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Column: The deadly toll of speeding on the streets of LA

Dr. Mark Morocco was on the emergency ward at UCLA’s Ronald Reagan Medical Center when it happened. He told me that the staff had been alerted and had started to prepare for the arrival of patients – preparing for the worst.

In Los Angeles, a collision is more macabre than the previous one, it seems. Vehicles are dismembered, debris fly away, car parts and people are incinerated in fireballs.

This time, Thursday afternoon, it happened at the intersection of Slauson and La Brea Avenues in Windsor Hills. Police say the driver of a Mercedes, traveling between 80 and 100 mph, ran a red light. The smoldering wreckage looked like something one would expect to see after an aerial bombardment.

“The bottom line is that the faster you go, the more all bets are off,” Morocco said. “There’s a speed limit for a reason, and the faster you go the more things happen which are all bad.”

It turned out that several patients arrived at the emergency room, but only one was seriously injured.

The others died at the scene.

Morocco, who later saw footage of the wreckage, said it was like so many others where people left before knowing what hit them.

“People have their necks broken, they burn to death and suffer irreparable injuries. The responsibility for care lies with firefighters and paramedics…and even those guys, with all their equipment and training, can’t do anything,” Morocco said.

“I see 80 mph drivers every day between my house and UCLA,” Morocco said. “And that’s surface streets, 2.3 miles.”

And every night, from his West LA home, there’s a symphony of speed and power.

“All night we hear racing exhausts blown up and down from Olympic and Pico,” Morocco said. “All night every night.”

It’s terribly common in Los Angeles, and driving, walking or biking is a game of roulette.

Morocco once ran down his street after a neighbor was hit by a car. He knew it looked bad and told his wife, Lisa Waltz, to run home and get a sharp kitchen knife so he could perform surgery if needed before the finish. paramedics. The neighbor did not survive.

In February 2021, Waltz and Morocco heard thunder from a nearby collision. Waltz raced to Olympic, where a teenager in a speeding Lamborghini crashed into a car driven by Monique Munoz, 32, a UCLA office assistant who wanted to become a lawyer. Waltz ran to get Morocco, telling him it was really bad.

“It looked like a war zone,” said Morocco, who rushed to Munoz’s aid. She was in a car that no longer looked like a car. “I held her head in my hands while she died. She died up the street from me because someone was going over a hundred miles an hour.

A month after this senseless tragedy, I attended a memorial service on the one-year anniversary of another victim of road rage. Larry Brooks, a sixty-eight-year-old psychologist, had gone for a midday walk in his Arts District neighborhood and hadn’t returned home.

His 34-year-old wife, Anna Marie Piersimoni, heard sirens and then there was a knock on her door. The police told her that her husband had left. A 23-year-old driver in a high-speed McLaren sports car had lost control and killed Brooks instantly.

Piersimoni told me that “arming the vehicles went wild” killed her husband, who was loved by many and had worked with children in underserved communities. The driver who hit him was sentenced to six months behind bars, but was released after serving less than three months, Piersimoni said. His civil lawsuits against the driver and the city are pending, with the latter alleging that necessary road safety improvements were not made despite residents’ complaints.

Isaac Cardona, Munoz’s stepfather, told me that the street where she died “is not a racetrack. It’s a residential street, with a speed limit.

Speed ​​limits mean nothing and their enforcement is too rare. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti launched Vision Zero in 2015, with the goal of ending road deaths by 2025. But 21% more people died in 2021 than in 2020, with nearly of 300 deaths. And critics say efforts to create safer streets through engineering, enforcement, education, evaluation and community engagement have been disappointing.

“We know how to make the roads safer. It’s not rocket science. It’s actually quite simple. But we don’t have enough political leaders who will stand up,’ said Damian Kevitt, who lost his right leg below the knee in 2013 when he was struck near Griffith Park Zoo while riding his bike. .

Kevitt, who started the nonprofit advocacy group Streets Are for Everyone after his near-death experience, warned me not to call these incidents accidents. Selfish, careless and dangerous driving is a choice, he says. So is driving under the influence, which is all too common. And the biggest factor in fatal collisions, he said, is speed.

“We’re so concerned about gun regulations,” Kevitt said, and of course we should be. “But it’s perfectly acceptable for people to drive recklessly with something as deadly as a gun and commit the equivalent of a mass shooting while driving through an intersection with their vehicle.”

This is not acceptable, but we have not done enough. Kevitt said re-engineering streets with roundabouts, speed bumps and a host of other tools would slow vehicles and protect cyclists, pedestrians and drivers. City officials said many improvements have been made and more work needs to be done.

When I last wrote about Kevitt, he was pushing legislation calling for speed cameras near schools. The bill died, as did another call for speed enforcement in high-collision zones.

Opposition to such attempts has come from police unions perhaps concerned that the cameras are doing their job, from those who question admissibility in court, and from those who oppose the reliability of surveillance technology or the possibility of citations being sent to vehicle owners who were not behind the wheel.

All of this has been resolved in other cities, Kevitt says, and crash rates have dropped in those places. He said he not only didn’t give up the fight, but was coming back strong, with a growing army of supporters.

“Right now we have a massive influx of road rage victims asking for help, and we are rushing to try and contact the victims in Windsor Hills to provide support. We have policy and legislative issues that we are trying to reformulate…and we will continue to do so,” Kevitt said. “Honestly, we’re going to take the gloves off and start calling names. We were nice about it, but enough is enough.

Morocco, by the way, was an actor and screenwriter. In 1988, he and Waltz were seriously injured in Pennsylvania in a collision between two cars on icy streets. If their car or the other had gone 10 or 20 mph faster, he said, they could be dead. Morocco, inspired by the trauma surgeon and emergency physician who helped save his life, has changed careers. I met him when he was in medical school in Pennsylvania.

Morocco said at the height of the pandemic, when the streets were less crowded, it saw many injured patients in high-speed collisions. The return of heavy traffic hasn’t stopped the carnage, and Morocco suspects something has changed in many people’s psyches.

In the wake of virus denial, vaccine defiance and a general sense of rebellion against the rule of law, there appears to be a new strain of selfishness and recklessness, Morocco said, all of which made more dangerous by Los Angeles’ preponderance of large, fast, dangerous vehicles.

It’s like “everyone drives like Mario Andretti, everywhere you go,” Morocco said, with cheeky road races and street takeovers. It’s like we’ve regressed, and the attitude seems to be, “I need to live in the moment and take what’s mine. Like caveman behavior.

Seat belts, airbags and advances in life-saving techniques have helped survive many crashes, Morocco said. But these things are no match for tons of metal rushing like meteors down roads and boulevards.

“It’s time to take these people’s cars away, once and it’s done, you’re walking now,” Morocco said. “Cruel and unusual punishment? Cruel and unusual is burning to death in your minivan or having your kids run over on a crosswalk.

Steve.lopez@latimes.com


Los Angeles Times

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