Palo Alto Weekly

News - September 30, 2011

Girl killed on her way to school

Two deaths within two blocks shake East Palo Alto residents

A 6-year-old girl was killed Wednesday morning (Sept. 28), the second traffic fatality in less than three hours within a two-block area in East Palo Alto.

The Green Oaks Academy second-grader, identified as Sioreli Torres Zamora, was walking to the school, which is on the Cesar Chavez campus, with her mother and two siblings when she was struck by a car in the crosswalk at Bay Road and Gloria Way, Officer Veronica Barries said.

The driver was longtime Costano Elementary School teacher and East Palo Alto resident Alisha Whiteparker, 49, Barries said.

Whiteparker struck the girl at 8:06 a.m. while driving southbound on Bay Road, Barries said. Sioreli had been about 5 or 6 feet into the crosswalk, according to residents living nearby. Barries said she suffered major injuries and died shortly thereafter at the scene.

Residents wept as the coroner and police investigated the scene. Family members tried to comfort Sioreli's mother.

Outside the police-tape barrier nearby, Whiteparker also wept, comforted by residents who said she had grown up in the neighborhood.

"She's a good woman," Maggie McDuffy said, adding that she heard and saw the accident just as she opened the door to her home, which is several feet from the crosswalk. Larry Arnold, who lives with McDuffy, said he came running outside.

"I heard the impact, and I saw a shoe in the street. I didn't want to see any more. It was sickening," he said.

Barries said the accident did not appear to be criminal, and Whiteparker was sent home after questioning.

The T-shaped intersection includes a stop sign on Gloria but none on Bay. There is no crossing guard assigned to the intersection, according to a spokesman for the Ravenswood City School District.

Some residents were furious, citing ongoing traffic issues on the busy arterial street. They said stop signs should be added, given that the intersection is a few blocks from the elementary school and families and mothers with small children frequently use it.

"This should be 15 mph. The kids, when they are this little can run out ahead of their parents. They don't know any better. All day long there are crazy drivers that don't care," McDuffy said.

Germaine Demecio Garner, who was biking when he heard the accident, defended Whiteparker.

"It wasn't her fault. Kids just bust out of nowhere. She's been here all her life. She was raised on this street. She's a respectful teacher. She's been at the school for years," he said.

The little girl's death was Garner's second tragedy of the day, he said.

At about 5:30 a.m., his friend Danny Lee Dixon, 50, was killed in a head-on collision just two blocks away by a driver who was fleeing police. San Mateo County coroner's officials identified Dixon as an East Palo Alto resident.

"I've lost a lot of people," but the death of the girl was too much, Garner said, his hands shaking.

Police were investigating a call in the 400 block of Runnymede Street when the early morning motorcycle fatality occurred.

A resident saw a suspicious person in their yard, and officers spotted a gray Land Rover driving with its lights off. The driver sped away as police pursued and drove eastbound about three blocks down University Avenue the wrong way into the westbound lane, police said.

The Land Rover struck the motorcycle head-on, killing Dixon near the intersection of Bay Road. Police took the driver, East Palo Alto resident Eric Banford, 46, into custody. The East Palo Alto Police Department is conducting an administrative investigation on the officers involved in the pursuit, which is standard procedure in such incidents, Barries said.

Residents wondered if the road blocks police erected following the motorcycle accident created a chaotic situation that led to the second accident.

Police had cordoned off part of Bay in both directions north and south of University by at least half a block, and vehicles were making U-turns on Bay when they encountered the police tape, residents said.

"To me, it had a lot to do with the first accident. They should've sent a crossing guard," Lucy Vasquez said. "They know there's a school right there. The police department should've been more involved that's what hurts me. There were cars backing up, and kids are trying to cross."

But Barries said she had heard that some drivers were making U-turns, but other residents with whom she spoke at the scene said the traffic flow was not different from other days.

"By the driver's own admission, she didn't know the road was blocked off and was just doing her routine pattern of going to the school," Barries said.

