Cohen, who heads the local Traffic Section, stressed the importance of crossing in crosswalks and wearing bright or reflective clothing during dusk or darkness.

“For pedestrians who cross streets not within crosswalks, remember vehicles for the most part aren’t expecting a pedestrian in the roadway, around a curve or a sharp turn,” said California Highway Patrol Officer Josh Greengard.

“If your vehicle breaks down and you find yourself on the right shoulder (of a freeway), the safest place to be is behind the guardrail, but you have to be aware of all vehicles at all times,” Greengard said.

A mother’s cause
Wyatt Savaikie’s mother, Teresa Savaikie, has launched a campaign to improve safety on Santa Clarita Valley’s roadways, calling for reduced speed limits and any other measures needed.

“Something must be done to make our pedestrians safe,” Teresa Savaikie wrote in an email to The Signal. “Whatever it is, something, something needs to happen — and right away, before another family is forced to walk in our shoes.  

“Speed limits must be reduced,” she wrote. “Red-light ticket penalties need to be raised, and people should be imprisoned for breaking the law and murdering someone while driving their car.”

Since the teen’s death in 2015, Santa Clarita has initiated a blue-light system aimed at helping traffic enforcers spot those running red lights.

And earlier this year, the city and Sheriff’s Station teamed up to launch a multimedia campaign to promote safe driving. The campaign’s “Drive Focus Live” website can be found at

[email protected]
on Twitter @jamesarthurholt


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