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Car Hits Woman, 2 Grandchildren at School Crosswalk

Times Staff Writer

An elderly woman and her two granddaughters were struck by a car and seriously injured Tuesday afternoon while walking hand-in-hand in a marked crosswalk near an elementary school in Buena Park.

Six-year-old Mary Dargan was listed in critical condition at UCI Medical Center in Orange with a broken neck and severe head injuries. Her 72-year-old grandmother, Rose Dargan, was also in critical condition at Los Alamitos Medical Center in Los Alamitos. Hospital officials would not specify her injuries. Morgan Dargan, 5, was reported in good condition with a broken leg at La Palma Intercommunity Hospital in La Palma.

The driver of the car, identified as Deborah A. Casey, 25, of La Palma was not injured. But witnesses said she was in hysterics after the collision and had to be sedated. Police questioned her at the scene, then released her without a citation, pending investigation.

Members of Casey’s family said she told them she never saw the pedestrians. California Department of Motor Vehicles files showed that Casey has a clean driving record.

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Neighbors complained Tuesday that the intersection has been the scene of several accidents because there is no traffic light. Studies in other cities have shown that pedestrians are more likely to be hit at a marked crosswalk than at an unmarked crossing because they feel a false sense of security.

Police said the accident occurred at 2:18 p.m. in a yellow crosswalk on Crescent Avenue at San Marino Drive, across the street from San Marino Elementary School, where, family members said, the Dargan sisters attend classes.

Back to School

Rose Dargan and Morgan, a kindergartner who was already out of class, had gone to the school to escort Mary, a first-grader, back across Crescent Avenue to their home, about a block away on San Marino Drive, said the girls’ aunt, Colleen Martinelli. Rose Dargan lives with the girls and their parents, Bill and Bernadeen Dargan, a high school coach and retail store worker, respectively. Both parents were at work at the time, other family members said.

Rose Dargan and her granddaughters were walking hand-in-hand through the crosswalk, as relatives said they do every school day, when they were hit by a late-model compact car traveling west on Crescent Avenue. Witnesses said other cars had stopped for them and that the pedestrians had almost made it across the street when they were hit. The impact threw Mary in the air and knocked her sister and grandmother to the ground, witnesses said.

“Oh, it was awful, just awful,” said Connie Castillo, 32, a nearby resident who called the police after seeing what had happened.

“I was in my house sewing when I heard the screeching of tires. I thought it was two cars colliding because it was so loud--metal on metal.”

The driver, later identified as Casey, stood in the street screaming hysterically, Castillo said.

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Buena Park paramedics took the elderly woman and the girls to hospitals.

Buena Park police issued a brief press release, stating only that the accident is being investigated.

Police spokesman Terry McMillen declined to speculate on whether a marked crosswalk at the intersection contributed to the accident.

McMillen said only that Crescent Avenue was one of the busier streets in Buena Park and that he had no studies comparing its accident rate to other streets.

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Difficulty Seeing

A study in San Diego about 10 years ago determined that pedestrian accident rates dropped 25% when all crosswalks were removed. The study cited pedestrians’ false sense of security, as well as the difficulty by motorists in seeing the crosswalk, as the main factors behind the higher accident rate at marked crossings.

In Orange County, Anaheim has been gradually removing its marked crosswalks, while Villa Park agreed to install traffic signals at one crosswalk at which two junior high school students were struck and killed 3 years ago. Other communities in the county, including Newport Beach, have been analyzing their marked crossings in the wake of pedestrian mishaps.

In Buena Park on Tuesday, residents near San Marino Elementary School said the marked crosswalk on Crescent Avenue does not prevent traffic from speeding down Crescent Avenue even as children are preparing to cross. The speed limit is 25 m.p.h. during school hours.

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“People don’t stop,” said Kris Cisneros, 19. “They see you and they don’t stop.”

Castillo said a traffic signal is needed at the intersection. She noted that there are signals at the intersection of Crescent Avenue and Valley View Street--a quarter of a mile west--and on Crescent Avenue and Holder Street--a quarter of a mile east.

No Crossing Guard

Castillo said San Marino Elementary officials have a crossing guard at Crescent and Valley View but do not post one at the crosswalk where Tuesday’s accident occurred. She noted that only a few children who live on the north side of Crescent across from San Marino Elementary attend the school. Most, she said, attend another area school.

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San Marino Elementary officials could not be reached for comment late Tuesday.

Casey’s mother, Jeanette Casey, also complained that a light was needed at the intersection.

“It’s not marked well,” Jeanette Casey said. “It should have signs.”

There is a yellow school crossing sign posted alongside the crosswalk.

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Casey could not comment because she was under sedation late Tuesday, muttering over and over the word “child,” her mother said. Jeanette Casey said her daughter, who lives at home and attends college, had gone up to an automotive shop Tuesday to have a new battery installed in her 1985 Plymouth Tourisimo.

Casey was returning home with the new battery when the accident happened, Jeanette Casey said.

‘Horrible Thing’

“She told me it had just stopped raining and that she turned off her windshield wipers, when they (the pedestrians) just stepped out,” Casey said. “It was one of those horrible things.”

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Family members gathered to comfort one another at each of the hospitals where the victims were being treated. The girls’ parents maintained a vigil outside the emergency room of UCI Medical Center, while aunts, uncles and cousins did the same elsewhere.

At the Los Alamitos Intercommunity Hospital, Morgan Dargan was able to chat happily with relatives. Family members said they had not told her how seriously injured her sister and grandmother were.

“She told us that when she was lying in the street, they had to cut off the clothing she was wearing,” Martinelli said.

Martinelli added that the girls had just participated in a huge family reunion over Christmas at which they were showered with gifts and cards from a mostly childless clan of 15 aunts and uncles. Martinelli said she had dressed as Santa Claus to entertain the Dargan girls and their four cousins.

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Mary and Morgan are also very popular in their neighborhood of single-story, stucco homes.

“They’re sweet little things,” said 14-year-old Chrissy Berry, a next-door neighbor. “Rose (the grandmother) is nice, too.”

Times staff writer Steven R. Churm contributed to this story.


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