Alcohol and speeding were not factors in Whiteparker's accident, she said. Whiteparker was possibly distracted, but that is still under investigation, she said.

Vasquez said Sioreli's death will have a direct impact on Vasquez's family.

"I have a daughter just like her. My daughter goes to the same school," she said, as tears streamed down her cheeks. "I didn't tell my daughter that her little friend got killed. It's going to be very hard."

Staff Writer Sue Dremann can be emailed at sdremann@paweekly.com.

Comments

Posted by Mr. Ironic, a resident of Midtown
on Sep 28, 2011 at 10:37 am

Dam RIP my son is 7 and I drive down that street everyday


Posted by MP Resident, a resident of Menlo Park
on Sep 28, 2011 at 10:39 am

This is SO sad.....my heart goes out to the family of the little girl....RIP.

Also wondering how the driver struck the family "in the crosswalk"....distracted possibly? Just very disturbing to hear about these accidents whereby innocent children end up being victims of adult recklessness (speed, cell phones, etc).


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 28, 2011 at 10:45 am

This is heartbreaking. Not only because a child was walking to school and killed but the driver was a teacher at the school!

This has always been one of my fears, an accident near a school in the commute hours is more than likely going to involve a parent/teacher/child all involved in the school. How difficult for the school community.

My heart goes out to all involved, particularly the child's family.


Posted by Hmmm, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Sep 28, 2011 at 10:48 am

FWIW, I heard that because of the motorcycle/SUV accident, there was heavier traffic on Bay due to detours.

This is a terrible day - I am very sorry. I hope that the police will let the community know what they can do, if anything.


Posted by PA Mom, a resident of Midtown
on Sep 28, 2011 at 11:28 am

heartbreaking! I always worry about this with parents trying to drop off kids and then rush off to work. We've all been rushed at some point but being late is NO BIG DEAL people!

Was there a crossing guard at this crosswalk? stop sign? light? So senseless..what incredible grief for all involved. So sorry to hear.


Posted by Very Sad, a resident of Menlo Park
on Sep 28, 2011 at 11:37 am

MP Resident - shame on you!!! Before the facts are even known you have to attach your negative speculation to this very sad article. This was a teacher at the school - very likely an extremely careful driver around the school. She may have even known the child and is certainly devastated. Your comments solve no purpose at all.

I have said it many times before - we ALL must work to avoid these accidents. I am not blaming the mother or the child, but postings like yours make me very worried. Everyone must proceed with caution, and expect the unexpected. People have heart attacks, brakes fail, etc. Unfortunately, some people do still text (I saw it this morning). But please, if all parties proceed with caution, and no one expects the other party to be the only one that can prevent accidents, then more accidents can be prevented. We don't know if this one could have - at this time, we only know that two families (and many friends) are hurting beyond imagination today.


Posted by Me, a resident of another community
on Sep 28, 2011 at 12:24 pm

By the photos attached, this appears to be an uncontrolled crosswalk. Many times pedestrians feel that they are in the crosswalks and that the cars have to stop, giving them a false sence of securitty to walk without being as carefull as if there were no crosswalk.


Posted by midtown, a resident of Midtown
on Sep 28, 2011 at 12:28 pm

I am a mom and a commuter. Every morning I drive thru the busy school traffic near both Palo Verde and Ohlone. It is very stressful, with pedestrians, dogs, bikers, cars, etc. There is a crossing guard but you have to have your eyes going in every direction at once, it feels as if someone is going to leap out in front of you any minute. We all have to be careful every moment, one little lapse is all it takes. Who knows what the cause was this morning, but my heart goes out to the teacher and the family of the little girl. This is a very sad day for our town.


Posted by John, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 28, 2011 at 1:03 pm

> There is a crossing guard but you have to have your eyes going
> in every direction at once,

Wonder what things would be like if starting time for that school were pushed back 30 minutes, to half past eight?


Posted by which street?, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Sep 28, 2011 at 1:03 pm

Which street was the family crossing? Bay Street or Gloria Way?

