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Careless driving to blame for death of woman in SE Division crosswalk

Posted by on July 11th, 2013 at 1:02 pm

The bus operator was in this lane prior to collision.

The Portland Police Bureau have given the driver of a school bus two citations for her role in a collision that killed a 43-year-old woman who was walking across a southeast Portland street.

Renee Bates was walking on SE Division with her husband Shawn Bates on Tuesday afternoon when they attempted to walk eastbound across SE 148th (from the northwest corner). At the same time, 55-year-old Billie Jean Neel was attempting to make a right turn onto Division from 148th. Neel failed to operate her bus safely and ran over the Bates couple. Shawn was not seriously hurt but Renee died from her injuries later that day in the hospital.

While the investigation into the collision is still ongoing, the PPB just announced that Neel has been issued citations for Careless Driving Causing Death to a Vulnerable Road User and two counts of Failure to Yield to Pedestrians in a Crosswalk.

This is one of the very few cases we’re aware of that has triggered the Vulnerable Road User law. That provision was attached to the Careless Driving infraction thanks to citizen activists and advocates at the Bicycle Transportation Alliance back in 2007. Prior to its existence, Neel would have been able to mail in a small fine and would never have to appear in court for her actions. However, since the VRU statute has been used, Neel will now have to complete a traffic safety course, perform 100-200 hours of community service, have her license suspended, and pay a fine of up to $12,500.

The intersection where this occurred is wide, fast and completely dominated by auto, bus and truck traffic. The right turn lane Neel was using is separated with its own median and the corner is curved to make it even easier for someone driving a car to turn unsafely without stopping.

SE Division is one of (if not the) most dangerous and notorious street in Portland with at least one fatal collision occurring every year for the past few years. It has been identified as one of 10 “High Crash Corridors” by the City of Portland. According to official collision data, the percentage of crashes involving people walking on Division is about 50% higher than the Citywide average. The City has also determined that about 40% of everyone who drives on Division is going faster than the speed limit (which is 40 mph east of 122nd). In an official High Crash Corridor report on Division, the City stated that, “Reckless driving is overrepresented as a crash factor,” on Division.

In their coverage of this incident, KATU reported that, “This is the second almost-identical crash at this crosswalk in just a few years. Because of that, Portland Bureau of Transportation engineers said they will see if they can take any measures to make the intersection safer.”

And yesterday, about 1.3 miles west of this tragedy, a man who was bicycling near the intersection of Division and 122nd sustained life-threatening injuries after being involved in a collision with someone who was driving a van. The PPB has yet to release many details on that incident, except to say that the victim remains in the hospital and is “expected to survive.”

Isn’t it time we said enough is enough? When will the city and their state partners stop hanging banners and working around the edges and start making real changes to the outer portions of Division? Reckless and dangerous driving is clearly the problem here. Until we stop being afraid to address that fact head on — and make engineering and policy changes that have significant impacts on people’s driving habits — nothing will change.

If you’re O.K. with this carnage than just keep doing the same thing. Business as usual.

— Read more coverage of the Renee Bates tragedy at KATU.com.

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  • dmc July 11, 2013 at 1:15 pm

    My condolences go out to Renee Bates and her family.

    Too often it seems changes are only made after a fatality. How much new infrastructure must be stained by the blood of the people that have fallen before change.

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  • David July 11, 2013 at 1:21 pm

    “This is the second almost-identical crash at this crosswalk in just a few years. Because of that, Portland Bureau of Transportation engineers said they will see if they can take any measures to make the intersection safer.”

    So it looks like we finally have our answer: two deaths per crosswalk to expect any kind of response from PBOT.

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) July 11, 2013 at 1:25 pm

      dmc and David. You guys are absolutely right. It is shocking to me how many infrastructure improvement projects in Portland have come only after someone has died. It’s disgusting to me.

      Back in 2008, after Tracey Sparling died, I made this video where I narrated and tried to express my feelings about this

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      • David July 11, 2013 at 2:09 pm

        Portland seems to talk a big talk about the importance of safety for all road users. But it really is just important-ish.

