Rufus King High School student Marisol Cevallos died needlessly early Wednesday morning, on her way to school and a future full of opportunity.
A school bus driver hit and killed Cevallos, 17, as she walked southbound across W. Oklahoma Ave., in a crosswalk, which should have protected her from harm. But like dozens of others in Wisconsin, she became a victim on what should have been a safe walk.
According to the Milwaukee County Medical Examiner’s report, the 62-year-old bus driver told authorities she did not see Cevallos as she made a left turn, going from northbound on S. 9th Pl. to westbound on W. Oklahoma Ave. Cevallos was wearing dark clothing, and the darkness at 6:45 a.m. and a hard rain limited visibility.
The report did indicate that Cevallos had the right of way as she proceeded across the street.
This gifted student who hoped for an Ivy League education certainly knew how to cross the street safely. She was at a marked crosswalk when a the bus driver turned into her from a side street. This is tragic. And it could have been prevented.
Those of us who drive must do better. Two more people in Milwaukee were killed while crossing the street in the 5 days after Marisol’s killing.
To change the community, we are pulling together a meeting of community members, agencies and non-profits that want to see our streets safer for those who are walking. Join us on Tuesday, December 13th from 3-5pm (location TBD). Please email Jessica Wineberg to get a notification of the location.
People driving must look for and yield to people crossing the street in marked and unmarked crosswalks. It’s the law and common sense.
To put it simply: Slow down. Watch for others. Stop for your neighbor.
That’s the message shared by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation and it’s Share and Be Aware program, an effort to reduce the number of people killed while walking and biking in the state. To date, 37 people have been killed while walking in 2016, a year after the death toll of 54 represented a 22 percent increase.
People driving must do more to fulfill the responsibility that comes with operating a machine with the power to kill; especially when they drive too fast, distracted or with a disregard for others.
The idea that most pedestrian fatalities are caused by people dashing into the street simply doesn’t match the facts in Marisol’s case and most others. We drive too fast and ignore the law, and make it dangerous and intimidating for people to engage in the most normal of activities: walking and riding bicycles.
Reviews of crashes that injured and killed people biking and walking show that motorist errors cause a significant percentage of these tragedies, and a majority of them in some circumstances. In a three-year period, more than 40 people were killed in crosswalks by people driving who failed to yield the right of way.
This fact is from a review of crash reports done for the Wisconsin Dept. of Transportation Bureau to Traffic Safety by Robert Schneider, an assistant professor and traffic safety researcher in the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee Department of Urban Planning. Schneider studied more than 8,000 crashes in 2011, 2012 and 2013. In that time span, 152 people walking and 33 people on bikes – children, grandparents, brothers and sisters – died after being hit by people driving.
In 2015, the number of people killed spiked to 69: 54 people walking and 15 bicycling. To date this year, crashes involving people walking and bicycling are down, 46 compared to 59 at the same time in 2015. As a highly mobile society, we seem all too willing to accept the deaths of 69 people as an acceptable price for our convenience. But it is easier to shrug off a number than it is the face of Marisol Cevallos, a promising and hard working high school student. When we are forced to get behind the wheel and it is dark and raining, we all need to slow down even more and look even harder for people around crosswalks.
While it is most important for everyone to be more cautious and law abiding when driving around people walking (and bicycling), until more people driving take greater care around crosswalks, we should all take an extra look before crossing streets, even when we have a walk signal or the right to expect cars to yield and stop for us. That doesn’t mean waving cars through when you have the walk signal, that perpetuates the problem. Instead, be cautiously assertive when you step into a crosswalk. Begin walking at the walk light or, if the crosswalk is not signal-controlled, when approaching motor vehicles still have time to slow or stop for you, but be watchful and ready to get out of the way if they fail to yield the right of way.
Not to blame the victims, but too many people driving completely ignore the laws regarding crosswalks and with so many people driving over the posted speed limit, it is harder to judge stopping distances.