Stop signs may go in at site of fatal accident | TahoeDailyTribune.com
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Stop signs may go in at site of fatal accident

William Ferchland, Tahoe Daily Tribune

A traffic study to possibly implement stop signs at the intersection where a 15-year-old South Shore girl was killed by a suspected drunken driver is under way.

Spearheaded by a South Lake Tahoe city engineer, the study will inspect the amount of cars passing through, measure turn movements, determine sight distances, count past vehicle accidents, tally pedestrian traffic and speeders along the 25-mph stretch of road.

If the study recommends stop signs, they could be put in place in a couple days. If the engineer determines stop signs are not needed, the City Council has the authority to override the recommendation.

The report should be ready early next week.

A resident formally requested the study before the Sept. 2 accident when 21-year-old Jesse Whitworth allegedly struck and killed 15-year-old Marissa Bassett. The teenager was walking to a bus stop for her first day as a South Tahoe High School freshman. She died hours later at a Reno hospital from extensive head injuries.

Whitworth is being held at El Dorado County Jail at $150,000 bail on a gross vehicular manslaughter charge, which carries a maximum of 10 years in prison.

He is scheduled to appear at El Dorado County Superior Court on Thursday morning for a bail review hearing.

Brad Vidro, the city’s public works director, said Bassett’s accident might not have been avoided if stop signs were present since Bassett was using a signed crosswalk at the time and Whitworth was allegedly intoxicated.

A police enforcement program has been instituted at the crosswalk at Lake Tahoe Boulevard and Park Avenue. Last summer a pedestrian ended up in a wheelchair after being hit by a car at night.

Vidro has received a few comments from the South Lake Tahoe Police Department and others about wanting a traffic study after the Sept. 2 accident.

Police officers have pulled over speeders along the street and the department issued a reminder for drivers to be aware of bus stops.

The crosswalk at 15th Street and Eloise Avenue was painted earlier this summer. The city would have conducted a traffic study next summer to count pedestrian crossings, Vidro said.

In the past 10 years there has been one accident at the intersection. It involved somebody driving off the road and hitting a fence, Vidro added.

Residents who use the road or live in the area have complained of speeders along 15th Street. Many have said drivers use the Tahoe Keys passageway as a short cut to main roads.

In March, an 18-year-old South Tahoe High School student launched his Acura off the 13th Street hill onto Emerald Bay Road, totaling the car. He was driving close to 70 mph in his attempt to get his vehicle airborne. The man and his three passengers were uninjured.

Ernie Claudio uses 15th Street to take his niece and nephew bike riding. Claudio, who lives on nearby Tata Lane, drives along 15th Street about three times a week. He has noticed that when he drives the speed limit, people driving behind him wind up riding his rear bumper.

Claudio intends to speak at the public comment session of the City Council meeting for speed deterrents on 15th Street. He said he’ll be back to a council meeting if the traffic study does not recommend signage.

“My big fear is it’s going to happen again,” he said.

Councilman Tom Davis said the traffic study is warranted for the intersection. He wanted to hold specific comments until the study is completed, but said, “I’m confident the council would take appropriate action if necessary.”

A few years ago residents in the Sierra Tract went to the council for stop signs and got their wish, Vidro said.

— E-mail William Ferchland at wferchland@tahoedailytribune.com


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