Pedestrian’s death ignites call for flashing lights on Newport crosswalk

James Umholtz rides in a crosswalk on Westcliff Drive at Rutland Road on Tuesday. An online petition is calling for Newport Beach to embed flashing lights in the crosswalk as a safety measure after pedestrian Donald Fuschetti was struck and killed by an SUV there on Oct. 11.
(Scott Smeltzer / Daily Pilot)

Of those who knew Donald Fuschetti, few would have thought the avid surfer, cook and musician would die doing something as simple as crossing the street.

Fuschetti’s friend Lisa Perricone said that if one of his friends had been in the crosswalk that night in Newport Beach, Fuschetti would have been livid. After all, she said, the 45-year-old lived for his friends.

“He always had people around him,” Perricone said. “Don’s light outshined everyone. It seemed like he had the destiny to do something great, something big.”

Fuschetti, a longtime Costa Mesa and Newport Beach resident who graduated from Corona del Mar High School, died shortly after he was struck by a Lexus SUV on Oct. 11 as he was crossing Westcliff Drive at Rutland Road inside a marked crosswalk. In response to his death, friends and local residents launched an online petition Oct. 16 asking Newport Beach officials to embed flashing lights in the crosswalk to help alert drivers to people on foot.

The petition had garnered more than 1,190 pledges of support as of Tuesday afternoon, toward a goal of 2,000.

A makeshift memorial stands at the site where Donald Fuschetti was struck and killed by an SUV on Oct. 11 while in a crosswalk on Westcliff Drive at Rutland Road in Newport Beach.
(Scott Smeltzer / Daily Pilot)

Petition supporters point to Westcliff Drive’s heavy traffic, which they say creates a dangerous situation for pedestrians looking to cross the street to access Westcliff Shopping Center.

“It is risky to cross on foot, and if it had the flashing lights, our friend Don would probably be alive today,” the petition states.

Newport Beach police have not yet released detailed information about the crash that killed Fuschetti, including the possible cause, citing an ongoing investigation.

It wasn’t the first time a pedestrian has been injured inside a crosswalk on Westcliff Drive.

Between 2010 and 2014 — the most recent data available — five pedestrians were hit on the stretch of Westcliff between Rutland and Buckingham Lane, according to figures compiled by the UC Berkeley Transportation Injury Mapping System.

Four of the five injuries occurred at the crosswalk at Buckingham, a block from where Fuschetti was hit, data show. Over the past year, city officials have reviewed the crosswalks at Rutland and Buckingham and instituted measures such as wide striping and additional signs in an attempt to improve safety for pedestrians.

However, petition supporters say the city needs to go a step further on the crosswalk at Rutland Road and place flashing lights, which have been used in other areas of the city, including Newport Harbor High School, after pedestrians have been injured.

“Every day it seems like there’s a close call over there,” said Fuschetti’s former neighbor and friend Tim Baroni.

In response to Fuschetti’s death, Newport Beach has agreed to consider additional safety features at the site. As part of its analysis, the city will look at road conditions after improvements to Westcliff and Dover drives are completed, the facts of Fuschetti’s death and the guidelines for safety features set forth in the California Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices, according to a city statement. The Westcliff and Dover project includes new medians, drought-tolerant landscaping with water-efficient irrigation, storm drain improvements, four traffic signal upgrades, enhanced bike lane striping and new rubberized asphalt pavement.

“Right now we are at the beginning of this review process, and it’s premature to conclude whether flashing lights would be appropriate at this location,” the statement reads. “However, traffic control devices, including flashing lights, will be considered as part of the city’s review.”

In the meantime, Baroni shared memories of Fuschetti on Tuesday afternoon while sitting at the glasstop patio table in front of his garage, where the pair sometimes would spend evenings barbecuing and sharing stories and Fuschetti would play the Elton John song “Rocket Man” on his acoustic guitar.

“Don was famous among his friends,” Baroni said. “He was a larger-than-life personality, a real character. This is a huge loss.”

A paddle-out in Fuschetti’s honor will begin at 8 a.m. Saturday at Blackie’s by the Sea next to the Newport Pier. It will be followed from noon to 3 p.m. by a public viewing at Pacific View Memorial Park & Mortuary in Corona del Mar.

A memorial service is set for 1 p.m. Sunday at Pacific View Memorial Park, 3500 Pacific View Drive.