By Edwin Folven, 9/06/2012
A driver may have turned left in front of minivan
Police are still investigating the exact cause of a head-on collision last week at Highland and Willoughby avenues that claimed the lives of a mother and her two daughters, and left another driver in critical condition.
Investigators believe the collision likely resulted when the driver of a 2004 Infinity traveling northbound on Highland Avenue turned left in front of a Dodge Caravan minivan heading southbound on the street. Det. Stephanie Banks, with the Los Angeles Police Department’s West Traffic Division, said she could not comment directly about the collision because it is still under investigation, and because the 74-year-old driver of the Infinity remains in the hospital in critical condition. He was only identified as a resident of Lawndale.
The LAPD has released the names of the deceased victims in the minivan. The mother was 27-year-old Saida Juana Mendez-Bernardino, and her 4-year-old daughter Stephanie Cruz and 6-year-old daughter Hilda Cruz. The minivan they were riding in struck a signal light pole after colliding with the Infinity. Paramedics pronounced Hilda Cruz dead at the scene, and Mendez-Bernardino and Stephanie Cruz died a short time later at the hospital. It was uncertain whether they were wearing seatbelts. Banks said drugs or alcohol are not believed to be a factor in the collision.
A memorial for the victims has been created at the northwest corner of the intersection, and some nearby residents believe the intersection is an “accident waiting to happen,” resident David Reeves said.
Reeves, who has lived near Citrus and Willoughby avenues for the past 17 years, said the he has heard or witnessed numerous collisions at the intersection. “During the time I’ve been living here, there have been about ten (collisions), but this is the first fatality that I know of,” Reeves said. “The speed limit is thirty-five here, but nobody does it.”
Another resident who asked only to be identified by his first name, Roy, said the it sometimes scares him to walk in the area with his two-year-old daughter.
“Every Sunday, I walk to church and the drivers are never paying attention,” he added. “I always make eye contact before I even try to cross the street. I always knew something like this could happen.”
Bruce Gillman, a spokesman for the Los Angeles Department of Transportation, said that stretch of Highland Avenue is not necessarily dangerous. Between January 2005 and March 2011, there have been 25 collisions, with no fatalities. He said transportation officials are awaiting the results of the LAPD investigation, and would determine if any traffic calming measures should be implemented at the location. He added that one potential measure would be to adjust the timing of signals at the intersection.
Los Angeles City Councilman Tom LaBonge, 4th District, said he is concerned about safety at the intersection, and cautioned drivers to slow down in the area. LaBonge said medians were installed along the stretch several years ago, which are also designed to slow down motorists.
“It’s absolutely a horrific tragedy,” LaBonge said. “Everybody drives too fast. Everybody needs to slow down.”