Davis Woman Relates Experience with Davis Police Following Getting Hit by a Vehicle

Photo of Deb Westergaard following being hit by the vehicle

A couple of weeks ago Deb Westergaard and her husband Rob came before city council to explain what had happened when she was hit by a car in April of 2016 and seriously injured.  Her treatment by Davis Police led her to file a citizen’s complaint which she believes was not properly handled.

The following is her account:

My name is Deb Westergaard. Last April, I was struck by a truck in the middle of the pedestrian crosswalk on F Street between the Playfields and Community Park. I was knocked unconscious and woke up in the ambulance en route to UCD Med Center. I suffered a skull fracture that penetrated my sinuses; serious road rash on my face, arms, legs, and neck; and my left ear was nearly ripped off. This photo was taken two days after the accident.

While in the trauma unit, a Davis Police officer called in and asked a total of three questions on the phone, relayed by my husband, while I was strapped to a backboard with a major head injury and after receiving pain medication. He then said he would come by the hospital to check my injuries and interview me further. He never did. After hearing nothing more, we followed up two days later, and were shocked to hear that the report was already done and found me to be at fault, saying that I created a hazard by being in the crosswalk and by running out in front of the truck.

Upon finally receiving a copy of the report, we found numerous errors, including a wildly incorrect and cursory diagram, and a conclusion that flew in the face of common sense. My husband promptly filed a citizen’s complaint at the encouragement of Bob Aaronson.

Five weeks after the accident, I was finally personally interviewed by Sergeant Rifredi as part of a supplemental investigation. We met at the crosswalk and I showed him where I got hit as well as describing my actions. He mentioned that he heard I was on a training run for a marathon that weekend. I replied, “Yes, and after 15 weeks of training, I wasn’t looking to take any chances with getting injured.” To my shock, he said, dismissively, “Yeah, I have friends that are marathon runners; they’re a bunch of risk takers.”

While asking me questions, he said that this re-investigation was a hardship on him. He also stated that he had “other more important things to spend his time on,” including two traffic accidents that resulted in fatalities so I should feel lucky that things didn’t end up that way for me.

Photo from Google Earth looking north from the crosswalk

It was at that moment I realized that the police had labeled me from the beginning of this accident based on what I was wearing and the activity I was doing. The entire investigation was focused on my actions, not the driver’s excessive speed or his inattention. Based on current events it appears that I am not the only person being labelled and profiled by the Davis Police.

The police department disrespected me, mistreated me, labeled me, and knowingly recorded incorrect information on the traffic report, including that the driver had auto insurance when he admitted on camera that he didn’t. When we challenged them, the police dug in their heels rather than admitting they made mistakes.

At the very least, the Davis Police Department owes me a heartfelt apology since they were wrong on many counts. In addition, they need to change the finding of this traffic and collision report to reflect the facts that they got wrong. Stubbornly sticking to their story is not helping their reputation with me, my family and everyone in town I’ve spoken with personally and professionally about my experience. Thank you for the opportunity to let me speak about this incident.”

Before anyone judges me: I stopped running, hit the flashing lights and checked traffic both ways before entering the crosswalk. North bound traffic had already stopped and I waved at them. The truck had just made the turn off of Covell and by the time I looked back he was at the crosswalk looking right at me passing in front of him. He was going at least 35-40mph (in a 25 zone) admitting on the TCR that he was “late returning back from lunch.

Rob Westergaard added the following…

I filed a citizen’s complaint with the Davis Police Department over their handling of this accident. Leading up to filing, Bob Aaronson (the police ombudsman/auditor) was very communicative. He even attended the meeting I had with Chief Pytel. After that, however, he fell silent and stopped responding to my e-mails when I said I was dissatisfied with the result, and asked what further route I had for my complaint. It appeared that there wasn’t one, so we found ourselves in front of the Davis City Council two weeks ago during the public comment period, hoping to catch their attention while discussions of police oversight are on the front burner.

If our experience is any indication, the Davis Police have a major attitude problem: labeling people and situations to suit their agenda, to support their narrative, and to make their jobs easier. The investigating officer attacked my integrity, accusing me of “changing my story” when I pointed out factual errors in his investigation. They closed ranks when I challenged their process. The sergeant who was in charge of the re-investigation implied his time was being wasted and called my wife a “risk-taker,” which was ironic, because he was limping around from a motorcycle accident.

When I told Chief Pytel that the original investigating officer had promised to visit the hospital but never did, his response was that the officer never should have said he would come to the hospital. When I debated how much time was enough time for a driver to react to seeing a pedestrian in a crosswalk, he cavalierly said that drivers have no legal obligation to slow down at all, even for someone halfway through a crosswalk. Overall, their handling of our complaint indicates a lot of dismissiveness and even contempt for the people of Davis. The police department’s job should be to protect the vulnerable, and I don’t see that happening here.

Every single person we’ve talked to about this accident has been incredulous that they said my wife was at fault, and this reflects very poorly on the judgement of the Davis Police. We spoke with several lawyers and found out we had a common experience: auto vs. bicycle or pedestrian accident reports in Davis disproportionately lay fault on the pedestrian.

Someone WILL get killed in that crosswalk. It was very nearly my wife last year, and nothing has changed since then to make it any safer. My wife is not a risk-taker. She was careful, and despite doing everything “right,” she was still hit. And to add insult to very real injury, she was blamed for the accident, while the driver who hit her was not even cited at the scene, and has faced no repercussions for his speeding and inattention.

