Heading down North Main Street after crossing Louise Avenue on Thursday there were three vehicles ahead of me — a dark-colored SUV in front of a black Ford F-150 pickup in the curb lane — and a late model white Impala in the inside lane.
At one point just past the Golden West School office, the pickup moved into the inside lane in front of the Impala without using a turn signal. It looked like a fairly tight move given what the spacing of the vehicles looked like from my perspective. The Impala’s brake lights, however, did not come on, nor did it appear to slow down. That said it also didn’t look like it was going to hit the pickup.
Then a few seconds later the Impala whipped around the pickup using the center turn lane to do so and then abruptly cut back in front of the pickup.
Making the entire scenario bizarre was a few seconds later the Impala moved back into the center turn lane and turned into Edison Street — which was where I was turning. Shortly after I was headed down Edison, the Impala turned left into a driveway just behind Bank of Stockton.
That’s when an old tragedy popped into my mind — the murder of 29-year-old Kelly Freed on the evening of Sept. 18, 1992 in Stockton.
The popular Lincoln Unified School District employee lost her life while on a double date shortly after the car she was a passenger in turned off Hammer Lane in Stockton and into the Mervyn’s parking lot where Kohl’s is located today.
Freed was shot by then 16-year-old Adrian Gutierrez who leaned out the window of a car driven by his cousin 15-year-old Carlos Ojeda. Gutierrez used a Mac-11 machine pistol to put a bullet through her lung and heart.
Shortly before the shooting, the driver of the car Freed was riding in had flicked their headlights off and on when they saw an oncoming car with its lights not on despite it being dark.
It later came out in police interviews that the two teens took the flickering of the lights as a sign of disrespect justifying in their reptilian brains that it was OK to track down the offending car and unload a weapon into it.
The North Main Street incident — and countless others like it that happen during a given day — plus the worst case scenario of what can happen even when you show what is widely perceived as common courtesy that happened in 1992 just 20 miles north of Manteca — underscores three important points.
*Statistically you are more much more likely to be killed by a stranger and overwhelmingly more likely to be severely injured by a stranger while driving the streets of most communities including Manteca as opposed to being killed or injured during the commission of a crime.
*We all need to pay more attention and even if we have ample room to err on the side of caution given you don’t know what hot heads are in the car next to you are capable of doing.
*Road rage, as we like to call it, is much more prevalent than thugs roaming our neighborhoods trying to intimidate strangers.
I get the Kelly Freed murder is a well-defined crime as opposed to crashes where deaths, injury and loss of property occurs. But those crashes are not accidents in the truest sense given one party typically ignores the law whether it is a stop sign, running a red light, exceeding the posted speed limit or violating the universal speed law of going too fast for the conditions, failing to yield, and not paying attention either by being in la-la land or doing something like texting. All of those were deliberate actions made because people chose to disregard laws or put themselves above the rules of the road or made a decision not to devote their attention to driving. They are not accidents.
Being impaired by alcohol or drugs — prescription or otherwise — is not an accident either nor is having your reflexes slowed down by marijuana use.
Even most mechanical failure such as bald tires coming apart or brakes that finally fail that trigger crashes are not accidents as they take deliberately ignoring obvious signs.
Most murders are committed by people the victims knew as are most assaults. That is rarely the case with Manteca driving deaths or the roughly 200 people injured each year on city streets — many seriously and some to the point where they have the quality of their life changed permanently for the worst.
Going after the more prolific criminals when it comes to gang violence, burglaries, drug-related crimes, and robberies can make a difference in the crime rate. Manteca Police have been doing that and by statistical standards they have been succeeding in the last 10 years with raw numbers of felonies and burglaries between 2009 and 2018 staying almost the same while the city added more than 16,000 residents during the same time period that drove the crime rate per 1,000 residents down 20 percent.
Meanwhile accidents are up 37.6% going from 675 to 929 a year while injury accidents were up 87.3 percent going from 119 to 223 a year during the same time period. The financial loss of Manteca residents due to traffic collisions on city streets has more than doubled.
That’s the reason why council members have repeatedly stated the No. 1 priority for the Manteca Police Department when it comes to picking up their game has to be traffic enforcement.
Council members who have been specific said they want no less than three new police officers funded in the upcoming city budget with at least one and as many as two dedicated primarily to traffic enforcement. Two more officers would restore the traffic unit to five officers — the same level in 2009 when overall serious crime started its 20 percent decline in Manteca while the number of accidents went in the opposite direction.
The police chief is right that patrol officers can and do undertake traffic enforcement duties when they aren’t busy with other calls. But guess what: traffic officers back in 2009 as well as those today can also intercede when active crimes are in progress or to plug holes in patrol coverage due to illness, vacation, or court appearances.
It is doubtful anyone in law enforcement would argue that all officers can handle the duties of school resource officers so instead of having dedicated SROs when new high schools open the city can be just as effective hiring more patrol officers who could handle SRO duties when they are not tied up with other things.
One wonders how such a strategy would have worked if that logic had been applied to addressing Manteca’s chronic homeless issues if police manpower had been used in the same manner as it has been proposed to address growing traffic mayhem.
Police have been telling us for years that the three “E”s are crucial to making our streets safer — engineering, education, and enforcement.
If the police step up education and enforcement — which is essentially issuing a ticket or perhaps letting someone off with a stern warning —that’s two parts of the equation.
Feeling safe on Manteca streets is just as important as feeling safe in your home.
As for the end result, a person killed by a gun or a car is still dead just like a person seriously injured by a knife, gun or car is still seriously injured.
And financial loss is still a financial loss although you could argue the emotional and financial of someone breaking into your car and stealing an empty gym bag isn’t nearly as devastating as having your car totaled, missing days of work, nursing injuries, and trying to deal with insurance companies.
Manteca Police need to make taking back Manteca’s streets a priority to reduce the potential for road rage, accidents, or making the underbelly of society feel safe to impose their brand of respect on those who show common courtesy while driving.