In two fatal accidents a month apart in which drivers ran over pedestrians in Cambridge, State Police investigators found the victims, not the drivers, responsible. The most recent conclusion came in the case of Ashley Monturio of Pembroke, who hit 80-year-old Romelia Gallardo on Sept. 6, 2018, in the parking lot of the public housing development where Gallardo lived.
A State Police report concluded that Gallardo caused the accident at JFK Apartments on Erie Street because she didn’t ensure that Monturio “could definitely see her prior to encroaching in front of the vehicle.” Gallardo, rolling a walker, had bent down after crossing in front of Monturio’s stopped SUV, and a “visibility re-creation indicated that the operator of the [SUV] would most likely have been unable to see the pedestrian at the time she was bent over,” according to an excerpt from the State Police report filed by Monturio’s lawyer.
Monturio is on trial in Cambridge District Court for leaving the scene of a personal injury. Prosecutors downgraded the initial charge of leaving the scene of a fatal injury after the State Police finding. Monturio says she didn’t know she had hit Gallardo. She stopped after the accident and called 911 but didn’t stay when a dispatcher asked her to, saying she needed to go to a job interview.
State Police also blamed the victim in the case of Jie Zhao, 27, who was killed Oct. 5, 2018, when a dump truck backing through the intersection of Putnam Avenue and Magazine Street rolled over her twice as she crossed Putnam behind the truck. A report from the State Police Collision Analysis and Reconstruction Unit said the truck driver, Daniel Desroche, couldn’t have avoided hitting Zhao and that “this collision would not have occurred” if Zhao had been “reasonably attentive,” obeyed the traffic light and crossed at the crosswalk.
Desroche’s dump truck had a camera in back but it was not operating – and not required to be working.
A jury acquitted Desroche of vehicular homicide by means of negligent operation. The jury foreman said jurors didn’t consider Zhao’s behavior; instead they found that Desroche had not been negligent because he asked a truck driver following him to check the intersection.
Driver safety is the focus
Advocates for pedestrian and cyclist safety say assessing blame on an individual level can miss the point. Large cars such as SUVs may have blind spots that make it difficult for drivers to see pedestrians, said Stacy Thompson, executive director of LivableStreets Alliance in Cambridge.
Vehicle design standards focus on the safety of people inside the car, not outside, she said. “We have built cars that make it impossible to see humans,” Thompson said. “I think a punitive response wouldn’t fix this.” She said the government is now reexamining car designs, something it does every 10 years.
A recent study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that SUVs, minivans and pickup trucks are more likely than cars to kill pedestrians while turning, possibly due to visibility problems.
The data speaks
Most fatal crashes in Cambridge between 2015 and 2022 involved pedestrians and cyclists, according to data from the state Department of Transportation that was posted by the advocacy group WalkBoston. Of 16 fatal collisions in the city during that period, seven killed pedestrians and six killed cyclists.
Brendan Kearney, WalkBoston deputy director, said not all fatal crashes are included in the state data because of federal rules. For example, accidents on private property, such as the one that killed Gallardo, aren’t counted. (The crash that killed Zhao was included.) WalkBoston found that six fatal crashes last year were not included.
Kearney suggested that parking lots might be safer if pedestrian walkways were painted on the pavement. “Sometimes these markings are just as much for drivers as for pedestrians,” Kearney said. “Sometimes that’s lost on drivers.”
Kearney disagreed with the State Police finding that Gallardo had a responsibility to make sure that Monturio could see her. “If you are driving a 2,000-pound vehicle, you are responsible,” he said.