92-Year-Old Woman Hit by Bicyclist Dies

Mary Jean Smith, the 92-year-old El Cerrito woman who was gravely injured when hit by a bicyclist late Wednesday afternoon on Arlington Boulevard, has died, authorities said.

An elderly El Cerrito woman who suffered extremely critical injuries when she was hit by a bicyclist while walking across Arlington Boulevard about 5:30 p.m. Wednesday died just before midnight Wednesday night, authorities said.

The Contra Costa County coroner's bureau identified her as Mary Jean Smith, 92, of El Cerrito.

She was crossing Arlington near Brewster Drive near Arlington Park, not in a crosswalk, and had nearly finished crossing the street when the bicyclist – a 57-year-old El Cerrito man – collided with her, according to El Cerrito police.

The cyclist, who was northbound downhill in the bicycle lane, spotted her from about 70 feet away and yelled at her several times, Police Chief Sylvia Moir said. Smith panicked and stopped, started going forward and the stopped again, Moir said.

She suffered severe head trauma and was taken by ambulance to Cerrito Vista Park and airlifted by medical helicopter from there to John Muir Medical Center in Walnut Creek, Moir said.

Smith, a resident of the area for more than 45 years, had been out for her regular late afternoon/early evening walk, according to a notice distributed today, Thursday, on the Arlington Neighbors email list.

"Jean was a lovely lady," the notice said. "Even though she was 92, she was sharp, witty, always smiling, gracious, and very fit."

Smith died about 11:40 p.m., the coroner's bureau said.

The police department is conducting an investigation into who was at fault in the accident, Moir said.

Moir said collisions between bicyclists and pedestrians have become a problem in El Cerrito and that the police department is preparing safety information and advice for release to the public in the near future.

"We've had several collisions of bicyclists and pedestrians," she said.

