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.

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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