Another child killed in a traffic accident.
Another tearful candlelight vigil.
Ashley Henderson, a 16-year-old Waterford High student, died after being struck by a pickup Feb. 12. She was bicycling across Highway 132-Yosemite Boulevard at Western Avenue at dusk, and the accident has people of that city wondering why there are no traffic signals at Western — only stop signs in the north-south directions.
While the accident remains under investigation, there's little doubt among residents that traffic lights would have prevented it.
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Too often it takes a tragedy to force action. California Department of Transportation spokeswoman Zelie Nogueira said the intersection had been flagged for an investigation even before Ashley's death, based on California Highway Patrol accident numbers.
The town needs needs the traffic controls. Waterford's population has nearly doubled over the past 20 years. New housing developments brought more vehicles and pedestrians. Growth created the need for a new shopping center, built at the southwest corner of Yosemite and Western. It also created the need for a high school that was built just 1,300 feet to the west.
Meanwhile, established neighborhoods are north of the highway. Students cross the highway at great risk, one Waterford resident said, because the vast majority of motorists don't stop to let them cross even though there are crosswalk markings and a sign warning of pedestrians.
"If you don't hurry up, you're going to get hit," said Armando Madrigal, who lives at Western and Yosemite. "From about 7:30 until about 8 o'clock in the morning, (students) know people aren't going to stop. There have been lots of accidents. I've had cars on my porch, going onto my lawn to avoid hitting somebody."
Motorists have done more than simply ignore the pedestrian sign, he said.
"I picked it up once because somebody ran over it," Madrigal said. "Getting out of school, from about 4 p.m. on, the traffic there is just crazy. (Drivers) don't let people cross."
Ashley's death was the second fatality at the intersection in the past nine years. In 2001, an 86-year-old man died when his daughter drove into the path of a pickup as she tried to cross the highway on Western. She and her mother both were severely injured.
Caltrans' Nogueira said there are no official requests on file from the city for the traffic signal. But City Manager Chuck Deschenes said a city official met with Caltrans officials about a week before Ashley's death because the state is considering realigning the Bentley Street intersection a couple of short blocks to the east.
Bentley, by the way, is where a Waterford fifth-grader was hit and killed in 2004 by the same driver involved in the 2001 accident at Western and Yosemite. The driver was ruled not to be at fault in either accident.
"(Western) always comes up in those discussions," Deschenes said. "We pitch it every chance we get. (The state does) lots of traffic studies to see if it meets Caltrans' warrants. It's been very close. We've been in constant contact to see when it would get the money for a light."
Usually, though, wherever a state highway passes through a town -- large or small -- getting anything done tends to be an adventure in red tape.
Modesto officials wrangled with state officials for several years before McHenry Avenue (Highway 108) finally was resurfaced in 2009.
Three Oakdale pedestrians were struck in a two-month stretch — a 7-year-old girl died and two other people were injured — by vehicles on F Street (Highway 108-120) in the early 1990s before Caltrans installed a stoplight on F at Johnson Street.
For decades, Waterford residents along North Western Avenue lived on one of the county's most pitted, deteriorated streets. An avenue? An off-road vehicle trail was more like it. When Waterford finally rebuilt the street in 2007, officials wanted to continue to the highway with electricity and storm drains, planning ahead for the eventual improvements that would include a stoplight at Yosemite.
Instead, the work ended about 100 feet north of the highway.
"We didn't get into it," Deschenes said. "Being Caltrans territory, it would have delayed the project by a year or two."
In the aftermath of Ashley's death, about 200 friends, schoolmates, parents and teachers at Waterford High mourned at a vigil Monday night. Waterford residents want the traffic controls that hopefully will prevent another tragedy.
And while the numbers of vehicles, pedestrians and accidents tell Caltrans whether a signal is needed, perhaps the only numbers that should really matter are these:
The last one and the next one.
Jeff Jardine's column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. He can be reached at 578-2383 or firstname.lastname@example.org