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Paul June 07, 2012 at 06:46 PM
So very sad, this sounds like such an awful accident - my condolences to the friends and family of Ms. Smith. We should all be more careful, drive defensively, and not assert our perceived "rights" to the road. As vehicle operators, whether car, motorcycle, or bicycle, we are ultimately responsible for controlling our vehicles.
Belle Canto June 07, 2012 at 07:13 PM
Re Zack's comment above - per EC Patch the cyclist saw her well in advance (70- feet) and "yelled at her" "several times" to get out of his way - that she might not hear him (she had hearing aids) and that she might not be able to jump out of his way so he could get up enough speed for his next hill doesn't seem to have occurred to him. From the EC report he sounds cold and entitled and that he just didn't want to swerve or slow down - or god forbid stop and interrupt his ride - for an old lady. We all cross at that corner and yes there is no crosswalk but the visibility is good - she should have been safe crossing there. The bicyclist ran her down and killed her.
Kyle June 07, 2012 at 07:14 PM
Paul, that's very presumptive of you to say without knowing the facts. If the cyclist was travelling 25 mph (an assumption on my part), that equals 36 ft/second, which allows him 2 seconds to stop: from the time he perceives a problem, makes a decision, and then comes to a complete stop. That would be impossible under ideal conditions, never mind if it was downhill on pavement that is typically broken, patched, or covered with debris, as are many roads in the Bay Area. So let's wait until there are some facts before we start assigning blame in this tragic accident.
Pete Graham June 07, 2012 at 07:20 PM
If the bicyclist was doing the speed limit (which is 25) and saw her 70 feet away, he would have had plenty of time to come to a safe stop. A bicycle is a vehicle and MUST obey ALL traffic laws, not just the ones they want to. Pedestrians have the right of way, although she was not in a crosswalk, this is a very residential neighborhood and not realistic to expect people to go to the end of the block to cross the street.
Kyle June 07, 2012 at 07:34 PM
Pete, I'll repeat my above comment for your benefit: If the cyclist was travelling 25 mph (an assumption on my part), that equals 36 ft/second, which allows him 2 seconds to stop: from the time he perceives a problem, makes a decision, and then comes to a complete stop. That would be impossible under ideal conditions, never mind if it was downhill on pavement that is typically broken, patched, or covered with debris, as are many roads in the Bay Area. So let's wait until there are some facts before we start assigning blame in this tragic accident. Yes, cyclists AND CAR Drivers need to obey all traffic laws. Yet that doesn't stop cars from speeding above the 25 mph speed limit on most of the ridge routes (Arlington, Grizzley Peak, Skyline, etc) and tailgaiting/honking at/ dangerously passing cyclists who are going at the posted speed limit (as happened to me yesterday). Obey the laws and your an annoyance to impatient drivers (who put you in danger); go the speed of traffic (which is hard if you're not going downhill ) and you become the hazard. Damned if you do........
Paul June 07, 2012 at 07:45 PM
The assertion that 70 feet was sufficient to come to a complete stop is not correct. As others have pointed out, assuming a speed of 25 miles per hour (assumption), that gives the cyclist 2 seconds to respond and stop his bicycle - and that is not "plenty of time" - in fact it's not enough time at all. Pedestrians often don't know which way to move to avoid a bicycle. If it's a car, pedestrians know to get out of the middle of the road - but if it's a bike, they sometimes move back towards the middle of the road thinking that the bicycle will be traveling to the side of the road. In the worst case, at the same time the pedestrian makes that move, the cycist does the same and a collision results. In this case, the story notes that the bicycle was in the "bike lane" (although I think I'd call that the shoulder and not the bike lane) - and it sounds like the pedestrian wasn't sure whether to move to the shoulder or back into the street. All in all, it sounds like an awful accident.
John Stashik June 07, 2012 at 07:48 PM
It isn't difficult to stop for a pedestrian if paying attention. That's a big "if" the way some people operate their vehicles now. Too much speed for existing conditions will get a biker or driver into trouble. A biker has an easier time of steering around pedestrians, however. Should approach that curve with hands on brakes and be ready for anything.
Paul D June 07, 2012 at 08:05 PM
Kyle, if he was covering both brake handles as he should have been on a downhill slope near a public park and if he was going the speed limit (25) or less and if he saw the pedestrian crossing the street as he should have if he was alert and if he didn't let his ego get in the way trying to assert his 'right' to be on his bicycle, he had more than enough time to stop. All those things he should have done were his responsibility. He had more than enough time and space to stop.
Paul D June 07, 2012 at 08:16 PM
