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Saturday, February 23 , 2019, 3:43 am | Fair 39º

 
 
 
 
Advice

Pedestrian’s Death Highlights Safety Concerns at Buellton Intersection

Nearby residents say Highway 246 intersection where Hilder Galindo died needs improvements

Pedestrians can activate flashing lights at a Highway 246 intersection in Buellton where a pedestrian was stuck and killed Monday night, but nearby residents say that’s not enough.
Pedestrians can activate flashing lights at a Highway 246 intersection in Buellton where a pedestrian was stuck and killed Monday night, but nearby residents say that’s not enough. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

A growing memorial sits on the sidewalk near the Highway 246 crosswalk where Hilder Galindo was struck and killed Monday night in Buellton.

It marks the location of an accident that has prompted area residents to call for safety improvements.

The 41-year-old Galindo, who lived a short distance away, was walking across Highway 246 in a crosswalk at La Lata Drive when he was hit by a pickup driven by Bryant Ehrenborg, 53, of Santa Ynez.

Ehrenborg was not impaired or cited, according to the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Department.

The intersection is marked with a crosswalk painted on the asphalt, and has signs with flashing lights that, if the button is pushed, signal that a pedestrian intends to walk across the road.

But some residents question whether more is needed to improve safety at the intersection.

"I don't see very many cross here because it's not safe," said a woman who declined to give her name but lives at the nearby Ranch Club Estates mobile home park. "We all kind of stopped using it because it's not safe."

Armando Pitones tends to a memorial to his former roommate, Hilder Galindo, who was fatally injured when he was struck by a vehicle while walking across Highway 246 at La Lata Drive in Buellton on Monday night. Click to view larger
Armando Pitones tends to a memorial to his former roommate, Hilder Galindo, who was fatally injured when he was struck by a vehicle while walking across Highway 246 at La Lata Drive in Buellton on Monday night. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

After seeing the memorial, the woman decided to drive — not walk — to add items to the roadside tribute to Galindo.

"It just really touched my heart when I saw the memorial, so I grabbed a little cross to bring over," she said.

Residents question how effective the flashing lights are, with many drivers appearing oblivious to their purpose.

Street lights are located mid-block and away from the intersection, leading some residents to say the area is too dark.

"It's kind of silly, because the street light is not where the crosswalks are," said Mary Beth Kerr, who has advocated for traffic-safety improvements on Highway 154 and around the Santa Ynez Valley.

She runs a Facebook page "SYV Lives Matter."

Armed with a radar gun to log the speed of passing vehicles, Kerr headed out to the scene the night after the accident that killed Galindo.

The speed limit at the intersection is 35 mph, but a 45-mph zone sits approximately a block west of the accident scene for drivers exiting or entering town.

Kerr said she recorded speeds up to 53 mph, and many motorists, including some commercial vehicles, traveled above the speed limit.

A sign at Highway 246 and La Lata Drive in Buellton alerts pedestrians to the intersections crosswalk and flashing signs. Click to view larger
A sign at Highway 246 and La Lata Drive in Buellton alerts pedestrians to the intersections crosswalk and flashing signs. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

"It's just disgusting because traffic, when it should be doing 35 mph, was going 45 mph," she said, noting the steady steam of vehicles zooming past.

She briefly mulled trying to use the crosswalk to test drivers' compliance on the busy highway linking the Santa Ynez and Lompoc valleys. The roadway has two lanes in each direction, plus a wide turn lane in the middle.

"I wasn't even going to pretend I was going to try to walk across there," she said.

The intersection is busy since it connects to a neighborhood with popular Christmas decorations north of Highway 246, as well as schools and the Buellton Recreation Center.

South of Highway 246 is River View Park, which attracts families who walk across the wide highway.

Kerr expressed frustration after spending time watching traffic travel the roadway.

"They just think speed limits are a suggestion and stop signs are a suggestion," she said.

Nearby resident Dave Paulson, who was walking three small dogs earlier this week, said lower speed limits and better lights are needed to make the crosswalk more obvious.

Buellton City Administrator Marc Bierdzinski declined to comment on safety at the intersection, saying he needs to see the investigators' report from Monday's  accident.

The crosswalk and signs have been located at the intersection since before Buellton became a city in 1992, he said, adding that it would have been Santa Barbara County or Caltrans that handled the project.

In 2012, the city of Buellton used Measure A funding to install flashing signs with the approval of Caltrans, he added.

"As soon as the report is released, the city is going to talk to Caltrans, and we're going to see if there's anything that needs to be done in response to the tragic accident," he said.

The Sheriff's Department is considering conducting a pedestrian-safety-enforcement operation in Buellton in the near future, spokeswoman Kelly Hoover said.

Meanwhile, on Wednesday night, Galindo's roommate of three years, Armando Pitones, brought more flowers to join other bouquets, photos, candles, crosses, and a rosary making up the memorial to the man who planned to return to Nicaragua to visit his mom.

Now, the mother of his children has created a Go Fund Me page to solicit donations so Galindo's body can be returned to Nicaragua.

Pitones agreed the intersection is not safe.

"They need a light or something flashing, because those little lights (are tiny)," he said. "When I come home, I see the little flash and then vroom. As soon they pass the (traffic signal) light, they start in and do the power."

Galindo had worked for Rudy's Restaurant in Buellton until Friday, and Pitones said the victim had been a real fan of country music, classic cartoons and movies.

After adding flowers and lighting candles at the memorial, Pitones said, "That's all that I can do, put the flowers, candles."

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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