Bay Street is one of those ugly 4 lane streets with marked crosswalks and no stop lights (like California Ave in Palo Alto). Those kinds of streets really need traffic calming to make them safer for pedestrians, especially if this is near a school. 4 lane streets are so wide that they may be clear when the family starts crossing, but all kinds of trouble can happen before they get to the other side. Once they get part way across the street, they are totally at the mercy of the cars coming from multiple directions.


Posted by Enough!, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Sep 28, 2011 at 2:12 pm

"To me, it had a lot to do with the first accident. They should've sent a crossing guard," Lucy Vasquez said. "They know there's a school right there. The police department should've been more involved -- that's what hurts me. There were cars backing up and kids are trying to cross."

Why are the cops blamed for EVERYTHING?

It appears to be a tragic accident. Many broken hearts and lives. Stop the blame game and start thinking solutions.


Posted by Lifeisnotfair, a resident of Midtown
on Sep 28, 2011 at 3:12 pm

Too bad the driver of the car was a teacher. Too bad it was not some criminal high on drugs fleeing from the police. It would be so much easier to hate the driver and wish them bad karma:(


Posted by Why blame?, a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 28, 2011 at 3:35 pm

The police should be prepared for emergencies. Instead, they don't seem to have a plan that encompasses anything other than dealing with the immediate problem. For example, if there is an incident that occurs on a school day within x blocks of a school, extra officers need to be deployed to that area.

It's just a matter of thinking through different scenarios and planning ahead for them. The laziness of the PD has cost the life of a little girl and caused tremendous distress for many others.


Posted by Hmmm, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Sep 28, 2011 at 4:13 pm

Why Blame is correct. The cops should've been near the school to help w/all of the additional traffic. Bay is already a very busy street between Univ & Willow, w/many homes, the school & traffic.


Posted by Hmmm, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Sep 28, 2011 at 4:26 pm

So is Eric Banford related to Jabari Banford, killed in EPA this summer?

Web Link

I bet they are.


Posted by PushBackTime, a resident of Midtown
on Sep 28, 2011 at 5:24 pm

I agree with John...a good idea to push back 30 minutes to 8:30am. It gets rid of the business drivers (I THINK), since they should be already long gone to their job site.


Posted by Mike W, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 28, 2011 at 6:29 pm

It's a shame.

RIP.

No matter what kind of noise there is out there, remember it never hurts to do a little a good in whatever capacity you can. I'll always be there for my friends, to do some good, however they call.

PEACE ON EARTH!


Posted by Hmmm, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Sep 28, 2011 at 7:25 pm

So this article has more info:

Web Link

It seems that the driver, while a respected teacher, does have a driving history that makes one wonder. Would this be all of her violations, or just the past 7 years?

As far as the idiot driving the SUV which killed the motorcyclist, he was the father of the criminal who was killed this summer, Jabari Banford. The police were chasing the car because they thought it may have been involved in a burglary on Bell St.; if that's the case, it stands to reason it was driving w/out headlights on. The motorcyclist was also an EPA resident. This town of 26k has lost two residents in one day, through no fault of their own it seems. I am so sorry.


Posted by mutti, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Sep 28, 2011 at 7:42 pm

I work in Ravenswood District and have known Alisha for many years. She is a wonderful teacher, caring person, who must be devastated by this accident. Green Oaks School mourns the loss of this lovely girl, and we have such sympathy for her family. All-in-all a terrible day in EPA.


Posted by Erin, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Sep 28, 2011 at 8:05 pm

This story is such a tragedy and should remind us all to be careful not only while driving through town but also while walking or biking and to never have a false sense of security on the road.

Pushing back the start time of school helps but does not solve the problem. Hays starts at 8:25 and the traffic at Embarcadero and Middlefield is still a mess in the morning. With over 520 kids all converging onto the campus at one time, it's just always going to be crowded in the morning.


