The death of 8-year-old Bradley Rofer – hit by a pickup truck in early September while his family watched him walk his bike across a crosswalk on the way to school – is prompting a tough debate about whether civic leaders are doing enough to protect kids at dangerous intersections.
In response to Bradley’s death, county officials are now planning to add a traffic light at the intersection – where South County’s high-speed Oso Parkway runs into Coto de Caza Drive near Wagon Wheel Elementary School.
But the incident and the county response are also raising questions about whether this kind of public safety threat is getting the attention it needs.
For starters, it’s slated to take another 18 months to get a traffic light up at the intersection, where Oso Pkwy. has a speed limit of 55 miles per hour.
County officials cite the need to custom build the metal light poles.
They so far have turned down calls for quicker options in the meantime, like a push-button crosswalk that lights up to warn drivers.
Bradley’s death also is sparking questions about crossing guards.
The Sheriff’s Department pays a company to provide school crossing guards there starting at 7:15 a.m. – a half hour before school starts, according to a county report.
But when Bradley was hit at 7:25 a.m., according to the report, neither of the two contracted guards were there.
Officials won’t discuss what happened to the crossing guards and why they weren’t there.
Sheriff officials didn’t have answers last week in response to Voice of OC’s questions, and the contractor – All City Management Services – also didn’t return a phone message.
Local Streets Failing to Keep Up
The design of local streets in the Coto de Caza area have not been keeping up with the explosion of population in recent decades, said county Supervisor Katrina Foley, who was recently elected to represent a district that includes where Bradley was killed.
“The pedestrian infrastructure has not kept up with the population growth over the last 20 years,” Foley said at a meeting last Tuesday where supervisors went on record supporting the traffic signal’s installation.
“It does feel like there are a lot of very fast-speeding cars in a small, predominantly residential community,” Foley added.
In an interview three days after the supervisors’ meeting, Bradley’s mother said she hopes any new measures will protect anyone who uses those crosswalks.
“I love my little boy. And he can’t come back,” said Josette Rofer.
“I just hope that whatever is in place will protect anybody using that intersection.”
Rofer informed Voice of OC on Friday she’s represented by Michael Penn, a partner at Aitken Aitken & Cohn. The firm’s founding partner, Wylie Aitken, also serves as chairman of Voice of OC’s board.
Kids Are Getting Hit Near Schools All Over OC
Bradley’s death is not an outlier.
Getting hit by a car while walking or biking is among the most common causes of death for school-age children in Orange County, according to relevant CDC and state traffic collision data reviewed by Voice of OC.
Drivers across Orange County killed a total of 51 children while walking or biking over the 11 years ending in 2021, according to state data from police reports.
Another 307 kids suffered severe injuries, the data show.
The Orange County Transportation Authority, which funds many of the major street improvements in OC, says they do not keep track of which roads and intersections are the most dangerous. Those kinds of safety responsibilities are up to cities, a spokesman said.
But that kind of public safety information rarely if ever gets discussed at meetings of top elected officials in Orange County.
Where Are The Biggest Hot Spots For Cars Hitting Kids?
There’s an online database and map – called TIMS – that shows where the hotspots are for deaths and injuries, based on a state database from police reports.
Voice of OC reviewed that public data to identify two of the most dangerous roadways for kids in Orange County.
According to data, two of the biggest hotspots are across from Newport Harbor High, and a cluster of Santa Ana schools that include Valley High School.
On the streets around Valley High, Carl Harvey Elementary and Carr Intermediate, there have been at least 6 incidents since 2011 of kids getting seriously injured or killed by cars.
Five were serious injuries, and one was the death of a 13-year-old girl who was killed by a school district truck while riding her bike in a crosswalk.
In the late 1990s, Santa Ana had the highest rate of pedestrian fatalities in Southern California, according to the LA Times.
While politicians often encourage people to bike to work, the reality is the infrastructure makes that a dangerous proposition in much of the county.
Voice of OC took a comprehensive look at bike injuries and deaths back in 2013.
Read Here: Bike To Death
Many of Orange County’s major roads are built to prioritize moving cars quickly rather than protecting the safety of pedestrians and cyclists.
Sometimes, local officials also cut traffic safety measures for local school kids.
In 2014, just a few weeks after the girl was killed near Valley High, the city’s Police Department suddenly removed 25 school crossing guards without warning – prompting anger from parents.
The Newport High hotspot has had at least one death and four serious injuries of children since 2011, mostly along busy Irvine Ave. in front of the school.
The death was of 8-year-old Brock McCann, who was riding his bike when he was struck by a trash truck of the municipal waste contractor CR&R.
Hit and Miss
Things were quiet last Friday morning at the Coto de Caza intersection where Bradley Rofer was killed a few months ago.
A Voice of OC photographer saw crossing guards start at their posts on time, by 7:15 a.m.
Traffic was busy, with cars approaching from three different directions. Some came in at high speed, made a quick stop and then continued to speed off.
The guards both stood at their posts, monitoring traffic and looking out for pedestrians.
Yet during the 40 minutes the photographer was present, no one used the crosswalks.
Voice of OC’s director of photography, Julie Leopo, contributed reporting.