News - October 20, 2010

Fatalities prompt probe of El Camino safety

by Dave Boyce

Plans are under way to try to improve the safety of El Camino Real as it passes through Atherton between Selby Lane and Valparaiso Avenue, a stretch of road that has seen two fatalities in the three weeks.

Honofre Mendoza, a 55-year-old homeless man, died Friday, Oct. 15, after being struck while crossing the road by a car just north of the intersection of Watkins Avenue at 6:15 in the morning, police said. The area where Mr. Mendoza was struck has no crosswalk.

A block away on Sept. 30, bicyclist Christopher Chandler was riding in an uncontrolled crosswalk — not associated with a stop sign or traffic light — when he was struck and killed where El Camino Real intersects with Isabella Avenue.

Atherton's police and public works departments and city manager's office are talking with the state Department of Transportation, which has jurisdiction over El Camino Real, "to identify any factors ... that need to be addressed in order to improve traffic safety," Lt. Joe Wade said in an Atherton Police Department bulletin published on Oct. 16.

For its part, starting on Monday, Oct. 18, the police department boosted traffic patrols in the area and will have officers visiting Atherton schools to talk about pedestrian and bicycle safety, Lt. Wade said.

Mr. Mendoza, though homeless, was a familiar presence in Atherton and known to the police. "It was not out of place for him to be there," Lt. Wade said, adding that the roadsides of El Camino are popular with homeless people traveling between Redwood City and Menlo Park.

Mr. Mendoza's companion crossing the street with him was not injured and, as the only witness, was interviewed by police, Lt. Wade said.

The driver of the Toyota Camry that struck Mr. Mendoza is a 44-year-old man and Atherton resident who had been traveling alone and who volunteered to be tested for drug or alcohol abuse, Lt. Wade said. Test results were negative, he said.

Police closed traffic on El Camino for four hours in the southbound direction and three hours northbound while investigating and recording evidence at what had been designated as a crime scene.

"That's what we classify it as when we have a fatality," Lt. Wade said. "Just to make sure that all the evidence is preserved as best as possible."


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