I love all the calculations people are throwing out here. The point is a GOOD driver has a responsibility to look forward and anticipate problems. An elderly person crossing the street in daylight hours must have come into his view way before 70 feet. The 70 feet point is where the bike rider says he started yelling at the victim. And if he first saw her only 70 feet from impact at a speed where he could not stop, he wasn't paying attention AND riding in an unsafe manner. He caused the death of a pedestrian on a clear day on a straight road with an unobstructed view. Stop trying to rationalize away his actions.
Denise Sangster June 07, 2012 at 09:10 PM
Neighbors, your comments warrant a discussion; there is a time and place... Now is the time to remember Jean... Thank you.
Mike Vandeman June 07, 2012 at 11:56 PM
Obviously, he was riding too fast for the conditions. If he only saw her from 70 feet away, then either he wasn't paying attention, or he was riding too fast. Lately, I see bicyclists deliberately running red lights, every time I go outside. I guess they think they are too important or virtuous to have to obey the laws that apply to everyone else. Mountain bikers are the same: they have an "entitlement mentality" whereby they feel no obligation to obey the law.
David D. June 08, 2012 at 01:09 AM
The posted recommended speed on Arlington Blvd. is 15MPH for that intersection.
Mr. Unknown June 08, 2012 at 01:10 AM
That intersection is terrible. The speed limit needs to be 15 mph, an additional crosswalk installed and rumble strips to slow the traffic down. I've lived near that intersection for 40 years, cars and cyclist travel WAY too fast. It always takes an event like this for the City to act.
Eliza O'Malley June 08, 2012 at 01:52 AM
I remember the day after they resurfaced the streets in my neighborhood, I encountered a cat who had been run over by someone exercising their new found freedom to drive fast pothole free. Reflecting on the recent election results, I wish the people of El Cerrito would put more money into school bonds and less into resurfacing streets. I think it's an excellent idea to go back and put rumble strips on Arlington. I would love to see sidewalks too!
JWhite June 08, 2012 at 02:38 AM
That intersection is a bad one. The crosswalk is poorly located -- it's nearly invisible to southbound Arlington traffic until it's too late for them to stop. Twice I've seen people get hit in that crosswalk. Not to mention the fact that if you're coming from Brewster and trying to cross Arlington (as Jean apparently was doing) you have to walk along a dangerous curved section of Arlington with no sidewalk to get to the crosswalk. Most people cross outside of the crosswalk, where Brewster actually intersects Arlington, because you have better visibility in both directions. Jean was crossing outside of the crosswalk for a good reason. I'm unclear why the cyclist shouted "wait" rather than just stopping, which is what I would have done (I bike there frequently), but perhaps there were extenuating circumstances. In any case, it's an intersection that could use a makeover. Cars and bikes ignore flashing lights but a couple of good speed bumps would do the trick. A better location for the crosswalk would also help (as would sidewalks on the west side).
Steve June 08, 2012 at 04:01 AM
First and most importantly, condolences to the family and friends of Ms. Smith. I've read this and articles elsewhere. Here is my analysis. It has been stated that Ms. Smith was not in a crosswalk. Based on the photos with the markings she was not in the *marked* crosswalk but was crossing at an intersection (the investigation markings are right under the street sign) and intersections are typically defined as crosswalks whether marked or not (CVC 275 (a)) though in this case the attorneys may have a field day trying to argue over the definition of "sidewalk." Also, Smith, a 92-year-old woman walking with sticks or canes, was, according to reports in the CC Times, finishing crossing the street. She had to have been in the street for many seconds - she didn't suddenly step into traffic. The cyclist, Mr. Herring, claims he would have missed her but she started to run which I take to mean he intended to pass in front of her. He also claims to have seen her 70-feet ahead while ECPD Sgt. Maples stated that she would have been visible 400 feet back. Herring also said he "I had some good speed, but I was slowing down for the curve" and that he shouted at least three times. So he had to have his hands on the brakes and had time to yell but not enough time to stop or at least collide at minimal speed. Continued...
Steve June 08, 2012 at 04:24 AM
