More stop signs, traffic lights could save lives

Alyson Jeong, News Editor

Tribe Tribune reporters were too intimidated by traffic to take a photo from the west side of Harbor Blvd. Senior Heath Hemmer was hit by a car in this crosswalk his sophomore year. (Photo by Alyson Jeong)

“I was terrified. It was one of the few times in my life where I actually felt like I was going to die.”

Senior Heath Hemmer still remembers the trauma of being hit by a car his sophomore year. Hemmer was in a crosswalk, on his way to Big Slice Pizza on Harbor Blvd., when he was hit by a driver in a red MINI Cooper.

“I was closing my eyes and bracing for impact,” Hemmer said. “Within about two minutes of me getting hit, there was an officer already right there trying to help me get back up. About five minutes after that, I started seeing ambulances and firetrucks.”

On the accident’s police report, two female witnesses said they saw the driver on her cell phone. 

Hemmer’s injuries from the accident were severe, including road rash abrasions and two broken teeth, with one tooth puncturing through his bottom lip.

Despite the traumatic event, Hemmer says that the school handled the situation well. 

“The school can’t control crappy people driving, it’s just not possible,” Hemmer said. “It’s simply people just not paying attention when they’re driving and the fact that that crosswalk is literally a death trap.”

The crosswalk in question is used by students to reach several eateries on the west side of Harbor Blvd. Although the crosswalk is clearly painted, there is neither a traffic light nor stop sign at the crosswalk. In other words, drivers are less likely to slow down or stop for pedestrians.

The school can’t control crappy people driving, it’s just not possible. It’s simply people just not paying attention when they’re driving and the fact that that crosswalk is literally a death trap.”

— Senior Heath Hemmer

Fellow Tribe Tribune reporter Kara Kim and I were assigned to get photos for the story on pedestrian safety. When we approached the crosswalk on Harbor Blvd, we understood the problem clearly. We were struck with fear watching cars race through the crosswalk without taking any notice of pedestrians.

“It was terrifying,” Kara said. “I wasn’t even able to cross the street to get a good photo. I thought it would be safer because of Heath’s accident two years ago, but it’s just the same.”

In a recent Tribe Tribune poll regarding campus safety, over half of the FUHS staff members said the city should make the crosswalk safer.

Hemmer agrees and explains that the accident changed his life. “It really impacted my daily routine,” he said. “I used to go out to lunch every day in that area. I actually used to enjoy shopping down there.” 

Hemmer’s accident wasn’t the first time there was a concern about pedestrian safety around Fullerton Union High School.

FUHS campus supervisor Rose King agrees with Hemmer’s concern for safety, reflecting on her own experiences with reckless drivers. 

“Every year kids get hit. Heck, I’ve even been in my golf cart and they’ve almost hit me,” King said. “I mean, it’s not like they didn’t see me, but they’re going so fast. They don’t really care.”

Although King sympathizes with student concerns, she says that the drivers are not entirely to blame. She recalls a situation when a driver almost hit an FUHS student who refused to use a crosswalk.

“After the whole situation, I go over to the driver because I think she’s having a heart attack,” King said. “So she rolls down her window and says, ‘I could have killed him.’ I said, ‘You didn’t.’ She goes, ‘But I could have killed him.’”

King says the best way to prevent accidents is to educate students about safety precautions.

“I think sometimes we think we’re invincible, and that everybody’s going to stop,” King said. “We think we live in this bubble and if something doesn’t affect us, it doesn’t exist. Wrong mentality.”

In a Tribe Tribune survey about pedestrian safety, a majority of FUHS staff and students said they felt the most unsafe at the Pomona and Ellis intersection near Fullerton College. (Photo by Kara Kim)

Although students need to be careful, the City of Fullerton should install more lighted crosswalks. Among the 200 students the Tribe Tribune surveyed, 23 reported having had close calls with vehicles even while walking in the crosswalks. Most responses mentioned the Pomona and Ellis intersection near Fullerton College, and some noted Harbor Blvd. where Hemmer’s accident took place.

60% of teachers and staff said pedestrians would be safer if there were an extra stop sign, traffic light, or crossing guard. 44% reported that they have been injured or in threat of injury on or around the campus.

According to Fullerton City Hall, installing a stop sign or light is a challenge. The city must weigh safety concerns against the need to keep traffic flowing.

However, if a petitioner can show a pattern of accidents, the city will make the change. Some steps for installing a stop sign include adherence to the Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) guidelines and a formal discussion with Fullerton City’s Traffic Engineering Division. 

The Tribe Tribune staff understands that school officials are busy running the school. But we believe the school administration should petition the City of Fullerton to install better pedestrian crosswalks in the areas surrounding campus.

The school should create a petition and gather evidence of the intersection’s history. Then send a letter of concern to the City’s Traffic Engineering Division (303 W. Commonwealth Avenue, Fullerton, CA, 92832).

 The Fullerton community must collectively take action and prevent further accidents. Installing a stop sign or stoplight could save lives.