South Pasadena Police Sergeant Tony Abdalla accompanies a Monterey Hills School student across the crosswalk where a parent and son were struck by a motorist a few weeks ago. Officials are studying the most effective way to make the crosswlak safe, which could include a permanent crossing guard. Photo by Steve Whitmore

The story captured the attention of South Pasadena. It captured the attention of the South Pasadena City Council during public comments.

The father, David Ellien, stepped up to the microphone in council chambers and recounted the event on Dec. 5. 

He was dropping off his two kids at Monterey Hills School (MHS) on a recent Friday morning. They got out of the car and began to enter the crosswalk, he told the council.

But first Ellien had his two sons, Will and Jude, check both ways before entering the crosswalk to make sure there were no cars oncoming, “just like we always do and just like we always taught them to do,” Ellien told the council. 

They entered the crosswalk and began crossing the street, still checking to make sure no cars were approaching. None were. The City Council was quietly listening. 

David Ellien was noticeably shaken as he recounted the next segment of the experience.

“Out of my peripheral vision I saw something,” Ellien said. “I turned and there was a car basically right there. This was an extremely traumatic event for myself, me and my family. We are extremely fortunate. I turned and saw a vehicle and thought in that moment it’s right here. They are going to brake. And it will be a close call. It became evident in pretty much an instant this car is not going to stop. I knew that and this was going to happen…I was able to move (Jude) and the car basically went through me. The driver admittedly never saw us, never knew we were there, was not aware of us at all until after the event. As I said, it is just amazing that we are both OK. I sustained some injuries. Jude did as well. But nothing major and I promise you, I guarantee you, had I not been there, if my boys had been in that crosswalk without me, they would have been underneath that car. I promise you that. “

Mayor Dr. Richard Schneider was the first to address the shaken father by saying, he and the council were grateful that they were OK, saying, “we are glad that you escaped any serious injuries.” Schneider also said they were aware of the situation and were going to look into it.

Ellien, other parents and administrators from MHS were at the council meeting to ask for a crossing guard at the intersection where this accident occurred, which is the crosswalk at Via Del Rey and Indiana Avenue. They said a crossing guard would have prevented this incident from occurring.

Parent Judy Woo followed Ellien’s emotional testimony with a request for a crossing guard at the intersection. She summed up the issue for the scores of parents at the meeting.

“Safety of our children, parents and community must be our priority,” Woo said. “There has been an increase of near misses at this intersection as well as at both driveways – the exits and entrances to MHS. We need to have a police/crossing guard presence at MHS. Thankfully, the accident at the crosswalk was not a fatality…this could have been avoided if there was a crossing guard.”

A group of MHS students addressed the council on the issue.

“During the November election, South Pasadena voted to keep the Utility Users Tax, which funds our crossing guard and school safety officers,” Megan Sung, 12, told the council. “Which leads to the question: If kids are getting hit by cars in the school zone with a speed limit of 15 miles-per-hour, why shouldn’t we get another crossing guard to help ensure the students’ safety?”

City Manager Stephanie DeWolfe said the city would examine the situation and report back to the council as to what the next step should be, which could include installing a crossing guard at the intersection.

Meanwhile, Councilmen Bob Joe and Michael Cacciotti volunteered to come out to MHS to review the situation when the city investigates the traffic issue.

“I think we’ve heard the message,” Schneider said at the end of the presentation regarding the crossing guard at MHS.

In fact, the city dispatched police officers the next day for enforcement purposes who have issued more than 15 citations, most of which for stop sign violations.

The city also has placed what are known as “paddles” in the intersection that tell motorists to slow down. 

And last Friday morning, during the time when parents are dropping off their kids at MHS, city officials, school administrators and police officers gathered at the intersection to discuss more safety options. The group included Ellien, who again told the gathered officials what happened that fateful day. During the meeting at the intersection, Ellien expressed his gratitude for the responsiveness of everyone involved.

“We just wanted to meet with the parents, the PTA and the school principal today,” Stephanie DeWolfe, So Pas city manager, said at the intersection Friday morning. “We are working on a variety of different solutions. We have the acting police chief and several officers here today. We have our traffic engineer. We gathered some really valuable feedback from the group and we are going to look at a variety of different solutions.”

One of those solutions could be a crossing guard, DeWolfe said. She estimates the city will be ready to move forward after about two weeks of study.

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Steve Whitmore is the editor for the South Pasadena Review. Steve has spent more than four decades as an award-winning print and broadcast journalist with a 16-year stint as the senior media advisor for the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. Steve comes to us from the Keene Sentinel in Keene, New Hampshire, where he covered politics and was a columnist.

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