Mom pushes for lower speed limit after son’s death

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Teresa Savaikie, right, family and friends, outside the sentencing for the motorist who went through a red light and killed her son Wyatt on Bouquet Canyon road a little over a year ago. Savaikie wants the city to help make the roads safer in Santa Clarita. (Photo by David Crane Southern California News Group)

Sometimes as reporters, we need to slow down and listen to someone’s story. It’s more difficult to do these days. Just a few years ago, a reporter had time to meet sources for lunch, or chit chat on the phone. In a click-bait, 24-hour news cycle world, it just doesn’t happen as much. Teresa Savaiki is a Mom who knew this, but kept writing to me and calling me. And I’m glad she did. Her son Wyatt was killed in a crosswalk, one of about a dozen killed in less than two years in the Santa Clarita Valley.  She wants to do something about it, so other parents don’t go through her pain. Here’s her story with photos by David Crane:  (Daily News,  Aug. 8, 2016):

At the intersection of Bouquet and Seco Canyon roads in Santa Clarita, a life ended and a mission began.

The life taken was that of Wyatt Savaikie, a blond-haired boy with blue eyes who walked within the marked intersection across Bouquet Canyon Road one day last summer on his way to the neighborhood gym. A driver sped through a red light there and struck the youth, killing him. Wyatt was 14.

The mission began shortly after by his mother Teresa, who said if the speed limit at that intersection and along other major thoroughfares across the Santa Clarita Valley were lower, her son and other pedestrians would never have died in traffic.

On Monday morning, Ralph Steger, 75, the man who struck Wyatt, was sentenced to 60 days in Los Angeles County jail, three months probation, a $500 fine and community service. It’s more than Savaikie expected since Steger wasn’t under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Though he had exceeded the speed limit, ran the red light, and hit Wyatt, what he did is considered an accident and therefore a misdemeanor in the state of California.

But for Savaikie, his sentence doesn’t go far enough.

“I think we really need to address safety on all the streets and roads out here in Santa Clarita,” Savaikie said tearfully outside the courthouse. “The speed limits need to change. The roads need to stop being open highways. Our elected officials and governmental agencies owe us more than that. They owe us safety.”

Savaikie and her family have filed a lawsuit against the city of Santa Clarita, Los Angeles County, the state, and Southern California Edison, for negligence and creating a dangerous condition on public property.

The lawsuit is pending.

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Many family and friends have tattoos in memory of Wyatt Savaikie who was killed on Bouquet Canyon road a little over a year ago by a motorist going through a red light. Wyatt’s mother, Teresa Savaikie wants the city to help make the roads safer in Santa Clarita. (Photo by David Crane Southern California News Group)
SPEED LIMITS AND GROWTH

There were 11 pedestrian fatalities in the Santa Clarita Valley in 20 months beginning in August 2014 through April 2016, according to figures provided by the Los Angeles County’s Department of Public Works. Eight of those deaths occurred within the city of Santa Clarita. Two of them happened within the state’s jurisdiction while one death occurred within the county’s unincorporated area.

Wyatt Savaikie was killed within the city of Santa Clarita, in an intersection where the speed limit on Bouquet Canyon Road is 45 mph. In March of 2015, just three months before Wyatt was struck, the red light cameras at that intersection were removed. The Santa Clarita City Council voted 3-2 to abandon the program because it was no longer financially viable.

But the cameras had been helping. A city analysis showed a 67 percent reduction in the average number of yearly collisions caused by red-light running.

Savaikie and others say the city’s population growth and the speed limits are no longer compatible. With almost 215,000 residents, Santa Clarita has become the third largest city in Los Angeles County. From 2000 to 2010, the population grew 18 percent, “almost twice the growth experience in all of Los Angeles County,” and a result of the new housing construction and annexations of areas into city limits, according to the city’s website.

Savaikie said all that growth means more pedestrians and cyclists are competing with more motorists and the city isn’t doing enough to alleviate the problem.

But city officials said speed limits are based on state-regulated formulas and determined after traffic and engineering surveys are conducted every five years.

The intersection at Bouquet Canyon and Seco Canyon roads is expected to be studied between 2017 and 2019, said Gus Pivetti, senior traffic engineer for Santa Clarita’s Department of Public Works.

“We establish speed limits based on a rational and defensible procedure,” Pivetti said. The number of collisions as well as the free-flowing speed of traffic and the conditions of the roadway will be studied, he added.

CHANGING BEHAVIOR

Slower speed limits don’t always deter bad driving, said Sgt. Scott Shoemaker, with the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station.

Shoemaker said most of the citations handed out in Santa Clarita are for speeding.

“There’s a huge difference between speed limits and what a person will do,” he noted.

He said the sheriff’s department has no input on changing speed limits.

“If the city was to come to us we would offer them an opinion,” Shoemaker said.

Shoemaker said some of those eight pedestrians killed over a 20-month period were walking into traffic.

“We’re getting to become a big city so there’s a lot of people out there,” he said. “Not everybody drives safely.”

Santa Clarita city officials said they can’t comment on Savaikie’s cause because of the pending lawsuit but do acknowledge there are several hot spots where speeding is an issue, including at Bouquet and Seco Canyon Road.

“We’re getting ready to start a campaign so that people will drive more safely,” said Gail Morgan, spokeswoman for the city of Santa Clarita.

The campaign highlights the three “E’s,” education, engineering, and enforcement. She said the goal is to change behavior.

“We do have a traffic safety plan we’re working on. We’re trying to do more,” she added.

Still, speed limits do change, sometimes quickly.

In May, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted to lower the speed limit from 55 mph to 45 mph on a winding part of Bouquet Canyon Road, along a stretch of highway north of the city of Santa Clarita where motorists were veering off the road. The change followed two fatal traffic accidents only a few months apart. One of those deaths occurred in January.

Savaikie, who has two other children, said now that the sentencing is over, she’ll focus on getting her message out to help prevent more deaths.

“The victims are always blamed instead of the bad drivers that take advantage of already unsafe roads, playing Russian Roulette with their car as their weapon of choice along these freeway-like roads,” Savaikie, 54, said. “They (government officials) must invest in making our streets safe for everyone that has a right to use them and to be safe doing so. Roads are for people whether walking, biking or driving. Yet our (officials) fail, absolutely fail to make pedestrian safety a priority.”

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