By Ray Richardson
SOUTH LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Police Department is hoping the threat of higher criminal charges — including murder — will help slow the rate of fatal auto accidents on local streets.
In the past three weeks, eight people have died in collisions involving a vehicle driven by a person speeding through a red light at a busy intersection.
“If the video shows your car was speeding or if you were on your cell phone, we can increase the charges,” Detective Ryan Moreno, a supervisor with LAPD’s South Bureau Traffic Division, told The Wave. “When those things are happening, your car is turned into a weapon. The chances are greater that you’re going to hurt somebody.”
Six of the eight recent traffic deaths occurred in the Aug. 4 accident in the Windsor Hills neighborhood on the corner of La Brea and Slauson avenues. The other two victims were killed in the early morning hours of Aug. 19 at the intersection of Manchester Avenue and Broadway.
Murder charges have been filed against Nicole Lorraine Linton for her role in the Aug. 4 accident. Linton, 37, a traveling nurse from Houston, was spotted speeding through a red light at the LaBrea-Slauson intersection before ramming two vehicles.
Charges are pending against three men, each in their 20s, involved in the Aug. 19 crash. The three men were allegedly fleeing police when their car slammed into a car that had the right of way in the Manchester-Broadway intersection.
Both accidents have renewed concerns in South L.A. communities about driver safety. As of Aug. 24, Moreno said there have been 65 traffic fatalities in South Los Angeles this year. The number of fatalities, however, is down from last year when a record 109 people died in traffic-related incidents in South L.A.
“We’re trying to identify areas where there seem to be more serious injuries and fatalities,” Moreno said. “We’re looking at high visibility areas and talking to more residents to get their input. We’re trying to get ahead of this.”
Moreno added that “at least 5 or 6” of the 109 accidents resulted in homicide charges. As much as LAPD is working to keep South L.A. streets safe, community leaders believe their role in assisting LAPD traffic units is just as vital. The message from leaders is simple: slow down.
“It’s shameful we have people in the community who want to blame elected officials for what’s happening on the streets,” said Najee Ali, director of Project Islamic Hope. “It’s human error most of the time that’s causing this pain. People are so irresponsible with their driving.”
Moreno said LAPD is considering installing more cameras at South L.A. intersections, particularly in areas that have no camera systems. Moreno said cameras have been “extremely helpful” in locating drivers that leave the scene of accidents or are seen speeding through intersections. He indicated more stoplights in certain areas are also being considered.
South L.A. residents will likely see more LAPD trailer units that are positioned at random checkpoints, which are used to watch out for motorists driving under the influence. Drivers are forced to stop briefly and answer questions from LAPD officers before they are allowed to continue.
The trailers and checkpoints, complete with bright lights, tend to make drivers more cautious.
“We’ve noticed that the more of those we do, the more it deters traffic and other crimes,” Moreno said. “People slow down. They think more about precautions when they’re driving.”
The recent surge in driver fatalities has had an effect on Moreno as well. He’s in his sixth year as supervisor at the South L.A. Bureau, yet he admitted he’s been “traumatized” by some of the things he’s seen at accident sites.
“What I’ve seen has made me more cautious when I drive,” Moreno said. “I give myself about 2-3 seconds after the green light before I go through an intersection. Sometimes you never know. If people take their time, that would help a lot.”
Ray Richardson is a contributing writer for The Wave. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.