Four days before running into an older San Anselmo couple outside the Berkeley police station, a 78-year-old driver from Emeryville had also struck an 83-year-old woman in a different Berkeley crosswalk, according to individuals familiar with the incident.
The pedestrian, who lives in Berkeley, had been crossing Hearst Avenue just east of California Street on July 5 just before 12:30 p.m. when the driver, who was eastbound, hit her after stopping at the stop sign. The pedestrian was knocked down, left bloodied, bruised and sore, but escaped more serious injuries.
This week, BPD said it could not comment on the July 5 report at this time, but confirmed that the department had asked the DMV after Saturday’s crash to conduct a “priority reexamination” of the driver’s license. That requires a driver to contact the DMV within five working days to show they can safely operate a vehicle. If they fail to do so, their license is suspended immediately, police said.
As of Thursday afternoon, the couple who had been hit Saturday night remained at Highland Hospital, authorities said. The 74-year-old woman was in the ICU in critical condition, while her husband, 76, was in stable condition. Police said previously that the couple sustained head trauma when they were hit, resulting in major injuries.
Police said the preliminary primary collision factor Saturday night had been a failure to yield to pedestrians in a crosswalk. The driver remained at the scene and cooperated with the investigation after the crash, which took place just before 10 p.m. on Martin Luther King Jr. Way at Addison Street. The investigation is ongoing.
Berkeley Police Lt. Jen Tate, who oversees BPD’s traffic unit, said officers can ask the DMV for two types of driver review following a crash or other traffic incident that prompts concern about the safe operation of a vehicle.
Police — and others — can request a regular reexamination of a driver’s ability, which “may be conducted in person or over the telephone depending on the reason for the reexamination,” according to the DMV. “You may be required to present medical information and submit to a law, vision, and driving test, if appropriate.”
There’s also a priority request via law enforcement, which must be handled within five days, according to the DMV: “If you do not contact Driver Safety, your driving privilege will be suspended. You are required to submit to knowledge, vision, and driving tests and present medical information.”
Tate told Berkeleyside that it was too soon to say whether criminal charges might be filed in the case.
She urged all community members to be vigilant as they move through the city, and said officers are planning a traffic enforcement operation in the weeks ahead that will focus on drivers who don’t stop for pedestrians in the street.
Recent traffic safety work on MLK may not be enough
In the wake of Saturday’s crash, community members raised questions about traffic safety at the intersection where it happened. MLK is one of Berkeley’s high-injury streets: 86% of Berkeley’s severe and fatal collisions take place on just 15% of the city’s streets, according to a recent traffic analysis by the city.
In 2019, a Berkeley couple was nearly killed when a driver struck them in a crosswalk farther south on MLK.
Earlier this year, the city put in a new median at MLK and Addison so pedestrians would have a safe place to wait while crossing the busy street. In recent weeks, as part of its pedestrian plan, the city installed a flashing beacon at the intersection as well. The beacon became operational just last week, according to staff.
But the couple did not activate that beacon before crossing MLK on Saturday night, police said. Now, transportation staff is considering ways to encourage people to use it.
Several readers told Berkeleyside more could still be done to make the intersection safer.
“This was their whole plan to make it safer,” said Charles Siegel, a co-founder of local advocacy group Walk Bike Berkeley, of the median-and-flashing-beacon approach. “I think it failed the test already.”
One local resident pointed out that MLK and Addison is the only intersection on MLK between Dwight Way and Hearst Avenue that does not have a traffic signal.
And a local cyclist, who uses the intersection on a weekly trip from El Cerrito, described it as “the scariest part of my trip by far.”
After Saturday’s crash, Walk Bike Berkeley got in touch with Councilmember Kate Harrison, who represents downtown Berkeley, to alert her to some of its concerns and ideas for traffic safety work that might still be possible.
Harrison told Berkeleyside she is now looking into possible improvements at the intersection and hopes to bring a proposal forward in the fall after consultation with staff.
“I appreciate the work done by city staff to make this intersection safer, but we may need to do more to avoid another tragedy,” Harrison told Berkeleyside on Friday afternoon. “My thoughts go out to the family whose loved ones were harmed here.”