Bend sees spike in deadly pedestrian crashes

Four dead in six months on Third Street, Highway 97

By Kyle Spurr, The Bulletin, @kylejspurr

On a dark November morning, Richard Kurner woke up in a transient camp along U.S. Highway 97 in Bend and wanted to start his day with a smoke. But he needed cigarettes from the Space Age Quick Mart, a convenience store just across the busy highway, five lanes away. So he ran.

The 60-year-old homeless man made it across one lane before he was struck and killed by a northbound 1997 Honda CRV. The driver, a 31-year-old Bend man, was traveling about 50 mph on the highway, which was wet but not icy when he hit Kurner.

The Honda’s hood was caved in and its windshield was smashed. Police found Kurner’s left Nike shoe at the point of impact. Police found Kurner about 205 feet away.

Kurner’s death on Nov. 30 was the second in a string of fatal pedestrian accidents in Bend. In the past six months, four pedestrians have been killed and 11 injured. Each of the fatalities occurred on either Third Street or U.S. Highway 97. None of the drivers was charged.

Before the deadly spike, Bend went years without a fatal pedestrian crash, according to records kept by Bend Police and the Oregon Department of Transportation. The last two were in 2011 and 2014. Additionally, a city of Bend traffic study noted six pedestrian fatalities between 2007 and 2010.

Law enforcement and transportation officials don’t have a specific explanation for the recent deaths, but they do see common trends. Most of the crashes were caused by pedestrians darting into the roadway during nighttime or early morning hours.

“People are in a hurry and they don’t want to cross at a crosswalk,” said Bend Police officer Leo Lotito, a traffic officer who investigates pedestrian crashes. “They want to cross where they don’t think any cars are coming.”

Lotito insists the harsh weather this winter was not a factor in any of the recent crashes, he said.

Another trend is the rise in Bend’s population. More traffic and pedestrians means more crashes, Lotito said. For example, over the past two years, ODOT recorded a 12 percent increase in traffic volume at the intersection of Empire Avenue and the Bend Parkway.

“I really think it’s a spike in traffic and a spike in pedestrians,” Lotito said. “There are a lot more pedestrians out and about and people that are impatient.”

Every intersection, marked or unmarked, should be treated as a crosswalk, according to police.

If a pedestrian takes a step into the intersection and makes eye contact with the driver, the driver must stop. Failing to yield to a pedestrian is a $260 fine, and a pedestrian crossing outside an intersection is a $110 fine.

Bend Police Lt. Clint Burleigh said the department is looking into every aspect of these incidents and is working with the city to find ways to educate drivers and pedestrians.

“We are all talking about it. No one wants this to happen,” Burleigh said. “We don’t know what the answer is yet. Enforcement has always been directed at the driver, but the reality is we are not having pedestrians hit in crosswalks. Pedestrians are being hit in the middle of the road.”

Walking home

The most recent pedestrian fatality was Cristalle Rose Hagen, a 39-year-old homeless woman.

Hagen was walking back to where she was staying for the night — a storage unit on NE Third Street in Bend — when she was hit by a 2010 Ford Explorer.

The crash occurred just before 10 p.m. April 11 in the southbound lanes of NE Third Street near NE Burnside Avenue.

Hagen was taken to St. Charles Bend, where she died from her injuries.

“She was heading back to where she was staying,” said her sister-in-law, Sarah Hagen. “She was pretty much walking home.”

Sarah Hagen, 38, of Redmond, and her husband, William, 42, woke up at 2:45 a.m. the next morning to a police officer knocking on their door to tell them what had happened.

The driver, a 60-year-old Bend woman, was southbound on NE Third Street when she struck Hagen, who was trying to cross from the west side. The driver has not been charged.

“Now this driver is going to have to realize what happened, and they are going to have to live with that fact of what happened,” Sarah Hagen said. “It’s not fair for them either.”

Sarah Hagen said her sister-in-law had been homeless for a few months and volunteered at local shelters, while staying at a cold-weather shelter for women and children at First United Methodist Church in Bend.

“She never was one to complain and she never really wanted to ask for help,” Sarah Hagen said. “She was so proud. She would rather help people in the same situation she was in and make their lives better.”

