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Teacher blames fatal accident on sun glare

Original post made on Oct 21, 2011

A teacher who struck and killed a 6-year-old East Palo Alto girl in a crosswalk Sept. 28 told police that sun glare prevented her from seeing Sioreli Torres Zamora, East Palo Alto Police Chief Ron Davis has confirmed.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Friday, October 21, 2011, 9:56 AM

Comments (35)

Posted by Elizabeth
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 21, 2011 at 10:35 am

I understand that the police have to give this careful consideration, but I hope they consider that clearly this is someone who has dedicated her life to the little ones' betterment, and certainly would not have chosen this situation or outcome.

This woman has already been singled out for a painful "rest of life" experience by circumstances/fate. Whether she is charged or not does not mean she'll "go free."

Life doesn't work that way. She'll carry this loss the rest of her life.

Posted by Noel
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 21, 2011 at 11:15 am

If two children have been struck in this same intersection at the same time of day because of sun glare, it is time to have an adult monitoring that intersection every morning as children are going to school to escort them across. This tragedy need not be repeated.

Posted by PA mom
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 21, 2011 at 11:19 am

My daughter was hit by a car and survived with a broken bone and a sprang, etc. The driver, who ran a red light, excused her self by saying that the sun was in her eyes. We never found out what her consequences were, but the police didn't let her off scott free. Sun glare is no excuse. Drivers must wear sun glasses, use sun visors, and slow down, even to a crawl, when blinded by the sun.

Posted by driver
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Oct 21, 2011 at 11:23 am

Sun glare at this time of year when the sun is low in the sky is a valid concern. I don't know the age of the driver but as we age, our eyesight is slower to adjust to changes in light and dark. Also if the windshield is not clean, inside from road haze and outside from dust, the effect of the sun glare is worse. I'm going out to clean the inside of my windshield as well as the outside. May the child rest in peace, may her family and the teacher find some kind of help for what will surely haunt them all forever.

Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 21, 2011 at 11:41 am

On these sunny mornings, sun glare is a problem not only for drivers but anyone out and about whether they are in a car, on a bike or walking.

As we approach a cross walk we must make sure that the approaching cars see us and stop for us before we step out. Parents walking with young children must hold hands and teach them that it is not safe to cross until they are sure it is safe to do so rather than teach them that a crosswalk gives them the right of way so they are safe.

This accident would never have happened if the child had been walking with her mother instead of running ahead.

Posted by slow down
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 21, 2011 at 12:32 pm

Sun in your eyes is no excuse for killing someone. If you can't see well enough to drive safely, then slow down until you are safe! The safest legal speed may be somewhat less than the marked speed limit.

Posted by Another Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 21, 2011 at 12:37 pm

Resident - very well stated!!

May I add, when teaching a child to ride a bike, include discussion about making sure drivers see you. It is very interesting to watch an intersection in the morning and see the wide variation in walking and biking "styles". High school students are the worst, with the added risk of not buckling their helmets. I stopped at a three-way stop the other day. The car to my left legally proceeded, but barely missed hitting a biker who drove up on my right and ran the stop sign. Were my car a taller model, the driver may not have stopped in time.

Please drivers - leave a few minutes earlier and wipe off your car windows before setting out.

Please bikers - understand that cars have greater mass and you will likely lose if you and a car try to enter the same space... and someone make it "cool" to buckle helmets!!

Please walkers - watch out for everyone (cars and bikes), and understand that laws will assist, but only you can prevent some accidents.

Stay save!!!

Posted by Stuart
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 21, 2011 at 12:45 pm

Dedicated teacher? Maybe, but blaming it on the glare from the sun is not an excuse.
California Driver's Code states that one should only drive as fast as conditions permit, while not exceeding the posted speed limit.

Posted by JustMe
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 21, 2011 at 12:52 pm

I have a hard time with glare too in the morings and evenings, when the sun is low. I have noticed that it can hit you quite suddenly, when you turn a corner or emerge from a shadow of a tree or building. I try to clean the windshield, but for a few moments that only makes things worse with all the water. I also notice that there is a slow buildup of a film on the inside of the windshield that you don't even notice most of the time, but can cause serious glare in the proper light.

My reaction to glare is to become suddenly much more cautious. If you are wondering why that car in front of you is moving so slowly in the school zone in the morning, it's me trying to see and be careful.

Other than the fact that this teacher says she was exposed to glare, I don't know much at this point. But I agree with Noel, I think it is time for a crossing guard at that location.

