NEWS Pedestrian death at Highway 12 intersection adds to history of fatal accidents

A car turns right from Verano Avenue onto Highway 12, next to a small memorial where Julio Estrada, 36, was fatally injured. Photo taken on Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2023. (Robbi Pengelly/Index-Tribune)

When Boyes Hot Springs resident Gina Carrillo Pomeroy heard sirens on Monday at the corner of Verano Avenue and Highway 12, she feared that another pedestrian had fallen victim to the intersection that claimed her father’s life.

She is right to be concerned.

Shortly after 8 p.m. on Jan. 16, Julio Estrada, 36, was hit and killed by a pickup truck while walking his dog on a crosswalk across Highway 12, according to Napa. Jaret Paulson, public information officer with the California Highway Patrol.

Sonoma man Alvaro Avalos, 24, was driving a 2019 Toyota Tundra west on Verano Boulevard and then south on Highway 12, according to authorities. For “unexplained reasons, the truck collided with pedestrians” at the pedestrian crossing.

Avalos stopped immediately and remained at the scene while the Sonoma Valley Fire Department attended to Estrada, who was pronounced dead at the scene. The dog suffered minor injuries and was taken by Animal Control to be reunited with its owner.

Drugs and alcohol are not believed to have played a role in the crash and the driver was not speeding, Paulson said. Avalos was not arrested at the scene and an investigation into the incident is ongoing.

Monday’s fatal crash added to the list of major accidents at the Verano-Highway 12 intersection and elsewhere along Highway 12.

In November 2020, Pomeroy’s father, Raymond Carrillo, was struck and killed on Verano Avenue on Main Street. He is 78 years old.

“When I heard the sirens and they pulled over on or near Verano Avenue, I walked anxiously to the scene of the accident and prayed that the outcome was not fatal or seriously injured,” Pomeroy said in an email.

In March 2021, 85-year-old James Pendegast was struck and killed by a work vehicle while attempting to cross the northern sidewalk at the Verano Avenue-Highway 12 intersection, causing his hat and shoes to fell from his body in a violent crash,” the Index-Tribune reported at the time.

Two 12-year-old girls were taken by ambulance to Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital after being hit by an SUV on a pedestrian crossing at the same intersection. One of the youths was seriously injured.

Sonoma County Supervisor Susan Gorin said Estrada’s death at the intersection was “absolutely tragic” and that a contact with State Route 12, the operator of State Highway 12, was scheduled for next week. Meet with Caltrans.

“I’m really concerned that Caltrans isn’t prioritizing this intersection to improve pedestrians,” Goering said. “This intersection is challenging for us to achieve Vision Zero, a strategy to eliminate all traffic deaths and serious injuries.”

The Springs Municipal Advisory Committee issued an urgent request last March that “Caltrans should take early action to meet the following requirements for pedestrian, bicycle, and vehicle safety in the City of Springs…Caltrans personnel are aware of two individuals and Two teenage girls were injured at that intersection. All of these incidents happened within less than a quarter of a mile…”

A 2017 Permit Sonoma analysis of crash data from 2011 to 2015 identified 11 Sonoma Valley fatalities, three of which occurred on Highway 12, making it second only to Highway 121 with 6 fatalities. The second deadliest road with fatal crashes.

“The collision rates along SR 12, Arnold Drive, Warm Springs Road, Madrone Road, SR 116, Watmaugh Road and Eighth Street East were higher than the underlying statewide average,” the analysis said.

Gorin has some suggestions for improving pedestrian safety in the hallway, including protecting turn signals and adding buckets to place reflective flags, assuming it would improve pedestrian visibility.

“Before Caltrans sets out to improve this intersection, I will absolutely do everything I can to improve visibility and pedestrian safety margins at this very important Springs intersection,” Gorin said.

As Pomeroy watched first responders tend to the victims Monday night, she couldn’t ignore the parallels of her father’s death and other recent heartaches on a troubled road.

“My daughter Emma and I do everything we can to avoid falling apart every time. It brings my dad Recarrillo’s death to the forefront as it happened yesterday,” Pomeroy said.

She said she would be contacting the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Vehicle Safety Hotline to alert everyone to the notorious intersection.

“I don’t think any calls I make will change anything. But at this point I’m determined to do my best, whether I’m going to be heard or not,” Pomeroy said. “How many casualties do you need to have before you take action?”

Monday’s death has reignited public outrage and questioning online about the death of a pedestrian in Sonoma Valley.

“Until our leaders make better safety changes, we have to see in this area how many people have died in the California Transit Bay Area – Sonoma Sonoma Sheriff’s 4th District!” Tricia Gm Comments on Facebook wrote in.

“Nowadays, with trucks the size of military tanks, getting hit by a truck is like getting hit by a half-ton brick wall,” comments Steve Meloan.

“My mom was shot there a year and a half ago and is now disabled,” Diana Ziliotto said on Facebook. “When will it stop?”

Contact Chase Hunter and follow @Chase_HunterB on twitter.

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