Three of the four pedestrians killed during the recent spike were homeless, a fact not lost on Curt Floski, executive director of the Shepherd’s House in Bend, which oversees the same shelter Hagen sometimes used.

“They are all terribly unfortunate accidents,” Floski said.

Floski knew of Cristalle Hagen. She was like a lot of people Floski is trying to keep from living on the streets.

The cold-weather shelter where Hagen stayed closed at the end of March.

Floski said he is working to create a year-round shelter for women and children.

“I have another meeting this week for us to try to figure out a way forward so there is a 365-day opportunity for women and children,” Floski said. “And so they don’t have to wander the streets. It’s definitely a need in our community. It’s clearly a gap.”

Education outreach

In response to the deadly spike in pedestrian crashes, city officials created an informational video in March to remind residents that every intersection is considered a crosswalk, even if it isn’t marked.

Robin Lewis, a city of Bend transportation engineer, said the video is part of a larger education campaign, which has become more relevant after all of the deadly crashes.

“There have been a few years with no fatal crashes. We had a few years that have had two,” Lewis said. “But this fall, winter and spring has seen a higher occurrence then we have seen before.”

Lewis regularly updates a city-run website, saferbydesignbend.com, that compiles data and reports related to pedestrian safety.

“Most drivers in Bend are really good about yielding, but not every person using the crosswalk understands they have to be in the crosswalk to gain the yield from the person driving,” Lewis said. “It’s a two-way education piece.”

A city study in 2014 identified Third Street as the most dangerous street for pedestrians. It is difficult for pedestrians to cross a five-lane road, especially when most of the crosswalks are not that visible, Lewis said.

After receiving the study, the city prioritized certain pedestrian-safety projects along Third Street, which are currently in the design phase. Intersections scheduled for upgrades include Third Street and Roosevelt Avenue, Third Street and Hawthorne Avenue, and Third Street and Pinebrook Boulevard, where a 38-year-old Bend man was struck and killed in October.

Some of the designs include the addition of safety islands and illuminated crosswalk markings.

Also, ODOT has coordinated with the city and completed pedestrian-safety projects on the Bend Parkway at Reed Lane and Badger Road.

State transportation officials are now planning safety projects at the intersection of U.S. Highway 20 and Empire Avenue and at the Bend Parkway southbound off-ramp at Colorado Avenue.

Lewis said updating the road system is ongoing, as the city continues to grow.

“A lot of our roadways were farm-to-market roads,” Lewis said. “They were rural, and they didn’t have urban features. As we modernize, we embed these better design techniques.”

A brother’s story

The day Kurner was killed, his brother was driving from a car wash to his home in Arizona. Mark Kurner pulled into his driveway, where a police officer was waiting to tell him the news.

“I was not too surprised, but it’s still a shocker,” said Mark Kurner, 57, a retired carpenter, in a call from his home.

Mark Kurner said he was closest with his brother, whom he calls Ricky, but has not seen him in person since 1996, when he tried to help him get a job. They grew up together in Southern California, with their two other siblings.

Richard Kurner served in the Marines for a few years, before being dishonorably discharged for going AWOL multiple times, his brother said. He then worked odd jobs, mostly on assembly lines.

He struggled with bipolar disorder and would act manically, his brother said.

“He burned all the bridges he had,” Mark Kurner said.

Richard Kurner was once an exuberant Salvation Army bell ringer in 1998. A Bulletin reporter asked him how he learned to be so charismatic and upbeat.

“I used to sell papers on the corner and the only way to sell papers is to let them know you’re there,” Kurner told the reporter.

At the time, Kurner told The Bulletin he was in a Salvation Army program that would help him earn money so that he could get his life in order because he was homeless.

Mark Kurner said he always worried about his brother living on the streets. Since his brother’s death, he has been thinking about his sense of humor, and how they would laugh together as children.

“He had the best heart in the world. If he had two dollars to his name, he would give you one,” Mark Kurner said. “Not a lick of common sense, but a great heart.”

— Reporter: 541-617-7820,

kspurr@bendbulletin.com

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