Pedestrian death toll at 38 in 2013 so far

Twenty-two died in 2011. Forty in 2012.

Already, 38 pedestrians have died in traffic accidents in 2013 in the Metropolitan Police Department’s jurisdiction.

“Each of these numbers represents a family that’s suffering,” Las Vegas police spokesperson Laura Meltzer said. “And that is extremely sad. During the holiday season with DUIs, more people on the roadways and bad weather, I’m sure we’re not seeing the end of them this year.”

On Nov. 9, another Las Vegas family was suffering.

Three teenage girls were struck by a car on Blue Diamond Road near Cimarron Road. They were transported to the San Martin campus of St. Rose Dominican Hospital with critical injuries, but 14-year-old Helen Liu died shortly after.

As friends and family gathered five days later for a vigil at the site of the fatal crash, three cars collided at the same inter­section where Liu died. Sgt. Rich Strader of the Metropolitan Police Department’s fatal detail said he doesn’t know why the number of pedestrian fatalities has increased so significantly.

In 2010, 4,280 pedestrians were killed nationwide, a 4 percent increase from the 4,109 killed in 2009. In 2011, 4,432 pedestrians were killed, marking a 7 percent increase in pedestrian fatalities in just two years, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

It’s easy to blame motorists.

But, the perception that drivers are typically at fault in these situations isn’t true, Strader said.

Two-thirds of pedestrian fatalities from car crashes are the result of pedestrian error, Strader said, and distracted walking is just as much to blame as distracted driving.

That also means drunken walking.

Of the 103 pedestrians who died in Clark County between 2010 and 2012, more than one in four had blood-alcohol levels of .08 percent or higher, the legal limit for driving, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The average blood-alcohol level for pedestrians who died was 0.18 percent during the same time frame.

More than half of the pedestrians, 63 percent, were not in a crosswalk when they were hit. But about 29 percent were either on the sidewalk or in a crosswalk when they were run over.

Officers with the Metropolitan Police Department said budget cuts since 2009 have made it difficult to prevent accidents involving pedestrians.

“Our manpower is down,” Strader said. “We haven’t added new people to the traffic bureau since 2010. We’re trying to operate at the same level we were before the economy went bad.” Meltzer echoed the same message.

“There’s just not as many officers to do proactive patrolling,” she said.

Strader said economic troubles are changing people’s habits and increasing the number of pedestrians on the streets.

“The alternative modes of transportation are more enticing because it costs less,” he said. “When times are tough, you save money for your house or your family so you walk to work.”

In the past two months, two pedestrians were killed while walking in a marked crosswalk at Martin Luther King Boulevard and Balzar Avenue.

After neighbors rallied for change, City Council members voted to lower the speed limit on Martin Luther King from Symphony Park to Carey Avenue from 45 mph to 35 mph.

“We have to make sure that our pedestrians and our drivers are following the laws,” City Councilman Ricki Barlow said.

On Halloween night, 6-year-old Brazyl Ward was struck by a car when she was walking with her family in a residential neighborhood.

The driver fled the scene and Ward remains hospitalized in a medically-induced coma.

“We did everything right,” said Brazyl’s mother, Tiffany Ward. “We looked left, we looked right. I try to think of what we could’ve done better but we did everything right.”

Ward opened her eyes for the first time just before Thanksgiving, but was put back into a coma shortly after.

“It’s scary,” Ward said about the increase in pedestrian fatalities since her daughter’s accident. “A car versus a pedestrian never ends up the way you want it to.”

Capt. Mark Tavarez of the Metropolitan Police Department’s traffic bureau said his department is doing as much as it can to prevent these fatalities, but pedestrians still need to be aware of their surroundings.

“If everybody paid attention to what they were doing when they were driving or walking, we’d probably have zero fatalities,” he said. “And that’d be great with me.”

Pay attention, anticipate the driver’s actions, and wear bright clothing, Tavarez suggested.

Reporter Brian Haynes contributed to this story. Contact reporter Steven Slivka at Follow @StevenSlivka on Twitter.