Posted by Common sense, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 28, 2011 at 10:14 pm

The suggestion that the police should have contingencies and procedures in place is a sound one. The police in EPA were clearly overwhelmed and unable to handle the traffic situation that arose out of the first accident. I traveled down University this morning heading toward the Dumbarton about 10 minutes after the second accident. EPA police had closed University, but there was no formal detour or direction provided. The policeman in his car at the closure wasn't even out on the street to answer questions or provide guidance. Cars were merely diverted left or right and then left to fend for themselves on residential streets, hoping that the University closure was only several blocks and that they could wind their way back onto University at some point. Traffic became incredibly snarled and no one knew which direction to go, and many people were turning around in driveways once it became clear that moving forward with traffic wasn't going to get you anywhere. A set detour route with police support to divert cars around the accident would have had a big impact. They needed police at every intersection of Illinois to help get the cars back out of the residentual area and onto a street that would take them around the closure area. Detour signs to direct people onto specific streets would have helped funnel the traffic and give people a sense that they were not heading in a futile direction. It also sounds like the Bay closure was not marked far enough back, leading to the need for U-Turns. Palo Alto Police could have helped by alerting people at University and 101 that University was "closed to through traffic ahead" so as to try to stem the flow of cars into a very troubled situation. I realize we ask a lot of the police, and I hate to point fingers, but it is a shame that there was not a basic plan in place to manage the diverted traffic. Remember, this was two and half hours after the first accident, plenty of time to set up more formal traffic diversion efforts on a busy thoroughfare.


Posted by Prayers to the families, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Sep 28, 2011 at 10:43 pm

I've read the comments and feel obligated to also respond to some on some. First and forgot prayers to the families during this tragic time. I have a 6 yr old, I am a resident, and was 11/2 hour late to work trying to get through all the traffic while dropping off my son and niece to school and daycare.

To VERY SAD; I completely understand you were saying about the mom not being as close to her kid as many others may have one. I too am not blaming the mother, however something to ensure I keep in check as kids often "walk in front". As parents, regardless if there is a cross guard or not, it's for us to walk our kids across these busy streets. No one can ever be too careful.

To HMMMM, I got one ticket on page mill with every single item listed on the driver's record. I pulled to a stop sign, stop before the line, and was talking on my cell via speaker phone. My speeding ticket was for me going 37 in a 35, and while people were passing me up, I got pulled over. So think twice before being quick to judge.

Lastly, I've known Alesha in some capacity for over 20 years. She has a great family who have all been active positive members in the community. She has been a teacher of various grades for many years, even teaching two of my relatives. She LOVES children and chose to work in this community despite offers and requests of more desirable neighborhoods. She's a mentor and gives children in this poverty stricken area hope. Alesha, I'm praying with you!


Posted by 2 1/2hrs too late, a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 29, 2011 at 3:21 am

i dont understand how the police not finish with investigating and clearing up before 7am....this had alot to do with traffic on the first fatality!! they know how East Palo Alto is a cummuter city.

Sorry for both deaths which could have been prevented, i thouhgt cops need to stop giving chase if it gets too dangerous?

who knows


Posted by PA Mom, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 29, 2011 at 10:25 am

SHAME on you Palo Alto Online! Once again you have stooped to sensationalism. Sue Dremann should be fired immediately, with her editor if she has one. The graphic description of the accident and of the distraught families are simply not necessary in a NEWS article. This is reminiscent of the description of the mother whose son was killed by the train in July. Yellow journalism at its finest. And the photo of the motorcycle should be removed immediately!
Where are your standards?


Posted by coooper, a resident of another community
on Sep 29, 2011 at 11:05 am

I just got back from Texas, where streets near schools are posted 20mph and are heavily patrolled by police, every day when school begins and ends, no exceptions.


Posted by Hmmm, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Sep 29, 2011 at 11:33 am

Hi Prayers, you may have a similar driving record to the teacher's, but have you hit a pedestrian while driving? If not, no biggie, but it so, your record may become a factor. Plus, her record indicates driving NOT using hands free cell. It's great that the teacher has so many supporters online, interviewed for articles & the news, but that doesn't change what she did. When the investigation results are released, we'll know more. I'm well aware of her family & their contributions & this doesn't erase what they've done, nor does this tragedy erase her contributions. However, it also doesn't mean she's perfect & incapable of mistakes - her driving record already indicates that she's far from perfect.


