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A meteorologist would say the uncharacteristic chill along Sabre Springs Parkway on Wednesday night was the effect of a departing cold front. Some members of the community, however, would say the temperature fit the mood of residents.
Dozens of them congregated around a white cross that evening to honor the passing of their neighbor and friend, Sandra Kay Kennedy. Two weeks ago, a vehicle jumped the curb of Sabre Springs Parkway and ended the elderly woman’s morning walk. She died at the scene from traumatic injuries.
Losing a visible member of this small, suburban community in northeast San Diego has shocked residents. It was the third fatal traffic accident on a short stretch of Sabre Springs Parkway in one year. The parkway weaves through a valley less than half a mile east of Interstate 15 and just south of California Highway 56 and leads to a local business mall, residential housing, condos and Morning Creek Elementary School. Now residents question whether their neighborhood’s main thoroughfare is safe.
“People are being extremely cautious out there right now. They’re walking facing traffic and not even going on the bike lanes anymore,” said Lenny Watson, one of Kennedy’s neighbors, who organized the community memorial service. “It’s shaken everybody up around here to the point where they’re going to do something.”
Sabre Springs has struggled recently to find participants for its community planning group and now faces a deadline of losing the city’s certification. Since Kennedy’s death, however, more people have expressed interest in the community’s public affairs, said Craig Balben, chairman of the Sabre Springs community planning group.
“We don’t want to create an issue, but it’s been the impetus by which people want to get involved,” Balben said. “People are coming out of the woodwork on this.”
It’s unclear at this point whether Sabre Springs Parkway is actually a public safety hazard or whether the three recent fatalities are coincidence. There have been 15 reported traffic accidents near the scene of Kennedy’s death since 2005, placing that type of road well below what city traffic engineers measures as a high rate of incidents. Still, the city is starting an investigation of the street to gauge whether certain measures should be taken.
Sabre Springs Parkway is designed as the main thoroughfare to the neighborhood’s residential plots and small business parks. Its landscape is well groomed around the planned suburban development. The parkway curves along the lower half the valley with small trees in the center median and fencing along the lower canyon. The speed limit is marked at 45 mph, but residents say many drivers exceed that, especially at night. Unlike other roads in the neighborhood, Sabre Springs Parkway is long and flat, making it an attractive place to walk, run or commute by bicycle.
The first of three recent fatal accidents along Sabre Springs Parkway occurred early on the morning of Oct. 8, 2008. Investigators believe Ariestotel Calumba Timbol, 24, of San Diego, was riding a motorcycle at speeds over 100 mph and lost control. The motorcycle jumped onto the median island, hit a tree and “disintegrated,” according to police reports. Timbol was thrown from the motorcycle onto the road, where he later died.
Timbol had received a motorcycle permit five days before the incident and was commuting to his job as a metal plater. He had been living with a girlfriend and their two children just north of Sabre Springs. Investigators determined the incident was an accident and filed no criminal charges.
On the night of Jan. 6, a vehicle struck Walter Carl Joller, Jr., 55, while he was commuting home from work on his bicycle — a habit and passion of 30 years. Joller was wearing reflective and other safety gear but the car, traveling at near the speed limit, hit and killed him. Arthur Newman, the driver, has been charged with a misdemeanor crime of vehicular manslaughter for inattention to the road.
Kennedy’s death was the most recent accident along Sabre Springs Parkway. On the morning of Oct. 14, Kennedy was walking on the sidewalk when a vehicle jumped the curb and hit her. The driver, Carl William David, Jr., is accused of felony manslaughter while driving intoxicated. Prosecutors say he was high on methamphetamines at the time of the crash. He driver’s license had also been suspended.
Sabre Springs residents looked at the first two incidents as random tragedies. Timbol was rushing to work and Joller had been riding at night when bicyclists can be harder to see. But the death of Kennedy — a resident of their community — signaled that something might be wrong with the thoroughfare.
Just south of where the accidents occurred, there are a small number of shops and businesses. Some are open 24 hours and their employees notice the daily pedestrian traffic. Some employees said foot traffic along Sabre Springs Parkway has dropped since Kennedy’s death. Others are skeptical of that trend because joggers were back on the sidewalks a day after the incident.
Balben, the planning group’s chairman, doesn’t know whether Sabre Springs Parkway is dangerous, but he hopes the community’s renewed enthusiasm in public affairs won’t diminish with time. The planning committee needs more members — a minimum of 12 total — to keep its city certification.
“It’s a real problem for us because only a few folks who want to be involved in the process are having a voice,” Balben said. “The more viewpoints we have, the better decision we can make.”
Balben is organizing an unofficial community meeting on Nov. 9 that he hopes will be a discussion of the community’s local governance. He suggested the group might change its organization so it’s more like a community council that addresses more issues than building and property management.
Neighborhood leaders and city officials said they don’t know why Sabre Springs is having more trouble than other communities with planning group membership. Some speculated that Sabre Springs has fewer active residents because it doesn’t have the historical roots of other neighborhoods. It also has a few building projects to deal with at committee meetings.
“You don’t really know what will ring people’s bell,” Balben said. “[Kennedy] was just one of those people who get you thinking, OK, what is wrong.”
San Diego Councilman Carl DeMaio, the district representative for Sabre Springs, said he hopes the community is able to work out some form of community governance for the future.
“We’re not at a loss for community input, which is a good thing,” said DeMaio. “What you would lose is that consistency and focus on significant community projects.”
Correction: The original caption in this story identified the white cross as a memorial for Sandra Kay Kennedy. The cross in the photo is actually a memorial to Ariestotel Calumba Timbol. We regret the error.