Herring said that it is a bad intersection and he is extra careful when crossing there. Presumably a reasonable person with that knowledge would take reasonable extra care in that location regardless of his mode of transportation. I have to conclude that: If he should have seen her 400 feet ahead and didn't then he was insufficiently attentive. If he could only see 70-feet ahead then he should have been traveling at a speed that would allow him to stop within 70-feet. Basic speed law "...due regard for visibility..." If he was so well aware of the dangers of this intersection he should have taken account of that fact in his riding. I have no belief that there was any malice. Herring seems to have been concerned for the victim and shaken by her death. It's a sad case for everyone involved. But should this end up in civil or criminal court, I'm willing to bet that he will wish he hadn't talked to the media. I am fully aware that it is early and much more may come to light - this is just based on information currently available to me. I certainly don't come to my conclusions out of antipathy toward cyclists - I rode my bike to work this morning and would like to see more people cycling. But though, just as with drivers and pedestrians, each cyclist is an individual I expect to see some people start beating the drum of "see how cyclists behave..."
Heather Edgar June 08, 2012 at 04:59 AM
I think it's best to never walk alone late at night. I also feel sorry for Jean.
Zack M. June 08, 2012 at 08:24 AM
Belle, that is incredibly, incredibly presumptuous of you. You're also misquoting this article. He did not necessarily yell at her to get out of his way. He was more likely simply yelling to get her attention. No one wants to run someone down. Though I didn't mention it at the time because I didn't think it was the place, the article also mentions that she wasn't in a crosswalk. I thought it much more appropriate to focus on the fact that tragically a woman was killed, not blame anyone - while just pointing out some of the facts that this article failed to present, which I feared would lead to people jumping on and instantly blaming the cyclist, exactly as you have done. The other report I was referencing also indicated that there were skid marks on the road, indicating that he clearly tried to stop, not run her down in cold blood as you suggest. I really, really hate when people try to imply that all cyclists are entitled and are out to kill people. It's entirely untrue and does nothing to address some of the safety concerns that led to this poor woman being killed and another person sent to the hospital. I'd like to see any car traveling the speed limit stop in 70 feet, the distance indicated in this report. It's completely tragic that a wonderful woman died, but there's no indication at all that the cyclist was doing anything illegal or acted with anything even resembling malice as you suggest. Last I checked, in this country you're innocent until proven guilty.
Zack M. June 08, 2012 at 08:34 AM
I'll also repeat - according to other reports, the cyclist was going at or under the speed limit, and he may not have been able to stop in 70 feet. He was obeying traffic laws. There was no report that he ran a stop sign, was speeding, or anything like it, as the woman also wasn't in a crosswalk. You're suggesting some kind of total double-standard. Cyclists have to obey ALL traffic laws, but pedestrians are free to jaywalk because it's not realistic to go to the end of the block? I would disagree - if you expect bicycles to follow ALL traffic laws, pedestrians have to as well. You're proposing a double-standard, one where the potentially most vulnerable street users should just walk out wherever they please no matter the rules or safety of the situation? You do realize how little sense that argument makes, Pete, right? I totally agree with you that cyclists and drivers need to be cautious of other road users, especially pedestrians. You're going faster - it's your responsibility as a user of that space to make sure you can control your vehicle. But that responsibility goes for everyone using that space. I'm not in any way implying that the woman was "to blame", but I don't think you're at all fair in your instant blame of the cyclist either.
Zack M. June 08, 2012 at 08:38 AM
I see drivers rolling through stop signs, speeding, texting, talking on the phone, driving in lanes that aren't theirs, double-parking, and not signaling their turns every time I go outside. Drivers LOVE to act like they never break any rules and it's only cyclists who ever do anything wrong. But all these "accidents" drivers have kill 35,000 +/- people a year in this country. Who's entitled again?
Belle Canto June 08, 2012 at 05:41 PM
Re the crosswalk: It is located above the pass thru walkway that leads from Arlington down to Contra Costa Dr. I hardly ever ever see anyone use the walkway down but suspect that is the reason for the current crosswalk location. Crosswalk would be more useful if it were actually at the corner of Arlington and the (south) Brewster - that is where many/most people from neighborhood cross to go to park. People can also cross north at Buckingham/Arlington corner where there is a well-marked crosswalk but it is a ways north above park so lots do cross at Brewster/Arlington.
Belle Canto June 08, 2012 at 05:42 PM
Steve, This is a fine, very well-reasoned analysis. Thank you.
Brian V. June 08, 2012 at 09:49 PM