        PRIORITY LIST:
        #1: Traffic flow for cars
        #2: Safety for everybody else

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      • Todd Hudson July 11, 2013 at 4:41 pm

        Jonathon, what disgusts me is the lack of commitment to improving infrastructure in East Portland.

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        • Yuri Nashun July 12, 2013 at 10:41 pm

          You are good enough to collect tax dollars from. Not good enough for the attention other parts of the city receive. I used to live out there near 122nd. I don’t know if anyone on city council even knows its still Portland out there. I feel your pain man.

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  • spare_wheel July 11, 2013 at 1:41 pm

    “they will see if they can take any measures to make the intersection safer.”

    The correct response: “we will take measures to make the intersection safer”.

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    • Craig Harlow July 11, 2013 at 2:16 pm

      Close that needless right turn lane and shunt all right-turning traffic to the next lane over, where autos have to slow down before making the abrupt turn.

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  • Anne Hawley July 11, 2013 at 1:46 pm

    Safety. Safety. Safety. How high does the price of deadly danger have to go before safety feels like a “good investment”?

    In line with many recent comments about the media’s misuse of the word “accident”, I’m at least pleased to see that KATU has called this a “crash”.

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    • David July 11, 2013 at 2:12 pm

      Actually, via KATU’s report:

      “Another man, John Worden, said he was standing just behind Renee and Shawn when the accident happened.”

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      • Anne Hawley July 11, 2013 at 2:50 pm

        Oh. Well darn. Sigh.

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  • Sunny July 11, 2013 at 1:57 pm

    They need a bigger stop sign.

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  • Peter W July 11, 2013 at 2:00 pm

    A recent poll showed that nationwide, support for a 10 cent gas tax is about 23%. That support jumps to 63% if the money would be used specifically to address safety issues.

    https://groups.google.com/forum/#!topic/transconpdx/6It6fy16juI

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  • PNP July 11, 2013 at 2:11 pm

    Here’s what I don’t understand: why isn’t the driver facing homicide charges? It seems to me that some sort of negligent homicide charge might be appropriate. Are we so inured to the danger of driving that we don’t recognize it as dangerous? Is a person’s life only worth a few thousand dollars and the loss of a license?

    I’m particularly sensitive on this question because a few years ago, an unlicensed teenager drove his mother’s SUV over the top of my friend’s car and crushed it so badly that rescuers couldn’t get her out. She died and he got a traffic ticket. This is just wrong.

    My heartfelt condolences to the Bates family.

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  • Dwainedibbly July 11, 2013 at 2:15 pm

    OMG! THey used the Vulnerable Road User law!

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    • 9watts July 12, 2013 at 6:49 am

      I’d like to know (from Ray Thomas or someone else) if there’s a way to understand why in this particular case–but not in so many others–the VRU law was invoked? Is it as simple as the judgment of the responding officer? Special circumstances? Why is this citation given more or less immediately and not, as we are often told, after considerable time to investigate the details?

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  • Spiffy July 11, 2013 at 2:16 pm

    about 40% of everyone who drives on Division is going faster than the speed limit

    that number is too low… I don’t think they’re taking into account that it’s also counting the people that are slowing down and speeding up for red lights and traffic… if there are no red lights and no other traffic then over 75% of people are speeding on every road in the metro area… and I think my number is also a low estimate…

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  • Dave July 11, 2013 at 2:18 pm

    Oh, if I were a hacker—I’d put all personal contact information for killer drivers out where the public could see it, the better for them to be stalked, harassed, and badgered into either cleaning up their act or giving up driving. The strongest degree possible–not nice, or lawful, but possible–of social disapproval has to be directed at these creatures.

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) July 11, 2013 at 2:44 pm

      Dave,

      I don’t think people like the woman who was driving his bus are “creatures” or “killer drivers”. I also don’t think the tone expressed in your comment is helpful in moving the dangerous driving/traffic culture issue forward. I feel your frustration; but let’s be careful where we place outrage or our outrage won’t have as much impact as it could. In this case, the bus operator acted carelessly and there was a tragic consequence. I don’t think people are killers unless they intend to kill someone. I realize this is a tricky debate — But my current thinking is that in this case, the outrage should be placed on the road design, the lack of seriousness with which people operate vehicles, and the lack of action by our leaders and road authorities to make notoriously dangerous roads safer.

