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Crosswalk close encounters

ASHLAND — A woman was struck by a car Tuesday while crossing Siskiyou Boulevard, less than a week after a Southern Oregon University student died from injuries she suffered when a car hit her while she was crossing the same street at a nearby crosswalk.

Witnesses said a vehicle screeched to a halt shortly after 10 a.m., clipping the pedestrian's knee, but she was able to walk to a nearby parking lot where she and the driver, also a woman, exchanged information.

Ashland Police and an Ashland Fire and Rescue ambulance crew went to the scene but both parties were gone, according to a police dispatcher. No citations were issued and the parties are not being sought.

People in the neighborhood and SOU students said bright orange flags that have been distributed at the crosswalks for pedestrians to use to alert motorists are going largely unused. Witnesses said the pedestrian in Tuesday's incident was not carrying a flag — and was using a cell phone.

Gladys Jimenez, the student who died after being struck by a car, also was using a cell phone, according to police.

SOU officials confirmed the Tuesday incident. Christine Cook Florence, SOU's marketing and public relations director, said all students had been informed of the crosswalk flags Friday in an e-mail, but "we can't make anybody use the flags."

Kati Case, owner of Case Coffee Company adjacent to the Bridge Street crosswalk, watched what could have been a much worse accident.

"I saw the car screech," she said. "The tires were smoking. The driver stopped and opened her door. The girl was frozen in the crosswalk. The car turned around (to park). The ambulance came. There was bruising to her knees.

"It's crazy — it's like a battlefield," Case said. "It's like the video game 'Frogger.' "

Beckie Elgin, a student who was in the coffeehouse, said the car "just brushed (the pedestrian) and hit her knee. She was standing in the road, like she was shocked.

"It was just crazy," Elgin said. "This is the best place to watch the action and keep score. It's a wonder more people aren't killed here. I've seen several almost-hits. What we need is a group of volunteers for crossing- guard duty."

Students seemed largely oblivious of the crosswalk flags, which were distributed Friday to increase pedestrian visibility.

"I feel I'm big enough to see," said Tori Obermeyer, who crossed without a flag. "I don't feel a flag can stop them from running into me. But a friend of mine did have to jump on the hood of a car to evade being hit."

Florence said SOU is continuing talks with the city of Ashland, which is responsible for Siskiyou Boulevard, about possible safety improvements. The city's traffic safety commission meets at 7 p.m. Thursday to consider a raft of possible changes, including lowering the speed limit from 30 mph to 25 mph on Siskiyou Boulevard, installing flashers and rumble strips, increasing street lighting and reducing the number of uncontrolled crosswalks.

Student Rikki Pritzlaff, who crossed without a flag, said, "I used one once. It takes more time. I just try to be very conscious where cars are at and don't go out till I see they recognize me," she said "I do see a lot of people walk into the street and not pay attention."

One of the few to carry a flag, Scott Morrell of the SOU staff, said, "It's definitely dangerous, with high volume traffic and pedestrians. People are distracted.

"It's a recipe for disaster," Morrell said. "Both drivers and pedestrians need to be more aware. It's sad, really."

A regular driver on the boulevard, construction worker Adam Pearson said he had almost hit a few people. His co-worker, Adam Cleveland, added that many pedestrians are negligent about looking both ways.

"In construction, we have a rule of thumb," Cleveland said. "If someone can fall off it, they will fall off it. They won't use the flags. You need signal lights that only turn when you push a button."

Kati Case has seen more than a few close encounters between cars and pedestrians from her coffee shop on Siskiyou Boulevard. - Bbo Pennell