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Fatal accidents prompt call for action Allison K. Sampite | Sat, Nov 20 2010 12:00 PM

Residents of the National City community came together last Thursday at Paradise Valley Seventh-day Adventist Church to voice their concerns about frequent pedestrian accidents and fatalities.

Church members and neighborhood residents expressed the need for long-term changes to the intersection at East Eighth Street and Burden Drive.

According to Hannah Gravette of San Diego Organizing Project, several members of the church have been involved in injury accidents on East Eighth Street, three of which have resulted in fatalities.

Geoff Blake, 28, is the associate pastor at the church. "I've personally pulled up to the church a couple of times and there was an accident," he said. "In the last four months there have been four accidents at Eighth Street and Burden Drive." Blake said more than 100 people voiced their concerns. "Hearing their stories really struck a nerve with me."

In the one-quarter square mile surrounding Paradise Valley Church and Hospital, there are more than 1,000 senior apartment units and 400 low-income family units. Each Tuesday, some 300 low-income seniors cross East Eighth Street to get to a food pantry at the church.

Darcy Justiniano, 24, is a leader with San Diego Organizing Project and has attended the church for nine years. In compiling research, she and other SDOP members found that the topic of most concern among residents was the dangerous crosswalk at Eighth Street and Burden Drive.

A list of fatal and non-fatal accidents documented a church janitor who was killed crossing Eighth Street 35 years ago; a family that went bankrupt to pay for car accident expenses that occurred on Eighth Street and Harbison Avenue, and Marilyn Bennett who was rear-ended by a car going 40 mph as she turned into the church parking lot.

"As a member of this faith community at Paradise Valley Church, I know that we strive to make this church a comfortable, safe, life-giving place for everyone who visits here," Justiniano said. "We can no longer sit back and let these tragedies occur on our watch. We are taking a stand tonight on behalf of our community by saying we believe our city can do better to protect its most vulnerable residents."

Mayor Ron Morrison and councilwoman Alejandra Sotelo-Solis committed to three improvements to traffic-related incidents to be completed within six months. They include creating a left-turn lane at East Eighth Street and Burden Drive, building a harbor between lanes of traffic allowing pedestrians to cross one lane of traffic at a time and enhancing the visibility of the cross-walk.

In addition, Morrison and Sotelo-Solis presented a permanent traffic-calming plan for the entire stretch of Eighth Street, beginning on the west side of National City. They also committed to identifying funds to prioritize the section of East Eighth Street directly in front of the church.

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