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      • Dave July 11, 2013 at 4:35 pm

        Oh, you naive little child. I’ve been a cyclist for 45+ years–I have no illusions as to the lack of humanity of the American motorist. Open your eyes, young man!

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        • Caleb July 11, 2013 at 10:11 pm

          I would think that after 45+ years of just being alive, one could observe that insulting someone might counteract intentions to broaden their awareness.

          Anyway, there is more than one American motorist, and you have some sort of illusion if you think you know how any of them think or feel, so I encourage you to at least meet them or learn their perspective before you let yourself wish harm upon them. Can you define “humanity” and explain to us how you know “motorists” lack it?

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          • q`Tzal July 12, 2013 at 8:21 am

            Don’t ja know?
            The mere act of being alive to a certain age means that you are smarter and better than anyone younger than yourself.
            I take solace in the immutable societal FACT that no matter how bad a person I may be as long as I am older than you I will always be right and you will always be wrong.

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          • Dave July 12, 2013 at 11:34 am

            Safer and smarter to assume the worst of all motorists, then be pleasantly surprised.

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            • q`Tzal July 12, 2013 at 12:14 pm

              Hanlon’s razor
              “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.”

              Besides: isn’t it common knowledge that intelligence is that which we gain through “book learnin`” and wisdom that which we gain through failure?
              Some of us fail at a faster rate than others.

              ooops … forget you read that.

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            • Caleb July 14, 2013 at 1:54 pm

              We don’t have to assume the worst of all motorists in order to imagine the worst and prepare for that possiblity. Furthermore, presuming one possibliity out of all them can contribute to “narrow mindedness” and such – not something I consider smart. Also, sometimes false assumptions lead to danger, too.

              Regardless, the conversation started with you proposing vigilante justice against perpetrators involved in situations of which you have no direct experience. Just whose safety are you concerned with?

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  • Spencer Boomhower July 11, 2013 at 2:26 pm

    I can’t help but be reminded of something I just read in the Christian Science Monitor article that was posted in this week’s Monday Roundup:

    “If cyclists don’t curb their behavior on their own, police might do it for them. In Santa Monica, Calif., a cyclist was recently sentenced to three years’ probation and 30 days of community service after pleading guilty to assault with a deadly weapon. His offense: running a red light and striking and injuring a pedestrian in a crosswalk.”

    http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/Society/2013/0630/The-bike-boom-video/(page)/6

    Personally I don’t have a problem with the defining of a dangerously out-of-control vehicle as a “deadly weapon,” but would hope the definition would extend to vehicles other than just bicycles.

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  • Jacob July 11, 2013 at 2:57 pm

    I’m sorry but I hate the use of the word careless in this article. When you do something that puts other peoples’ lives in danger, that’s not careless, it’s reckless and negligent. Later in the article you change to much stronger wording, but the headline and much of the text seems to downplay the significance. The phrase “Neel failed to operate her bus safely and ran over the Bates couple” seems particularly passive. You would never read an article about someone failing to operate a gun safely and fatally shooting someone else. Both guns and automobiles are tools that are potentially (and frequently) deadly and should be treated as such.

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) July 11, 2013 at 3:04 pm

      Thanks for the feedback Jacob. I think the problem here is that I’m using “Careless” in the story and headline in a way that refers specifically to the legal charges in the citation… versus a word choice I would make myself. Thanks though. I’ll see if I can edit the post to be more clear with the words.

