CVIndependent

Sun12162018

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

With a population of about 25,000 people, Desert Hot Springs is one of the smaller cities in the Coachella Valley—yet DHS has the second-most traffic accidents among the nine cities.

These accidents are often deadly: In 2016, there were seven fatal traffic collisions in DHS, while in 2017, there were eight—and the stretch of Palm Drive between Pierson Boulevard and Camino Aventura seems to be particularly dangerous.

“Our accidents are actually decreasing, but it’s still a major issue for us,” said Desert Hot Springs Police Chief Dale Mondary. “In 15 years, we’ve had at least 25 fatal accidents. It’s not as many as Palm Springs … but that’s still a lot for Desert Hot Springs.”

In an effort to curb the number of accidents, a safety-enhancement zone will soon go into effect on that stretch of Palm Drive between Pierson and Camino Aventura.

“Any fine for a moving violation is doubled in that area,” Mondary said. “That was just another part of our approach to try to get people to slow down and drive safer. There are people who don’t pay any attention to the speed limit. They think, ‘I have to be at work in Palm Desert at 8 a.m., and if I leave my house at 7:20 a.m. and drive 70 mph, I can get there in time.’ They do that instead of getting up earlier and driving the speed limit.

“This is just one way we hope to slow people down. A lot of the offenders are repeat offenders who get more than one citation in that area, so if their fine is doubled, they’re going to think, ‘I can’t afford $700 to $800 for a ticket!’ That’s a tough sell for us, because we are a blue-collar working community, and we don’t want to take money out of people’s pockets that could be spent on their families. But what if you’re driving 65 in a 45, and you run over somebody and kill them? You’re going to be criminally charged and spend years in prison.”

Desert Hot Springs Mayor Scott Matas said a recent fatality helped lead to the safety enhancement zone.

“The last death that happened was Pamela Carrillo; she crossed the street and lost her life,” Matas said. The 17-year-old was struck by a car and killed in March. “We brought the family in and talked to the family members, asking what we could do better. One of the things they suggested was putting together a speed-safety zone. We hope that signage, streetlights, stoplights and restriping the roads will work together. Do we want to cause our residents more grief when they have to pay a ticket? No, but we do want to hold people more responsible for what they’re doing. You can’t go 65 mph up a street when people are walking along the side of it.”

A lot of jaywalking takes place along that aforementioned stretch of road—something the city is also trying to crack down upon.

“Over the past couple of months, we’ve written probably at least 50 jaywalking tickets,” Mondary said. “We need more crosswalks, because the reality is if you live in this particular part of the city, the nearest crosswalk is a quarter-mile away. People are going to say, ‘I’m just not going to walk down that far; I just want to get to the bus stop across the street.’ The problem is they try to run across five lanes of traffic that are in a 45 mph zone.”

Matas said the city has been examining the problem over the past two years with surveying and traffic studies.

“When I became mayor 2 1/2 years ago, one of the priorities I wanted to set with the City Council was so many pedestrian accidents and deaths,” Matas said. “I wanted to make our roads safer. We put together a plan to prioritize the stretches of roads that were the worst. Our staff did an analysis and showed us where the problems were. … We’ve put together a plan on where we needed to put some funding and received a state transportation grant about two years ago. The bids are due by the end of July for construction, and construction (should) start late August through September. We’re going to add an additional stop light on Camino Aventura, and choke and restructure the lanes so they aren’t as wide, which causes people to slow down. We’re going to put better bicycle lanes in, sidewalks on the west side of the street, and crosswalks for the kids, given there are schools close by. We’re going to add 23 streetlights to light up the streets better, and with the new LED technology, they will point straight down onto the streets and not up into the night sky.”

Even after the changes are made, it’ll be up to DHS residents to be smarter drivers and pedestrians.

“(Pedestrians) don’t realize that even though they might have the right of way to cross the street, you’re not going to win a battle with a 2,000-pound car going 55 mph,” Matas said.

