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Dangerous Passage

After a Southern Oregon University student was struck by a vehicle in front of the campus Wednesday, fellow students and security staff decried the four unregulated crosswalks that cross four lanes of traffic in a 30 mph zone on Siskiyou Boulevard.

Student Gladys Jimenez, 22, remained in critical condition Thursday with head and possible internal injuries at Rogue Valley Medical Center, said her brother Osvaldo Jimenez of Santa Rosa, Calif., who traveled here with their mother to be with Gladys after the crash.

He said doctors reported she was "unresponsive" that morning but was showing some improvement in the afternoon.

Many students using crosswalks Thursday called it risky, saying they usually stop and wait for all traffic to clearly slow down or stop before they step off the curb.

One advised a pedestrian bridge.

"It's scary because many cars don't stop. I just had to pull a friend out of the way when a huge truck was not going to stop," said freshman Mallory Wedding.

"I just assume they won't stop — and a lot of people are on cell phones and not watching."

The third student to be struck and injured this academic year by a vehicle on Siskiyou Boulevard, Gladys Jimenez was on her bicycle in the Garfield Street crosswalk at the time of the crash, said SOU security director Eric Rodriguez, who issued a campus bulletin advising extreme caution while crossing the boulevard.

Jimenez was struck by a Ford station wagon driven by Lesley Orr, 54, an accountant with SOU Finance and Administration, said a report by Ashland police. It occurred at 5:37 p.m. — about sunset, when it was still light.

Osvaldo Jimenez, who examined the crash scene, said of his sister, "She's alive. She's going to be fine, I think, I hope. This shouldn't happen to people. This street is so incredibly dangerous."

In his home town of Santa Rosa, Calif., Jimenez said, pedestrians are able to push a button to turn on flashing lights embedded in crosswalk stripes in high traffic areas with heavy pedestrian populations. He said such lights should be installed in front of SOU.

His sister, he said, transferred to SOU four months ago on a $20,000 scholarship and was "really stoked" about her studies in criminology.

The boulevard was closed for three hours Wednesday evening while police investigated the scene.

"The girl was hit by the left front quarter panel and was thrown in the air before landing on the windshield," Ashland police Sgt. Teresa Selby said. No citations have been issued.

Tim and Katy Case, who own a coffee shop in front of the main crosswalk to Churchill Hall, said they see a near-wreck each day, often with vehicles rear-ending or veering up on the median to avoid hitting a pedestrian.

"It's very dangerous. Pedestrians know they have the right-of-way and they walk right on out there," said Tim Case.

"Drivers aren't on the lookout for pedestrians, because it's not a busy downtown setting," said Katy Case.

Ashland police last fall set up crosswalk stings after two SOU students, Michael Emmert and Gavin McGowan, were struck by vehicles in the first week of school last September.

A subcommittee of the Ashland Traffic Safety Commission discussed the issue of bike and pedestrian safety in December. Members expressed concern over increasing traffic, especially on Siskiyou Boulevard in front of Ashland High School and SOU.

"Physical improvements made over the years had not produced any significant results in terms of decreasing the numbers of people/cars colliding on Siskiyou," said the minutes of the subcommittee, which advised increased education.

One subcommittee member, Doris Mannion, said in the minutes that flashing lights should be installed at the crosswalks. Member Greg Lemhouse suggested student crossing guards. The body advised applying for the improvements under the Transportation Enhancement grant.

Dianne York of campus security said, "I watch pedestrians do some really stupid things. I have watched them, in the evening, dressed in black just continue their same pace when approaching walkways. They don't stop, look, wait or proceed cautiously.

"More than once I've observed pedestrians walk out in front of oncoming traffic and then flip the panicked driver the bird because the vehicle didn't have time to stop. "¦ I have nearly hit them myself," York said.

"Those hoodies (sweatshirts) hide their faces so I know they don't see me."

Pam Ogren, director of SOU's Commuter Resource Center, said Gladys Jimenez is "an incredible young woman, involved in several organizations, who seems to really enjoy her time here. She's happy and playful, really beautiful to watch."

As a member of the Latino Student Union, Jimenez had set up a showing of the film "Mango Kiss" for Thursday evening on campus. It was canceled.

SOU Dean of Students Laura O'Bryon and other staff members have been comforting the family and friends of both the victim and the driver "as a community," she said.

O'Bryon added, "There's so much traffic now" and road-embedded flasher lights "would be wonderful." She said she plans to speak about such enhanced safety measures to campus security and to the city, which is responsible for Siskiyou Boulevard as a city street, even though it's also state Highway 99.

The SOU Student Health and Wellness Center Thursday offered counseling for friends and fellow students and staff. Ogren said the center plans a campus community meeting "to process our feelings about this tragedy" at 5 p.m. today and 8:30 a.m. Tuesday at the Commuter Resources Center in the main floor of the Stevenson Union.

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

Pedestrians cross Siskiyou Boulevard in Ashland in front of the Southern Oregon University campus Thursday. University officials and students are questioning the safety of crosswalks there after a student was struck Wednesday. - Jim Craven