Posted by Frank, a resident of Midtown
on Sep 29, 2011 at 1:15 pm

Sorry but 90% of BMW owners are jerks. Just watch when u drive. Over and over I have seen BMW owners drive with agression and a bad, bad attitude. Apparently the road comes with it when u buy the car. I realize its possible it may not be her fault but the kid was in a crosswalk for crissakes.


Posted by Mario, a resident of Evergreen Park
on Sep 29, 2011 at 1:22 pm

and Police - STOP high speed chases! Enough is Enough!


Posted by Sandy, a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 29, 2011 at 2:36 pm

My heart goes out to the family - a child is never suppose to die before their parent.

As far as the teacher, I am sorry for her also as she has to live with this for the rest of her life.

As far as you who are so quick to judge - do you have a cell phone and do you use it while your driving? I still see people using their cell phones while driving. These people are absolutely unaware of what is going on while talking on the phone - this could happen to you so think about this before you pick up your cell phone while driving.


Posted by anon, a resident of Evergreen Park
on Sep 29, 2011 at 2:56 pm

I honestly think these crosswalks, where there's no stop sign or light (There are a few on el camino near california avenue) should be removed. They imply that it is safe to walk in them, clearly as understood by a child's mind. But there is WAY TOO MUCH visual noise for the driver (even without a cell phone or radio or anything in the car) for activity that quickly jumps into the crosswalk to be visible in time.

This is a design problem that creates a situation that is inherently flawed.

I also think the light that goes red in two directions at Escondido school, where kids cross on diagonals before school and after school on every day but Wednesday, is WRONG for a child's mind. The light does not act this way 24/7. What child would know that? None.


Posted by Tired of the bs, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Sep 29, 2011 at 3:01 pm

This is a horrible tragedy and my heart goes out to everyone involved, but I don't think there is one person or agency to blame.

I drive down Bay Road every morning. I see children walking by themselves and parents allowing kids to run far ahead. Both parents and kids walk out into the street without making sure the driver sees them. The school buses stop at Bay Road in front of Cesar Chavez and cars frequently go around them. At the same time I see the school bus drivers talking to parents out the door with their red lights on, which leads to frustration by the drivers who are waiting to be able to pass and traffic backs up down Bay road. There is one crossing guard there and she seems to do a good job, but she is just in front of the school. I don't know who is responsible for hiring crossing guards, it does not seem to be a function of the police department, maybe the school district? It looks like we have one at each school? Maybe the parents should volunteer to be crossing guards at other intersections?

I know it is fun to jump on the bandwagon and blame the police, but they are not responsible for everything that goes on in the city. Sure it would be great for there to be an officer at every school, but last I heard, we have the lowest staffed police
department in the state, so unless we hire more, I just don't see that being realistic.

Let's try to come up with solutions rather than find blame.


Posted by stopp, a resident of South of Midtown
on Sep 29, 2011 at 3:45 pm

why very little mention of police endangering people and even killing people in high speed chases?? is it really worth? sometimes police chase people who are doing less than someone whos texting while driving yet never get pulled over. it shows most americans care more about authority than citizens health! police have even made high speed chase of BICYCLISTS!! a bike rider who may not have a headlight at dusk before it is even dark! a high speed chase down the street!!


Posted by Hmmm, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Sep 29, 2011 at 4:30 pm

This is one time when a strong police presence on this incredibly busy road may have averted tragedy. There are TWO schools on the same lot on Bay, plus commuters, plus traffic was redirected. Add to that school buses, parents dropping off kids via car AND on foot, & you have this tragedy. Seriously, the cops screwed up.

I hope that this publication posts how we can help the families of the two deceased, if we possibly can.


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 29, 2011 at 5:24 pm

I really sympathise with the family of the young girl and with the driver.

We do not know all the details of this case so everything being said is purely speculation at this time.