Mondary added: “The solution is people being responsible and crossing where they should be crossing.”

Matas said the state transportation grant was a huge help.

“The problem that we have is we know where the problems are; the problem is always money,” he said. “… Traffic safety has always got to be a priority. We just bought a motorcycle for our police department, because we need to slow traffic down. Whether you lose one life or 15 lives, it’s alarming either way.”

Mysterious signs that say “No Matas” have appeared near the intersection of Dillon Road and Palm Drive (see photo below); they also call for a signal light and crosswalk to be put in at Camino Aventura. They were apparently put up by an attorney with the support of former Mayor Adam Sanchez.

“This individual came in and was uneducated about what we were doing, and he tried to make allegations that the City Council wasn’t doing anything,” Matas said. “One of the first things I did (as mayor) was put together priorities of our City Council, with traffic safety being a priority, but it doesn’t happen overnight. You have to find money and put together the projects. We were already in the process of fixing that roadway long before he put up that sign.”

Published in Local Issues

East Vista Chino has claimed another pedestrian’s life—the third since last October.

This time, according to the police report, the deceased was 62-year-old Palm Springs resident John Palladino, who was hit by a car on the night of Sunday, June 18. He was hospitalized and fought for his life until June 23, when he succumbed to the injuries he sustained in what police call a vehicle-versus-pedestrian collision.

“The preliminary investigation revealed a white 2011 Mercedes E-350, driven by a 76-year-old male from Palm Springs, was traveling westbound on East Vista Chino toward the intersection of North Sunrise Way,” said Lt. Mike Kovaleff.

According to Kovaleff, Palladino was walking northbound across Vista Chino, at Sunrise Way, on the east side of the intersection, outside of the crosswalk, against a red light. “The Mercedes entered the intersection with a green light and struck the pedestrian as he walked in the intersection,” Kovaleff said.

Kovaleff said there was no indication that alcohol or drugs were a factor.

Regardless of fault, East Vista Chino has proven yet again to be a deadly street. Less than a mile away, at Via Miraleste, two pedestrians recently lost their lives.

Jana Ploss, 64, a longtime Palm Springs resident, was struck by a car while crossing Vista Chino at Via Miraleste on Nov. 14 of last year. Only six weeks prior, on Oct. 6, James Harper, also 64, was hit by a car and killed at that same intersection. (See “A Perilous Crossing,” posted Dec. 19, 2016.)

Ploss, who lived at the Riviera Gardens condo complex, had crossed Vista Chino at Via Miraleste daily for years to visit her sister, who owns a house nearby on Chia Road. Yet around 6:13 p.m. on Nov. 14, according to the police report, Ploss was hit and killed by a car headed eastbound on Vista Chino.

The speed limit at that critical portion of Vista Chino is 45 mph, but traffic often goes faster, and nighttime visibility is pretty low.

Vista Chino is actually a state highway—it’s State Route 111—and therefore is controlled by Caltrans. After the deaths of Ploss and Harper, Caltrans looked into the matter.

“Caltrans did conduct an investigation at the intersection of State Route 111 and Via Miraleste earlier this year after the two pedestrian fatalities,” said John Bulinski, Caltrans’ District 8 director. “As a result of that traffic investigation, the city of Palm Springs and Caltrans will install a signal at that intersection.”

Bulinski also said that Caltrans is working with the city of Palm Springs, the California Highway Patrol, Lamar Advertising, the Coachella Valley Association of Governments and other organizations on a pedestrian-safety campaign—leading to the installation of several billboard advertisements around the valley.

Jana Ploss’ sibling, Roxann Ploss, has taken the issue a step further.

“I am currently working on wording for a bill to be presented to the state Assembly, and no ‘state highways’ would be built or allowed through highly congested residential areas when another route is possible,” Ploss said.

Ploss said it may take up to 18 months for the traffic signal at the intersection where her sister lost her life to be installed.