If this driver had been fleeing a crime scene I would be inclined to be much less sympathetic, but that is not the case. I don't think there are any good answers as to what to do about this at this point. Nothing is going to bring that little girl back or make anyone feel any better about it.

Posted by Marti
a resident of another community
on Oct 21, 2011 at 12:55 pm

Maybe because two kids have been killed at this intersection, they should put in a stop signal at this crossing...

Posted by don't forget
a resident of Palo Verde
on Oct 21, 2011 at 1:00 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Cid Young
a resident of another community
on Oct 21, 2011 at 1:11 pm

I was sitting at a signal very recently and the glare from the rear windshield off the vehicle in front of me was blinding. However, NOT being OVERLY cautious when driving in a school zone is no excuse. ESPECIALLY when children are apt to be present.

Posted by resident
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 21, 2011 at 1:15 pm

If glare is a problem you need to stop and/or pull over. I have done this many times, especially In the morning. The glare can be blinding, at a certain angle on the windshield.
There is no way you will see a pedestrian, especially a small child, or even a bicycle.

When you drive a certain street each day you should be familiar with the glare issues. La Donna Avenue in Barron Park, going south in the morning can be a problem, just about the time kids are going to school.

Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 21, 2011 at 2:21 pm

Be responsible - slow down.
Be careful near schools. Another hazard is when one is turning corners near schools - sometimes views are blocked so I am a bit slow and cautious. It doesn't mean driving like a granny to do this, it's just being responsible.

Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Oct 21, 2011 at 6:19 pm

The thing is, even if she didn't see the child she hit, she should've seen the kid's MOM & SIBLINGS a few steps behind the child. Just that should've stopped her from crossing through the crosswalk - because there were people already in the crosswalk, who had the right of way.

Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Oct 22, 2011 at 12:08 am

Off-topic but regarding glare, especially as we soon go off Daylight Saving Time: Oncoming glare from misaligned headlights or high-beams can be a significant contributor to night-time accidents involving unlit cyclists or pedestrians who prefer dark clothing. I am particularly wary when making a left turn, always signal and never rush it.

Posted by Andrew Boone
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Oct 22, 2011 at 2:50 am

I don't understand how it's physically possible for sun glare to have blinded both drivers if the accidents in which they injured or killed children with their cars occurred six months apart, but at nearly the exact same time of day (20 min apart).

This seems like an astronomical impossibility - the sun would be in totally different places in the sky.

Also, it seems like it should be very easy to test whether or not sun glare could be a factor in these accidents - simply drive down the street in the same direction, in the same car, at the same time of day, with a driver the same height as the original motorist, as soon as possible after the accident. See if your vision is impaired by sun glare.

Posted by WOW
a resident of Meadow Park
on Oct 22, 2011 at 3:27 am

sounds to me she was late to work, police should have been out there since they were the ones that blocked off everything..

there was an eye witness that lives there that saw the whole thing she said she was going too fast!! She also said she is willing to take that to court!

Posted by All You Can Eat
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Oct 22, 2011 at 8:10 am

Maybe, just maybe, it might be a good idea to wait for all cars to stop before using a crosswalk. Oops! There I go again... Bringing up common sence.

Posted by crosswalks
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 22, 2011 at 10:08 am

The victim was most of the way across the street before she was nailed by the car. Telling pedestrians to wait for cars to stop is ridiculous. The car was probably a block away when the victim started crossing, possibly completely out of sight. Even at 25mph, cars are going 10 times faster then pedestrians. Telling pedestrians to get out of the way is just reckless bullying.

Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Oct 22, 2011 at 5:25 pm

Good astronomical question Andrew. You would be correct comparing December and June sunrises. But consider this case of September and March, near equinox, the sun does rise almost in the same place at the same time. I assume the investigators have access to software that tells where the sun was. Mine says 9 degrees up and 15 degrees to the right of the direction of eastbound Bay Road, making it difficult to see anyone stepping off the right hand sidewalk.

@crosswalks, I can only assume the victim was crossing northbound on her way to school, so maybe most of the way across the lane, but still less than half way across the street. Yes, I would advise pedestrians to consider their visibility before stepping into the lane. For a child however, that's an unfair expectation. Children are still trusting enough to think that we big people know what we're doing.

