Pedestrian Death Raises Questions About Arnold Drive Safety

Neighbors, residents concerned that the lack of sidewalks lead to the death of 32-year-old Pedro Velez-Hernandez, struck and killed Thursday. Click the "Keep me posted" button below this story for updates related to traffic safety.


The California Highway Patrol has identified the while walking in a bicycle lane Thursday afternoon as 32-year-old Pedro Velez-Hernandez.

Velez-Hernandez was walking on Arnold Drive just south of Grove Street when Thornton Bunch Jr., 74, of Napa, allowed his Toyota Prius to travel into the bike land and strike Velez-Hernandez.

The vehicle continued through a wooden fence and into a yard, where Velez-Hernandez's body was found.

In the aftermath of the incident, neighbors and residents are concerned that the lack of sidewalks and increasingly fast traffic lead to the tragic death.

Nationally, there are more than twice as many pedestrian fatalities in roadways and thoroughfares without sidewalks, according to statistics compiled by the Complete Streets Coalition

The California Vehicle Code prohibits pedestrians from using bicycle paths "where there is an adjacent adequate pedestrian facility," in a code adjustment passed in 1977.

But the code allows pedestrians to use roads and bicycle lanes when there's no sidewalk – and, therefore, no other options, according to Gary Helfrich,  executive director of the Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition.

"The first question is: Why aren’t there any sidewalks there; Why is the road deficient," said Helfrich.

Helfrich, who previously worked as a planner for Sonoma County for five years, speculated that residents of homes fronting on Arnold would advocate strongly against building sidewalks in the area.

"There’s a big social justice issue here: if you can’t afford a car then tough, you just can’t get around," he said. 

According to the accident report, Velez-Hernandez was walking with traffic when he was struck, even though California motor code requires that pedestrians face traffic when walking in roads.

But officials say the lapse in code isn't to blame for the death.

"This particular incident is just a very tragic thing – it’s an accident," CHP Officer Garrett Ray said. "I don’t see the pedestrian being at fault in any way."

The CHP is still investigating the cause of the accident. They completed an autopsy of Velez-Hernandez's body today.

Neighbors and residents still feel that the death of Velez-Hernandez highlights increasingly dangerous circumstances for foot traffic on the quick-paced stretch of Arnold Drive.

"I walk my dogs in this bicycle lane to the Ernie Smith all the time: Why are there no sidewalks? Especially in such a busy area?" Cindy Riggs posted to the Sonoma Patch Facebook account

When Sonoma Patch reader said when she saw the remnants of the accident "I thought about how many times I've seen cars coming so close to to people on that road.I used to walk my dogs right by there in that same lane, but stopped because it became so dangerous. Arnold is an extremely dangerous road for pedestrians and bicyclists."

The CHP could not provide statistics for collisions between pedestrians, cyclists and motorists on Arnold Drive on Friday. We'll update this when the statistics become available.

Still, Helfrich said it shouldn't take a death to make officials take notice of dangerous traffic safety circumstances.

We really shouldn’t be so casual about someone loosing their life in a motor vehicle accident," he said. "If someone dies in a house fire, it's on the front page of the paper – it’s a tragedy either way, but we’re really so hardened to death on the highway."

Click the "Keep me posted" button below this story for updates related to traffic safety.