Meanwhile, Lt. Kovaleff offers some pedestrian safety tips: Any street that has a high volume of traffic and is dark poses a risk to pedestrians, and drivers, bicyclists and walkers need to be conscious and follow the rules of the road. Pedestrians and bicyclists should utilize lighting and bright clothing, and cross streets only where it is safe.

Published in Local Issues

Jana Ploss used to walk the short distance from her condo in Riviera Gardens to her sister’s house on Chia Road almost every given day. She did it for years—walking back and forth, always crossing Vista Chino at Via Miraleste.

On Monday, Nov. 14, she left her sister’s home shortly after 6 p.m. About 6:13 p.m., according to police reports, she was struck by a car at the intersection of Vista Chino and Via Miraleste. She was rushed to Desert Medical Regional Center. Some 20 minutes later, according to the coroner’s office, Ploss was pronounced dead.

Ploss was 64. She was the second pedestrian killed by a car at that intersection in six weeks; James Harper, also 64, was killed on Oct. 6, according to police reports.

Roxann Ploss said that her sister was just 30 yards away from Jana’s front door at Riviera Gardens when she was hit by a car headed eastbound on Vista Chino.

“My sister came to my house daily and went home most nights,” she said. “Sometimes, she stayed over here.”

The Ploss sisters were very close. They chose to live in such proximity so they could spend as much time as possible together. On what would be their last night together, Jana Ploss stayed a bit later than usual to watch the news with her sister.

“It was already dark, which I emphasized, and I asked her to stay over,” Roxann Ploss said. “When she told me she had to get back, I told her to be careful then, and I would see her tomorrow.”

Within minutes, her sister was dead—but Roxann Ploss didn’t know it for another five hours.

“I was watching the 11 o’clock news, and the anchor came on to say, ‘another (pedestrian) fatality in Palm Springs,’” Ploss said.

Then the news broadcast showed footage of the scene of the accident. “I saw the shoe in the middle of the road, and I just knew,” Roxann Ploss said. “About five minutes later, a sheriff was at my door.”

The fact that the intersection has claimed two lives in such a short period of time certainly raises the possibility that the area might be dangerous. But Sgt. William Hutchinson, a Palm Springs Police Department spokesman, does not believe that is the case.

“Vista Chino is not a dangerous place for pedestrians and bikers or for night traffic in general,” Sgt. Hutchinson said.

However, Marcus Fuller, a Palm Springs assistant city manager and city engineer, has already taken up the issue with the California Department of Transportation, also known as CalTrans.

“Vista Chino is a state highway regulated by Caltrans, and Caltrans determines whether the installation of traffic signals, crosswalks or other improvements on Vista Chino are warranted,” Fuller said. “I have personally met with the Caltrans district director and his staff to discuss these accidents and to urge them to take action as soon as possible in whatever way they can.”

John Bulinski, the Caltrans District 8 director, said the fact that two pedestrian fatalities occurred at the same intersection is being examined.

“We are in the process of conducting an investigation of the circumstances surrounding these fatalities and the characteristic of the intersection,” Bulinski said. “We are working with the city of Palm Springs and will make appropriate changes after conclusions are reached.”

As for Roxann Ploss, she hopes that, at the least, the installation of a pedestrian crossing with flashing lights at Vista Chino and Via Miraleste might prevent future losses in lives.

Meanwhile, Fuller and Hutchinson offered some useful safety tips for drivers and pedestrians:

• State law requires drivers to yield to pedestrians, but also requires pedestrians to use caution and not cross a street when it is unsafe to do so.

• Avoid looking at your phone.

• Always drive at a speed that is safe for the conditions.

• Slow down when proceeding through a crosswalk or intersection, and be aware of pedestrians on the sidewalk.

• Look both ways when crossing the street.

• When walking at night, wear bright or reflective clothing, and carry a flashlight.

Published in Local Issues

On this week's delicious Independent comics page: The K Chronicles celebrates life's little victories with the 1 percent; Jen Sorenson looks both ways before crossing the street; Red Meat finds treasure at the horse track; and The City gets all gentrified.

Published in Comics