Orson Bean’s death on Venice street sparks mourning and concern over pedestrian safety
The death of Orson Bean, the 91-year-old veteran actor-comedian, has prompted an outpouring of grief in the Los Angeles theater community and also prompted new concerns about pedestrian safety in a city that has struggled to reduce deaths.
Bean was killed when he was hit by two cars Friday night while crossing Venice Boulevard on his way to see a play.
Here is what we know:
A daunting problem
Bean’s death comes as new figures show that the number of people killed in car crashes in Los Angeles remains stubbornly high. In 2019, four years after Mayor Eric Garcetti launched the Vision Zero initiative to eliminate traffic deaths on city streets, 244 people died in collisions in Los Angeles, including 134 pedestrians and 19 cyclists.
Since Vision Zero was launched in 2015, the number of pedestrians, vehicle occupants, bicyclists and motorcyclists killed annually in traffic crashes has risen 33%. Fatalities surged in 2016 from 183 to 253, and have fallen 3.6% since then.
In a troubling national trend that has perplexed advocates and experts, pedestrian deaths are increasing, disproportionately affecting lower-income, minority communities.
Los Angeles has yet to achieve the first major benchmark set out in Vision Zero: a 20% reduction in deaths that officials had hoped to achieve in 2017. Reducing deaths by half by 2020, the next goal on the city’s list, would require reducing fatalities this year by more than 100.
A death in Venice
Los Angeles police said Bean was on Venice Boulevard near the Pacific Resident Theatre outside a marked crosswalk around 7:30 p.m. Friday when he was struck by a Honda Civic traveling west. He was hit a second time by a Toyota Prius. Both drivers remained on the scene.
Judith Borne, publicist for the theater, said Bean was on his way to meet his wife, Alley Mills, who was volunteering as an usher, to watch a production of Arthur Miller’s play “All My Sons.” He had parked on the opposite side of the street and was crossing alone.
After one car clipped Orson Bean, a second vehicle hit him and dragged him for about a quarter of a block, accounts say.
“Many of us do this, including the audience,” Borne said. “The crosswalk is out of the way. Many people … just cross” the lanes.
Borne, who did not witness the incident but heard from others who were at the scene, said that after the first vehicle clipped Bean, he fell. Then a second car hit him and didn’t stop right away. Bean was dragged for about a quarter of a block, she said.
Marilyn Fox, the theater’s artistic director, was outside when the crash happened. She said Saturday she saw an “explosion” of debris and that Mills ran after a car. Someone went inside to tell others that Bean had been struck. Friday night’s performance, scheduled for 8 p.m., was canceled.
“There was no way we were going to have a show at that moment,” Fox said.
He is remembered for ‘What’s My Line?,’ ‘To Tell the Truth’ and current fare, like ‘Modern Family.’ But all along, his true passion was the stage.
A larger movement
Pedestrians are involved in a fraction of the traffic crashes in Los Angeles but represent a disproportionate number of the victims. Over a five-year period in the last decade, people on foot were involved in 8% of collisions but represented 44% of those killed, according to city data.
The death of a 4-year-old struck and killed by a driver while she was walking to school with her mother in Koreatown became a rallying cry. The driver, who made a left turn into the crosswalk, had her own children in the backseat, police said.
The girl’s death sparked an outcry among advocates, who staged a “die-in” at Los Angeles City Hall to voice their frustrations with the city’s lack of progress on Vision Zero.
In response to the most pedestrian death numbers, the Transportation Department made more changes to streets in L.A. in 2019 than in the prior two years combined, spokeswoman Connie Llanos told The Times earlier this month. Those 1,529 modifications to crosswalks, traffic signals, intersections and other elements of the street are designed to improve the safety of the street.
Times staff writer Laura J. Nelson contributed to this report.
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