Girl's death renews concern over lack of sidewalk improvements

Girl's death renews concern over lack of sidewalk improvements »Play Video
The stretch of Southeast 136th Avenue between Holgate and Powell was supposed to get a $1.2 million sidewalk project this year, but the Bureau of Transportation is proposing to pull the money and use it for street paving.

PORTLAND, Ore. – The death of a 5-year-old girl after being hit by a car Thursday night was the city's fourth pedestrian death this year.

Morgan Cook's death is renewing talk about how Portland has long neglected road and sidewalk improvements in Southeast Portland.

Morgan was walking home with another little girl and that girl's 13-year-old uncle. They were crossing the street at Southeast 136th trying to get to Morgan's home on Harold Street when a car stopped to let them cross. The 13-year-old said Morgan ran across the street when another SUV, driven by 68-year-old Huong Dang Bacon, struck her.

Bacon stayed at the scene and waited for police. No charges have been filed at this point. Officers are still investigating.

Morgan was hit just outside her house. Southeast 136th is a busy road, and there aren't any sidewalks. A plan to put them in farther to the north is in jeopardy.

"It's a neighborhood that used to be referred to as Portland's forgotten neighborhood," said Jeb Pearson who is among those who navigate the potholes along 136th Avenue.

The stretch of 136th between Holgate and Powell was supposed to get a $1.2 million sidewalk project this year.

While running for office, Charlie Hales pledged in an ad to improve infrastructure on the east side on streets like 136th Avenue.

"Let me tell you about 117th Avenue," he said in the ad. "There's a section of that street that goes from Division to Burnside. ... But there're no sidewalks. That's not OK."

But the Bureau of Transportation is now proposing to pull that money and use it toward the new mayor's priority of paving streets.

It's an example of how tough times, and budget shortfalls, force tough decisions.

In a statement, Hales said: "There has been a lot of talk of late about paving streets, and about sidewalks and crosswalks throughout our city. There has been a lot of talk about the backlog of projects, and about how to pay for these core responsibilities. ... We will work through these decisions together."

"This neighborhood in particular has more unpaved roadways than any other in the city," said Mark White, the president of the Powellhurst-Gilbert Neighborhood Association. He also ran for a position on City Council.

He said past administrations focused too long on big projects like the street car and tram and ignored the needs of low-income neighborhoods.

"It probably has a lot more to do with how much money that comes from our neighborhood to support campaigns than it is downtown," White said.

The latest data from 2007 to 2001 shows 24 crashes on 136th Avenue. Morgan's was the first death on the street.

Elsewhere, the first accident this year happened on Jan. 20 in Old Town. Becca Bray was killed and her friend Brandi Butner was seriously hurt when a truck driver ran a red light, collided with a cab, and hit the pedestrians. Prosecutors say the driver, Brent Warstler, was drunk when the accident happened.

The second took place nine days later in Northeast Portland. Heather Fitzsimmons, 26, was crossing Glisan Street at 79th in the crosswalk when she was hit. The driver stayed and cooperated with police.

And on Feb. 14, a Southeast Portland man was hit and killed just a few blocks from his home. Tom Gann was crossing Holgate Boulevard in the crosswalk when a white van hit him and sped off. Police believe Victorio Noguedo Berrera was behind the wheel of the van, and they are still looking for him.