Excellent analysis. I'll throw one more thing in there: The collision would have been likely avoided if Ms. Smith had followed a steady, predictable pace across the entire road. It's unfortunate that, in a panic, Ms. Smith followed a direct series of actions that would have confused any oncoming vehicle or cyclist - and she ultimately came to a stop in the one place and at the one moment in time where she would be hit. Unfortunately, it's difficult for humans to judge oncoming speeding objects in this fashion. Pedestrians make this mistake all the time. Conversely, Mr. Herring (the cyclist) missed an opportunity to stop completely, but in all fairness had no idea that the person who was approaching his path (but not yet in it) would suddenly run directly into his path and stop, and he did not have enough time to react to that. One can't claim that this is anything but a tragic, freak accident. Pedestrians need to remember that operators of motor vehicles and bicycles may have trouble avoiding collisions if you put yourself in a dangerous situation and then behave erratically. The more you change direction, the more you defeat someone's effort to circumvent you if they need to. Cyclists, of course, are obliged to avoid collisions, too. In dangerous areas there should be extra signage to alert cyclists that they face a particular hazard at a certain point in the road, even if accidents would mostly be avoidable. Better safe than sorry.
best bookkeeper June 08, 2012 at 09:55 PM
guy must be great on his car horn too. i usually apply the brakes when i see someone crossing the street--not yell, not honk, stop. pedestrians have the right of way at intersections, right? i thought the police report said the skid marks were several FEET long, guess he tried to stop when he feared for his own safety, otherwise, old folks beware, he's in a hurry.
Steve June 09, 2012 at 03:44 PM
Perhaps luck would have intervened if she had continued at a steady pace. People drop things, have a hat blow off, stop momentarily when they hear a noise or shout, slip, remember something and turn around. Driving/riding leaving the minimum margin for safety based on assuming perfection and good luck is not safe defensive driving. Pedestrians can't suddenly walk into oncoming traffic. She didn't. There are lots of vehicle code sections relating to pedestrians and crosswalks. One of them is 21950 (c) which is pretty darn clear: The driver of a vehicle approaching a pedestrian within any marked or unmarked crosswalk shall exercise all due care and shall reduce the speed of the vehicle or take any other action relating to the operation of the vehicle as necessary to safeguard the safety of the pedestrian. And even though pedestrians crossing not in a crosswalk must yield to vehicles "so near as to constitute an immediate hazard" 21954 (b) continues "The provisions of this section shall not relieve the driver of a vehicle from the duty to exercise due care for the safety of any pedestrian upon a roadway."
Chris Fullmer June 09, 2012 at 08:59 PM
One thought here though, this was 5:30pm in June, which means the sun was still shining. Sunset was just before 8:30 on that day. So this was about 3 hours before sunset. I know in the hills the sun can "set" behind trees, hills, and homes early. But 5:30 is not accurately characterized as "late at night" at this time of the year.
skell June 10, 2012 at 03:55 AM
What a tragic story. My condolensces to the family of ms. Smith and all those involved. I am a pedestrian who uses the path at that crosswalk to go to the park. I would love to see speed bumps, a flashing crosswalk, or better yet a flashing light like the one by the kensington library. Do you know if anyone has started a petition of any sort or how to get on the Arlington neighborhood email list?
Debi Bernabe June 13, 2012 at 02:14 PM
Our deepest condolences to Jim & Family at this difficult time. Unfortunately unforeseen occurrences happen but for now rather than have a debate of who is in the right or wrong we should allow the family to grieve in peace. Love, Debi, Ramil and Sunny
vicki June 14, 2012 at 08:23 PM
If a woman had been hit by a car, would this news be "big"? Probably not. Being killed by a cyclist is more uncommon & sensational than “just” being hit by a car. It doesn’t help that another elderly pedestrian was recently killed by a cyclist in SF. But there is a big difference between the two incidents. The SF victim was in a crosswalk. That cyclist was blowing thru stop signs & lights to gain speed downhill & tried to make a yellow light thru a busy intersection. The El Cerrito incident involves a blind curve & a pedestrian on her regular stroll crossing out of the crosswalk, a guy on his bicycle commute home & not thrill riding down the steep streets of SF. As I drive Arlington daily, I'm often tail gated & glared at when driving 25 mph. When I bike Arlington, I do enjoy the downhill reward I gain after cresting a hill (but always have my hands on the brakes for fear of pot holes or unaware cars). I "jay walk" in along my steep street because I can't see the cars speeding downhill if I use the cross walk at the bottom of it's blind curve. The negligent SF cyclist is being charged with felony vehicle manslaughter. The EC cyclist shouldn’t be damned for an accident that could have easily involved me or you being taken by surprise while behind 4 or 2 wheels. Instead of blame, honor Jean Smith by making a real effort to slow down & take greater precaution when driving, riding or crossing the streets in hopes of preventing yet another tragic accident.


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