Tyler LUnd May 26, 2012 at 05:08 AM
The google map image you have posted has Pedro standing on the wrong side of the street. Juanita Juanita doesn't have a fence in front of it. Why did you not bring up the 74 year old man driving? You did, but don't you think that, even though it's cliche, Older persons driving erratically is just as present an issue as the sidewalks. I live just up the street. The whole fence, which is at least ten feet from where normal traffic should be, is gone. I'm not worried about 30 year old mothers driving. They typically drive better due to kids or the slight fact that most don't where glasses 24/7. Why didn't you rip this guy apart? Like.............. Living on Orange ave. just south of grove my whole life, I have never been hit by cars when I was doing even worse methods of travel. Now as a Pizza delivery driver, I see an extremely worse threat than lack of sidewalks. I feel bickering about sidewalks, AN EASY FIX, is not what you should have written about. Sonoma, being a town of a really high elderly population, should "beef up" its driving laws. Regularity of examinations of the driving ability of it's population older than 60, who am kidding.......I'm a twenty two year old pizza driver. I think you get what I'm saying.
Nicole May 26, 2012 at 06:58 AM
You've got it right. We've got more senior citizens on the road than before because of the baby boomers. I can't tell you how many times I've been driving behind a car that's swerving all over, braking and speeding alternatively, and generally driving like a drunk driver. Then they turn, and I see it isn't a drunk driver, it's an elderly person. Its frightening. We need doctors more involved, reporting the DMV when a person has been diagnosed with Parkinson's or some other condition that will impact driving. We also need family members to grow a pair and talk to their aging relatives who may not be aware or too proud to accept their diminishing capabilities.
Jennifer May 26, 2012 at 05:28 PM
I am sick and tired of people drawing conclusions about senior citizens driving. It seems when ever an accident involves a senior citizen its their fault because they are old and shouldn't be driving. Just the same when ever a teenager is involved in an accident people say they were either high, drunk or texting. Stop the ageism and look at the actualy cause of the incident. ..and yes sometimes a person is high, texting, or had a health problem causing an accident. Just don't punish a whole group by the actions of a few. As for the man who lost his life, my heart goes out to you and your family.
beverly gomez May 26, 2012 at 05:51 PM
I am with what they are saying why want you guys put the man driveing .... and what now we can't drive or walk now we have to look everywhere....and what and now what they going to say ooh it was is fault... or only becues he was Hispanic.....that It what I think....and know I want let my kids go to the backyard only becoues that happens right next to my hours......"give it to people that need it not to people that can't see are drive..."
Rebecca May 26, 2012 at 06:30 PM
The fact of the matter is that NO MATTER HOW OLD you are, you have to be a competent driver. Keep your eyes on the road and take it seriously. Cars are big, heavy, and go fast. They can and do kill. It's a huge responsibility for all drivers. I too am sick of people driving like they're the only one's in the world. If this man wasn't having a serious medical crisis that caused him to veer of the road and he simply wasn't paying attention that's not OK and he should be held responsible,accident or not. And concerning the sidewalks, I've seen several people get hit by cars while they were walking down the sidewalk. My heart goes out to the family who lost Pedro.
Angela White May 27, 2012 at 03:49 AM
This is such a sad situation for everyone involved. A human being lost his life, it's tragic. No one can say, as of yet, what caused this accident but I definitely don't think we should start bashing elderly drivers. They are not some odd race of people, they represent all of us at some point in life, none of us will be too happy to give up the freedom of driving when that time comes. My father was hit and killed by a car while he was on his bike, the sad truth is, the roads are dangerous, sidewalks or not, bike lanes or not. Drivers in Sonoma drive fast and impatient, they don't slow down or give pedestrians or cyclists a safe cushion when passed, I see it everyday. Anything can happen at any moment, people are unpredictable, life is unpredictable. I think the most important thing to do now is pray for both families, especially the family who lost their loved one.
Dee Baucher May 28, 2012 at 05:29 PM
As people age, their reflexes, sight, visual depth perception and hearing all are diminished. This does not mean that all seniors become compromised drivers at the same age, or to the same degree. Seniors are also more prone to have medical conditions that might become acutely incapacitating while driving (such as heart conditions or strokes), but there are also younger drivers who might have serious medical conditions that could potentially lead to driving accidents. If seniors want to continue driving they should have the right to do this, but there should be some mandatory license renewal, including a medical statement from a physician and a driving test, on an annual basis, especially for seniors who have known conditions or disabilities that would interfere with adequate driving responses. As we can all see, driving can kill people, and we should demand safety measures to protect us all. That being said.... the conditions of Arnold Drive remain a major factor in this accident, and many others. Our county officials need to improve this congested and unsafe major route.
Aunt Oxi May 30, 2012 at 05:44 PM
There are seniors, and then there are seniors. There is a significant difference between a 60 year old (Baby Boomer) driver and an 80 year old driver. Some drivers do become impaired with age, but the level of impairment differs with everyone, and usually happens much later in life. I am more concerned with the risky behavior of drivers age 16-25 who insist on texting while driving and submit to other distractions while driving, And yes, we need sidewalks on this side of town!
Alexis Fitts May 30, 2012 at 05:54 PM
Just to reiterate, the CHP is still looking into the causes of the accident. We won't know anything concrete until they release their report. So blaming a 74-year-old driver is premature, and simply speculation. So lets try to keep it polite, Thanks!
odie June 03, 2012 at 02:20 PM
Everyone needs to just empower themselves and help raise awareness of the issue. Our children are the most important but we all need to do our part. Start by visiting: http://safetyhucs.com/
Pamela Anderson October 17, 2012 at 06:35 AM
"Aunt Oxi", your concern is misplaced. Far more fatalities occur as a result of errors made by elderly drivers than by drivers in the 16 to 25 age bracket, texting or not. That is an unarguable FACT. Face the truth.
Pamela Anderson October 17, 2012 at 06:37 AM
By the way, where is this supposed report being released by CHP? It's now been months. No surprise that when the decedent is a Latino/a, there's no rush to publicize important information about the incident. Stay classy Sonoma County...


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