Public Health officials launched a campaign this week urging people to be cautious in what’s shaping up to be a record-setting year for pedestrian and bicyclist fatalities, including the most recent death Wednesday of a 5-year-old girl.
That girl, identified Thursday by Kern County Coroner’s officials as Emily Guillen-Casillas, was walking on a sidewalk with a woman near Harris Road and California Springs Drive Wednesday afternoon when a motorist lost control of her car and struck both pedestrians.
Guillen-Casillas was rushed to Kern Medical, where she died at about 3 p.m. The adult pedestrian was listed in critical condition Wednesday evening.
They appear to be anomalies in what has been a rash of otherwise similar occurrences: pedestrians being struck by vehicles. Pedestrians and bicyclists were at fault in 73 percent of such accidents between 2014 and 2017 that resulted in deaths, according to a Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Report updated Oct. 9. At least 55 pedestrians and nine cyclists have been killed in Kern County over that three-year period, according to the report.
Kern County Public Health Services Department officials say they’ve been mapping the pedestrian and bicycle fatalities in Kern and began meeting with Third District Supervisor Mike Maggard in an attempt to bring about change.
They’ve found some hotspots, like a dangerous intersection near Foothill High School that the county worked on with CalTrans to install bright lights that begin to strobe when a pedestrian enters the crosswalk, whether they hit a button or not, Maggard said.
They also identified an intersection on Edison Highway near Mercado Latino that has seen several overnight fatalities, Maggard added.
“But what really needs to be done is some sort of public education program,” Maggard said.
That’s where Kern Public Health has stepped in.
It has begun spreading awareness messages on social media sites and billboards, urging pedestrians to do three things as they approach crosswalks: stop and wait until there are no approaching vehicles; look both ways and stay away from the blind spots, then make eye contact with the driver when they’ve stopped; and wave to the driver before crossing the road.
“The campaign was launched in an attempt to provide education to the community on safely crossing roads,” Kern Public Health spokeswoman Michelle Corson said.
Maggard praised those programs, but said more was still needed. He called for public service announcements on radio, television, in newsprint and any other effective medium.
“We need to treat it as we do other public health issues,” Maggard said.
The tragic case of 5-year-old Guillen-Casas is in a category all its own, but generally, Maggard said, these fatalities are avoidable.
“This is the most vexing, but potentially beneficial point,” Maggard said. “How do we get people to not step into traffic?”