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  • MaxD July 11, 2013 at 2:59 pm

    I agree that PBOT is WAY too timid when it comes to responding to dangerous infrastructure. I have them a few times to look at the stretch of Interstate where the auto/bike lanes both narrow under the Larrabee ramp. The bike lane slims down from 5′ to 2′ or so, and the auto lane goes form 16′ or more to less than 10.5′ WITHOUT ANY WARNING! This is simply not enough room for a Bus or full-size truck and a cargo bike to get under the bridge simultaneously. There are some real constraints that would be hard to fix, but it seems like a no-brainer to at least give people some advance warning. The response from PBOT has been that it is too expensive to fix, and crash data doesn’t support doing anything about it. This is a fatality waiting to happen, and now it appears it will take 2 fatalities to get them to announce the pinch point. If PBOT would only add a solid white line to mark a 10.5′ to 11′ auto lane, the areas where there is no buffer would be become evident for everyone so that a first-time road user (truck-driver, tour bus driver, cargo bike rider, etc) could avoid a tragedy.

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  • BURR July 11, 2013 at 3:40 pm

    Sad fact: SE Division Street (formerly Section Line Road) used to be one of the premier cycling routes in SE Portland at the turn of the last century circa 1898-1917), forming part of the Mt. Hood loop to Gresham, along with SE Stark (formerly Base Line Road).

    “The Section Line road has been treated to paths four feet wide on
    each side, as far as Gresham. Beginning at Seven Corners…these
    paths are to be used under the rule “keep to the right,” and
    wheelmen going out to Gresham must take the path on the south
    side of the road. Coming back into town take the north side. The
    rule will be enforced wherever two paths exist on the same
    county road, as the safety of pedestrians as well as the wheeling
    public will be promoted thereby.”

    http://www.cts.pdx.edu/pdf/lundgren_PSUSeminar_113007.pdf

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  • gutterbunnybikes July 11, 2013 at 7:52 pm

    Lets just drop all city roads current limits by 10 mph (really won’t effect rush hour where it doesn’t move anyway, might actually be an improvement). Reprogram lights to give faster responces to ped and bike traffic, thus distrupting the timing of lights (which incidently in a car for most the city is about 3 mph below posted limits or 5-8 above).

    And how about actual controll lights at cross walks instead of binking caution yellows that most have now.

    Of course enforcemnt would also be necessary. But ticket money collected and should be earmarked for safety infrastucture improvemnets and more police for more enforcement (of course fines would have to doubled to make funding possible).

    Of course having just renewed my licence in the state I’m still amazed that after 20 years here the only test I ever had to take was 10 questions on a video screen 20+ years ago. I got one wrong cause I didn’t know you could turn left from a two way street onto a one way street in Oregon and chose the safer answer of “no”. But since that test in 92 I haven’t had my eyes checked or taken a single refresher test.

    Having taken defencive driving classes for jobs in the past the first thing they tell you is that there is no such thing as an accident, and that techically all accidents are preventable. And really if you get down to it they all are.

    And just for the drivers out there, for every mph you drive over the speed limit, the chance that the collision that you are involved in doubles your chance that the collision is fatal.

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    • gutterbunnybikes July 11, 2013 at 7:56 pm

      sorry that post sucks, that’s what I get for posting and cooking at the same time….

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      • 9watts July 12, 2013 at 6:44 am

        As long as you’re not driving and posting at the same time I suppose it’s o.k. :-)

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  • David Lewis July 11, 2013 at 8:42 pm

    Commandeering a 4000 Lb metal box is a serious undertaking, but the privilege to do so is given to 16-year-olds as a birthday present. Drivers’ licenses are birthright in the U.S., and these are the consequences. The only solution is to raise both the age of eligibility and the cost of licensure. I can’t think of politician anywhere who could bother with that!

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    • q`Tzal July 12, 2013 at 8:31 am

      Some anthropologist supposed that the driver’s license test is akin to many elder culture’s rights of passage in to adulthood.
      She even mused that in contrast to other cultures throughout history that the driving test was too easy; for it to be taken as the serious somber assumption of fatal adult responsibility that the test needed to be MUCH harder and needed to have an almost arbitrary minimum FAILURE rate of about 25%-33%.
      She wasn’t approaching the issue from the standpoint of safety but of seriousness and solemnity: kids and the adults they grow into take driving so lightly because it is so easy to be allowed to.

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    • Dave July 12, 2013 at 8:57 am

      Agreed–doing anything involving realistic revisions of our driving laws causes US politicians to have smaller balls than the inside of a freewheel.

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