Posted by some guy
a resident of another community
on Oct 22, 2011 at 8:26 pm

I almost hit some pedestrians in a crosswalk on El Camino years ago. It was nighttime, raining, the streetlights were out because of road construction, and I had just removed my glasses because they were covered with raindrops. Suddenly there were three people in my headlights, two men and a woman. The men ran, which gave me just enough room to swerve around the woman, who stopped in her tracks. I missed all of them by inches. I didn't have time to hit the brakes, all I could do was jerk the wheel. Since then, I have never, ever walked out in front of a moving car coming down the street, regardless of whether I have a crosswalk. It's too risky to depend on the driver seeing you. If they don't, you get creamed. You can easily look down the street to see if a car is coming before crossing.

Posted by parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 23, 2011 at 3:36 am


You are cruel to blame the child or parent. Yes if the child was with her mother maybe this tragedy would not have happened. But if the DRIVER had been driving more cautiously they could have prevented the accident. It's one of those unspoken responsibilities we have as adults and drivers, to watch out for our fellow human beings.

Twice, as an adult, I have been almost hit by drivers due to sun glare when I had right of way with a pedestrian green light to cross. Both drivers, and many others in the same situation have caught themselves just in time.

Does this intersection have a light or a stop sign? Unless there was no signal at all, and the parent had the responsibility to warn the child about the crazy intersection that should also be the responsibility of the city to make sure it's safe, the child could have been doing nothing wrong crossing.

Blaming the child, or sun glare is not enough in the case of a death. The other kid who ended up in a body cast was probably lucky the driver managed to avoid a worst fate.

If we pass along responsibilities for our driving, who can we trust?

I'm sorry this happens to be a teacher, but she is an adult driver. As adult drivers we need to know that if there is sun glare at ANY Time, we can't keep driving BLINDLY. You should be at a near full stop at that point. And sun glare does NOT happen suddenly at intersections unless you are going too fast or you choose to drive through the blinded space.

Posted by narnia
a resident of another community
on Oct 23, 2011 at 10:15 am

As a victim of a driver was had been "sun glared" I can speak with authority on this matter. Sun glare is not something that you can avoid all the time. Some of it may happened continuously and yes in that case the driver should pull up, but mostly it happens because suddenly either by getting out of shade , changing direction or even wind on foliage and in that case there isn't much anyone can do. It s important, when reconstructing an, accident to ascertain if sudden glare was the problem, or distraction coupled with the small size of a child, clothing color or any other feature was a factor in the accident. The driver may very well be partially but not totally to blame. In any case, the driver is the responsible civil part but she may or may not be criminally responsible. I don't know, but I don't like the tone of those who exhibit no capacity for analysis or critical thinking blame the teacher or worst the parents or the child.
Was this just a combination of circunstancies without vilans, the so called accident?
Let us have compassion firstly for the parents and child and lastly for the teacher who also will never be the same.

Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 23, 2011 at 11:10 am

gee, seems like a stretch - do we always go to such an extent to analyze and apportion blame as in the just prior post? I mean, isn't it simple in that a child was crossing IN the crosswalk at a regular intersection AND it is known the driver was speeding?! What else do we need to know. Arrest the driver.

Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 23, 2011 at 1:31 pm

All I can say is that if I had been with my child and allowed her to run ahead into a crosswalk rather than holding her hand, I would be blaming myself - whatever the circumstances, if she was hit by a car.

I was not there so I won't judge, but I know that it is my duty as a parent to keep my child safe.

Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Menlo Park
on Oct 23, 2011 at 10:41 pm

If you ask me, nobody here has a right to blame anybody. None of us know exactly what happened to stop pointing fingers. Yes, we should look both ways before crossing the street, and yes we should drive slowly when there's a glare. Does discussing who was more to blame bring back the young girl or prevent future accidents? No. How about some more productive commentary on what we can do to make this intersection function more smoothly/safely.

Nowhere in this article does is say that the drive stated that the glare on her windshield made hitting the child okay. It simply says that it is why she did not see her. And to bash the grieving mother for not holding her hand or watching her better is disgusting. As if those thoughts don't go through the woman's head every day now...

Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 24, 2011 at 8:34 am

Look, I am not saying that the mother of this child was a terrible person or even a poor mother. I don't suppose she reads this. I am just commenting on the accident from a safety point of view.

The best way to keep young children safe while walking to school is to hold their hands and not let them run ahead. Roads are dangerous for pedestrians and even the best regulated intersection is not going to be safe if a small child runs out when a car can't stop in time even if moving at the speed limit. If we want to make our roads safer for young pedestrians the best way is to help them understand how dangerous roads and traffic are. Teaching children to be aware of how vulnerable they are while crossing a street is a lesson all parents should teach their children while they are young.

