A man believed to be an illegal immigrant became the fourth person to die so far this year while crossing Interstate 5 near the U.S. Border Patrol checkpoint, the California Highway Patrol said Monday.
Genaro Gonzalez-Cuenca, described as a 20- to 25-year-old native of Oaxaca, was hit by a car and killed Sunday night as he raced across the freeway's southbound lanes just south of the checkpoint.
CHP spokesman Jerry Bohrer said Gonzalez-Cuenca was struck by a vehicle driven by a San Diego man. Gonzalez-Cuenca died at the scene of multiple injuries and the driver, who was observing the speed limit, was not cited, Bohrer said.
This year's death toll of four migrants near the checkpoint south of San Clemente is an increase over the two Mexicans killed near the checkpoint in the same three-month period last year. In 1990, the CHP reported 14 fatalities in similar accidents near the checkpoint.
Gonzalez-Cuenca's death occurred despite the CHP's public-awareness campaign on both sides of the international border regarding the hazards of highway crossing.
The CHP has also stepped up enforcement of speed limits by adding extra patrol officers in the 10-mile area from Oceanside to San Onofre and the 20-mile stretch of highway in the San Ysidro area just north of the border.
"We're not happy with what's happening out there," CHP spokesman John Marinez said. "No deaths would make us happy."
Marinez said that although lives can be saved by reducing speed limits, so far the program has brought calls and letters from angry motorists complaining about the heavier patrols.
Roberto Martinez, director of the U.S.-Mexico Project with the American Friends Service Committee in San Diego, said even greater enforcement of the speed limit and more CHP units on the freeway are needed to reduce the number of deaths and injuries.
"Last year the fatalities were down, but right now there seems to be a slight surge," Martinez said. "I don't feel people are acknowledging the flashing lights and signs . . . nothing seems to be working at this point."
Meanwhile, the California Department of Transportation hopes to begin building a 5-mile-long, 8-foot-high fence along the I-5 median near the checkpoint by next January, Caltrans spokesman Kyle Nelson said.
The $1-million project was put on hold because of the relatively low number of deaths in the area last year, Nelson said.
"That project has been moved up because of the recurring deaths," Nelson said.
A second, three-mile-long, $1-million fence is planned for the I-5 median just north of the San Ysidro border crossing, Nelson said.