However, one of the facts that is known is that the girl was running ahead of her mother and siblings. The truth is, that a 6 year old child should not be crossing a street on her own, ever. A 6 year old is small, doesn't weigh up whether it is safe to cross or not and cannot judge dangers.

If any parent is walking a child to school it is the responsibility of the parent to make sure it is safe to cross the street, not the child or any oncoming vehicle. It is not a question of blame or the law, it is just common sense.


Posted by Hmmm, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Sep 29, 2011 at 5:51 pm

Yeah, that's why there should've been crossing guards and/or cops, given the extra heavy traffic.

It'll be interesting to know what the investigation results say. In the interim, I wonder why the driver drove into the crosswalk when the mother & the other 2 kids were in it, if the news stories are correct.

Gloria/Bay is a notoriously dangerous street. I bet lawsuits are looming.


Posted by member, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Sep 29, 2011 at 6:28 pm

people really need to watch where they're going really she didn't see the little girl DRIVE SLOWER!!!!!


Posted by Tired of the bs, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Sep 29, 2011 at 7:03 pm

Hmmm... Almost very school campus in EPA has more than one school on it. Coastano is right down the street on Fordham along with 49er Academy, should they have put an officer there too? I'm sure they had some traffic impact with University being shut down. If we want that from our police force, then we need to fund them.

Remember back when the grand jury investigated the department ? Among other things, they said the staffing levels were too low for a city our size with our crime rate. I think the chief and the department are doing what they can, but at some point you need bodies on the street. I've noticed two motor cops riding around citing people on University all the time, but I don't know if that means we added two cops or they were just reassigned. I don't know the numbers, but I'm guessing we are still not up to standard with our staffing levels.


Posted by Hmmm, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Sep 29, 2011 at 7:10 pm

Yep, given the redirected traffic, officers should've been assigned to the streets where schools are & where traffic was the heaviest. I'm not favoring one school over the other, but Bay/Gloria is a known dangerous street & a thoroughfare to/from Willow & Pulgas, so it's an easy street for people to find themselves on as a secondary artery.

My recollection is that the PD is not as understaffed as it was. However, I don't know the numbers - it may be worth a phone call if you really want to know. But yesterday, since police from neighboring cities were helping, would have been a great day for traffic control at the schools w/the heaviest road traffic.


Posted by Tiznado Family, a resident of Menlo Park
on Sep 30, 2011 at 6:15 am

If you wish to help the Zamora Family you can help them. Account name is Funeral Expenses for Sioreli, Bank name Chase, account number 980072078 and routing number is 322271627. We got this information from the mother of the little girl; we were told Sioreli's wake will be at Jones Funeral (660 Donohoe St.)in East Palo Alto Today we are not sure as to what time yet or you can call them at 650-323-2481.


Posted by Saddened , a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 30, 2011 at 11:24 am

It's easy to point fingers at the police but consider that California's budget crisis has meant drastic cuts in public services; things like police personnel, investments in making busy intersections safer, public health workers to deal with stressed-out drivers, school education programs on pedestrian safety, etc. These things may or may not have played a role, but the failing economy ultimately played a part in this tragedy. As our city/state/country falls deeper into debt, we should be prepared for an increase in tragedies that could have been prevented had there been adequate public service safety nets available to intervene.


Posted by Hmmm, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Sep 30, 2011 at 4:48 pm

Sometimes the finger needs to be pointed at the various authorities. Of course the cops should've been there - especially because they had assistance from other agencies.

Speaking of finger pointing, why was the driver getting ready to drive through a crosswalk that the dead girl's family was still walking in, BEHIND the dead girl (if the news reports have it right)? You're not supposed to drive through a crosswalk when pedestrians are approaching.


Posted by reckless drivers, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Sep 30, 2011 at 7:16 pm

The Chronicle says that the car driver has multiple convictions for reckless driving. Why was she still allowed to drive a car? And why was she allowed to work with children? People like that need to be locked up before they kill someone, not after. Web Link


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