A fatal accident in which a pickup truck hurtled onto a sidewalk and into a group of pedestrians in front of the Marriott hotel Saturday is a reminder of the need for the city to restore traffic enforcement reductions from recent years, the local police union says.
In a Facebook post, the Walnut Creek Police Association stated: "Frustrating because we should have a dedicated group of traffic officers monitoring our streets for speeders and other traffic violators … The occasional beat officer will stop a car or two but only when they are not working service calls. Since service calls are at an all time high this basically means you will see little to no traffic enforcement anywhere in town."
The issue has been the subject of debate in Lafayette, where Police Chief Eric Christensen has two motorcycle officers helping with traffic enforcement in his town.
Some residents complain the officers are not needed and are a waste of police resources. Chief Christensen maintains they are an efficient, preventative force aimed at an identified and prolific problem.
Police Chief Joel Bryden, in a telephone interview Tuesday, said the police department has temporarily assigned motorcycle traffic officers to patrol "due to officers out on injury leave and other types of leave that leave us shorthanded."
Bryden added, "My main priority is to staff patrol fully. That's the best way to prevent crime and keep the community staff and the officers safe, with staff in all our neighborhoods. The next priority in the field is traffic enforcement." When the staffing situation improves this fall, Bryden said, the city will have four motorcycle officers, in two patrol teams, assigned to dayshift traffic enforcement six days a week.
'Walnut Creek can do better'
The association Facebook post also said: "Instead of ten traffic officers like we had a decade ago we have ONE! And that one is only for another week. After our normal shift rotation on September 15th we will not have any traffic officers left. One is retiring and the three that remain will all be assigned to work a regular patrol beat due to chronic staffing shortages. There will be no dedicated traffic enforcement in Rossmoor, school zones or along the commute routes … Many of our members are part of this community and our families are just as likely to be pedestrians as yours. A very sad and frustrating day indeed. Walnut Creek can do better.
"Our sincerest condolences go out to the victim’s family members that have lost a loved one today."
Pronounced dead at the scene was Sherry Hicks, 52, of Santa Barbara. Hicks' daughter-in-law is at John Muir Hospital in critical condition, police say.
Charged with vehicular manslaughter was the driver of the pickup, Hossein Tabrizi, 53, of Walnut Creek.
Hicks and her husband were in Walnut Creek visiting their son and his new wife.
Hicks was the lead teacher for the Olive Grove Charter School's dual enrollment program at Santa Barbara City College, according to the Santa Maria Times. She specialized in math and worked individually with home-schooled high school students who were also enrolled in city college classes.
“A dedicated teacher, Sherry poured herself into her work and personally shepherded many Olive Grove students around the SBCC campus,” said Los Olivos School District Superintendent Marshal Filbin, as quoted in the Santa Maria Times.