We put children in car seats and give them bike helmets, we make playgrounds ultra safe, we make sure their toys are age appropriate and safe, we have all sorts of gadgets to childproof our homes, and all these things are good and right to have. One thing we seem to forget is teaching the children what is dangerous and what they should do to protect themselves. It is up to us as the adults in our children's lives to provide them with safety features to protect them but it is also up to us to teach them safety first.

Learning how to be safe not just avoiding all potential hazards is sensible. We can stop a toddler playing with a sharp knife, but the day comes when we teach that child how to chop vegetables safely with that same knife. But the child learns first with a less sharp knife how to cut soft food before being given a large kitchen knife and told to chop onions. A young child is protected from traffic when they are safely inside a stroller, but when the day comes that the child no longer needs the stroller then the safety lessons must start. We shouldn't let them run ahead into a busy intersection without first teaching them caution by hand holding an adult and looking before stepping out into an intersection. The child must learn that they are ultimately responsible for their own safe crossing.

You ask for a positive way to prevent future accidents like this. The simplest way is for parents to educate their children on safe pedestrian behavior.

I have great sympathy for the mother, family and friends of the child. I also have some sympathy for the driver. Now let us all learn from this, please.

Posted by G TOWN
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Oct 24, 2011 at 8:43 am

Hurry Ron,and get a cross gaurd.You know you should have took action when the first incident took place joker.Now a life is lost and all you can do is provide a cross gaurd.The teacher is not at fault ,the city is.

Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 24, 2011 at 9:05 am

Here is a road safety video from New Zealand teaching the correct way to use a crossing. I hunted from an example from the US, but it appears that we have never put one on YouTube.

Web Link

Going back to the knife analogy, we don't keep children safe from sharp knives by making our knives less sharp. We teach children how to use them. We don't make crossings safer by banning traffic, but we teach pedestrians how to use them.

Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 24, 2011 at 9:07 am

Here is another pedestrian safety film from the l940s in Britain. This one is kind of funny but gets the message across.

Web Link

Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 24, 2011 at 3:26 pm

When a pedestrian is in a crosswalk, then it is a matter of the law that s/he has right of way (can a lawyer pls corroborate this - I am not a lawyer)
However, Resident has a point about small children being best closely supervised by a responsible adult, esp. around cars.
Some months ago I prepared to back out of my driveway, craned my head back left, right, left to check all was clear and *almost* backup up (slowly) when guess what...and absolutely tiny child came running down the sidewalk and, naturally, passed right behind my car (which had cues of engine noise, brake lights on/my foot on the brake - a car about to back up). I was utterly astonished how quickly this TODDLER came out of nowhere. I HAD looked! A short time later, an adult - I WON'T call her responsible, came sauntering along completely unconcerned. I was rather shaken myself at this close call and glad for MY care and conservative style of driving. (I didn't race to back up, for example.)
PLEASE adults, please supervise your small kids, espcecially if they are inclined to run ahead.
p.s. I don't know if the person was a nanny - perhaps it was....

Posted by ChrisC
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 24, 2011 at 3:45 pm

I too have been totally blinded by sun, sometimes unexpectedly after turning and even with sunglasses on. On a freeway, I can't really stop, but I try to on non-busy streets. Often on 280 I see traffic slowing way down and I know it's because of the sun. I pretty much know the areas to look out for now and try to be prepared. Maybe darker sunglasses would help????

Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Oct 24, 2011 at 5:50 pm

I understand that the glare in her eyes was the teacher's explanation, but it's not a valid excuse. She knew it was a school zone and that caution was needed while driving. She most likely knew that there was a crosswalk in that location, but decided to drive right through it. I've been in the same situation - on familiar territory when the glare hits my eyes. The difference is, I stop before crosswalks when I can't see properly - that is my responsibility as a driver.

While I think that the community members who've protested at the PD are to pressure for an arrest are on the wrong track - many of them aren't well-versed in criminal law - I understand & respect their sentiment. She should lose her license. Otherwise, it's up to the DA's office to decide what to do.

Posted by john
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Nov 23, 2011 at 8:40 pm

killing a child at crosswalk where other children and shifting the blame to the sun glare is criminal. Should the driver know not to go through the crosswalk if she cannot see where she is going? Pedestrians have the right in the crosswalk especilay children -- there is simply no excuse to kill a child. She must go to jail.

The New York highest court recently stated that the driver cannot claim sun glare as emergency -- not even if the pedestrian is crossing outside the crosswalk.

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