Taking Steps Toward Safety
By Phuong Ly
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 13, 2000
Rajiv S. Vaidya had a couple of hours to spare before meeting his fiancee and college friends at a Smithsonian museum for a film.
About 4:40 p.m. Friday, the 26-year-old aspiring writer left his Silver Spring apartment to run an errand or get a snack, his family said. As he waited on the median to cross East West Highway near 16th Street, a car drove up the median, hit a sign and then struck Vaidya. The driver stopped--but only to pull the fender away from a tire before driving away, witnesses told police.
Vaidya died Monday of head and internal injuries and became the 14th pedestrian fatality this year in Montgomery County. The body of the 13th victim, John Wesley Hall, 40, of no fixed address in Gaithersburg, was found in the eastbound lanes of Montgomery Village Avenue about 10:30 p.m. Saturday. He had been struck by several vehicles, police said.
Yesterday, county leaders announced increased efforts to curb aggressive driving and encourage pedestrians to walk with caution.
"Crossing the street in Montgomery County should not be a death-defying act," said County Executive Douglas M. Duncan (D) at a news conference where he was flanked by Vaidya's family.
Duncan, who in June launched a blue-ribbon panel to study pedestrian safety, said the county is starting an awareness campaign that includes broadcast and print ads.
Del. William A. Bronrott (D-Montgomery), who heads the pedestrian committee, said the group plans to ask the county to increase funding for law enforcement, education and red-light cameras. The committee wants to require all new construction projects to have pedestrian-friendly features and to create a team to review the locations of crosswalks and islands.
Bronrott said he is drafting a bill that would create a state fund so that other communities could apply for grants to start pedestrian safety campaigns.
Suburban sprawl has caused unsafe conditions, Bronrott said, adding that "it's going to take a while to dig ourselves out of this hole."
The 14 pedestrian deaths in Montgomery this year are one fewer than the homicide total. Last year, 17 people died while crossing the street in the county, compared with 13 homicide victims. The number of pedestrian accident victims that Suburban Hospital has treated increased 16 percent from 1998 to 1999, according to statistics that Bronrott cited.
Most of the deaths have occurred in lower Montgomery, where roads were widened long ago to make room for increasing traffic but where many people still depend on walking and public transportation.
Yesterday's news conference was held at Georgia and Hewitt avenues in Wheaton, near where two pedestrians were killed this fall in separate incidents.
On Sept. 28, Ayelech Mamo, 45, was killed while trying to get to the bus stop south of Hewitt, police said. Less than four weeks later, Ronald Resnick, 49, was killed Oct. 24 while trying to cross Georgia Avenue north of Hewitt, at Ralph Road. A car struck Resnick in the middle lane, police said, and a sport-utility vehicle then hit him and drove away.
Mamo and Resnick were jaywalking when they were struck. Both cases are under investigation.
County leaders emphasized that pedestrian safety is a responsibility of both drivers and walkers. "I wish we could ticket our way out of this," said Police Chief Charles A. Moose. "But it's going to take all of us being committed."
In recent weeks, an additional crosswalk and additional pedestrian signals have been placed at Georgia and Hewitt. Duncan said there are plans to move the bus stop closer to the intersection. But as Moose and others spoke yesterday, several pedestrians jaywalked across Georgia Avenue near Ralph Road.
Vaidya's parents made a plea for any information about their son's death and are offering a $5,000 reward.
"Rajiv was a good son," said Shailendra Vaidya, the victim's father, his voice cracking with emotion. "If he [the driver] did it to my son, he probably could do it to somebody else's child, too."
Rajiv Vaidya had moved to the area from Northern California in August with his fiancee. A graduate of Johns Hopkins University, Vaidya loved watching films, reading literature and philosophy and writing stories and screenplays.
"Please help us find this perpetrator," said his mother, Vanitha Vaidya, a Philadelphia pediatrician who has treated many child accident victims. "Please, all of us, be careful when you cross intersections."
Witnesses told police that Vaidya was struck by a burgundy Ford Probe. A corner piece may be missing from the front bumper, officials said.
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