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January 14, 2004

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Publication Date: Wednesday, January 14, 2004

Police probe pedestrian traffic death Police probe pedestrian traffic death (January 14, 2004)

** Witness says body was dragged 50 feet.

By David Boyce

Almanac Staff Writer

As Santa Cruz Avenue bends and heads toward Sand Hill Road, it has two crosswalks not governed by stoplights: Near Sharon Road, the crosswalk spans two lanes of traffic in a residential single-family-home area and warns oncoming drivers with flashing lights embedded in the pavement when it is in use.

The other crosswalk -- at Palo Alto Way near the Menlo Commons retirement community and a convalescent hospital -- crosses four lanes of traffic in an uninterrupted quarter-mile stretch of road between Alameda de las Pulgas and Sand Hill Road. The crosswalk, which is under San Mateo County jurisdiction, has only the traditional yellow pedestrian warning signs.

The Palo Alto Way crosswalk was where longtime Menlo Park resident and nurse Atefeh "Amy" Bijan, 75, died shortly after 11 a.m. January 9 after being struck by a southbound vehicle driven by Atherton resident Adele Elliot, 83, said Sgt. Paul Kunkel of the Menlo Park Police Department.

Police are investigating the accident.

Ms. Elliot was taken to the hospital as a precaution but was not arrested or cited, police said. The San Mateo County Coroner's Office performed an autopsy on Ms. Bijan on January 10, but the results may not be available for several weeks.
Witness account

"She didn't appear to realize that she'd hit someone," said Marie Klein, who lives on Santa Cruz Avenue, about 300 feet from the crosswalk.

Ms. Klein said she had been standing on the sidewalk in front of her house and had watched the events unfold immediately after hearing "a very loud noise" at the time of the accident.

Ms. Klein said the car -- a two-seater Mercedes-Benz -- stopped briefly in the crosswalk, and then continued forward at about 5 mph for about 50 feet while pulling to the side of the road and dragging the body of Ms. Bijan along underneath the car.

When the driver parked her car and stepped out, Ms. Klein said she screamed at the driver: "There's a person under your car!" Ms. Klein then ran over to the scene while dialing 911 on her cell phone.

The driver did not respond, Ms. Klein said, but "just wandered around, wondering what was going on," eventually coming over and tugging on Ms. Klein's sleeve. Ms. Klein said she then "yelled it into her face," at which point she said the driver appeared to grasp the import of what had happened.
Calling 911

While calling 911 on her cell phone, Ms. Klein said she was twice put on hold and twice disconnected, but that her third call was successful. She said the dispatchers had not yet been told of the incident and had trouble following her directions. About 12 minutes elapsed before emergency personnel arrived on the scene, she said.

Ms. Klein said she has talked twice with police since the accident.

Calls to 911 made on a cell phone in San Mateo County are routed to the California Highway Patrol, which typically puts the caller on hold while connecting the call to the county's communications center, said Commander Bruce Goitia of the Menlo Park Police Department.

Ms. Klein said a driver who said she was a physician had determined before the arrival of emergency personnel that Ms. Bijan was not breathing and had no pulse.

Ms. Klein said the pavement was dry and that she heard no screeching of tires before the accident. The right side of the windshield of Ms. Elliot's car was "totally smashed," Ms. Klein said, adding that other witnesses had described the accident as "a blanket flying into the air" that then fell onto the ground in front of the car.

As to the differences between the crosswalks at Sharon Road and at Palo Alto Way, Commander Goitia said that while he was not familiar with specific details, he was not aware of a history of accidents at the Palo Alto Way crosswalk and that it has a clear line-of-sight for oncoming vehicles.

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