Obviously, someone at the City of Davis knows there’s a pedestrian safety issue, because those “State Law” yield signs have cropped up in crosswalks all around town… EXCEPT where Deb was hit. Unfortunately, those signs are giving pedestrians a false sense of security. My wife and I have spent hours talking to parents, telling them of her experience along with the treatment we’ve received from the Davis Police. They are shocked at this outcome, and fearful for their children crossing that street. I hope the city addresses this before someone is killed.

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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22 thoughts on “Davis Woman Relates Experience with Davis Police Following Getting Hit by a Vehicle”

  1. Keith O

    It was at that moment I realized that the police had labeled me from the beginning of this accident based on what I was wearing and the activity I was doing.

    I’m not getting this.  What was she labeled as, a jogger?  Is there such a thing?

    It’s an interesting story and makes the DPD look terrible.  It would be nice to also hear the other sides to this incident, the DPD’s and the driver’s.

    1. Jim Hoch

      She sounds like a “runner” not a “jogger”.   Jogger is like duffer.

      Given the participation by the ombudsman there must be a summary somewhere.

      1. David Greenwald Post author

        Unfortunately the police auditor is bound by similar privacy restrictions as the police department and therefore there is no summary.

    2. darelldd

      I think “jogging” was what we did in the 80’s with a Gene Simmons style vibe. Today, the same thing is called “running” which sounds way more serious. More hight-tech clothing, and fewer sweat bands.

  2. Cathy

    What happened to Vehicle Code section 21950? Wow.

    Another story: I was the passenger in a car that was rear-ended two years ago…the kid driving the other car admitted at the scene, to Davis police, that he did not see us because he was looking down and texting. The kid was not cited – the police said that they had not seen the texting, and they could not just take his word, a voluntary confession, for it. It caused a lot of insurance company wrangling for my friend (whose car was totaled out), to gain compensation.

    Cathy A.

  3. Todd Edelman

    The Chief of Police in the family-oriented, “US cycling capitol” said that

    drivers have no legal obligation to slow down at all, even for someone halfway through a crosswalk

    The mayor and members of city council, representatives of the faith community, school district, county and police union met afterwards with the Chief and involved officers for 6 or 7 hours. Afterwards the Chief apologized at a televised press conference, but people are not convinced and say that the healing process needs to begin, etc.

    That said, the alleged police behavior horror is a fair match for the terrible design of this crossing which requires pedestrians and cyclists to stop. (If the design was considerably improved, the police would not be involved in the first place….)

    At the very minimum this crossing at F needs to be:
    * raised to curb level;
    * have absolute priority for pedestrians and cyclists at all times;
    * relieved of its beg buttons and signal system – pedestrians and cyclists should slow down as necessary but never ever be required to stop.

    Any new red signal requiring a stop is expensive and not necessary here unless it can be designed to activate automatically if there’s about to be movement across the street. Probably most movement on both sides by peds or cyclists is going to cross it, but still this is complicated and possibly somewhat experimental, thus expensive. It can be done adequately the passive way without any lights: Cars just need to be slowed down a lot as default at this junction.

    This whole section of F should be slowed however possible, and as soon as possible;  there’s  a good argument that every street in Davis  fronting a park should have a 15-mph design-speed.

    While we’re at it, the City is about to spend millions of its money and money from The New Home Company (developer of the Cannery) for – immediately adjacent to the F St. crossing – the construction of an ADA-compliant modification to the connection from F to the E. Covell overcrossing and continuing to the Cannery. Long and circuitous, it’s for the most part a Class I multi-use path that creates conflicts between cyclists and pedestrians at several juncture and makes cycling awkward in such an obvious way that any traffic engineer or similar who signs off on it and also is not engaging, creative and constructive about a better design for the F St. crossing should subsequently be encouraged to carpool or bikepool with Chief Pytel to the unemployment office.

    1. Keith O

       pedestrians and cyclists should slow down as necessary but never ever be required to stop.

      I don’t ever want my kids or grandkids to think they never have to stop to cross a crosswalk.  You see this downtown too, people with their faces buried in their phones walking straight through crosswalks without even looking up.

      1. Todd Edelman

        You’re getting kinda strawman-y, Mr. O: “Not required to stop” in clearly a legal thing. Stopping at the ragged edge of unnecessary anti-kid and anti-grandkid oblivion is something else.

      2. darelldd

        Do you ever want your kids or grandkids to understand the rules and rights of using our roads? Because a lot of that entails NOT stopping in order to ensure other road users’ safety and convenience. The importance of knowing when the right of way is yours, and when to yield is roughly equally important. Should every cycling child come to a stop before crossing in front of every driveway? Well, no, because the deal is that the person on the main road going straight has the right of way, and *most* drivers understand this basic concept. If we set up a system where the cyclists has the right of way at a crossing, it would be inappropriate to first come to a stop.

        There’s no need to confuse this with willful ignorance of your surroundings (nose in smart phone instead of looking before crossing).

        EVERY situation is unique and requires a unique response. And a grasp of your surroundings (regardless of the law)… is mandatory.

  4. David Greenwald Post author

    I’ll say more on this at some point but I met with the Westergaards last summer and encouraged them to file a complaint and meet with both the chief and the police auditor.

    There are two separate points here that I think need to be made.

    As I understand it, the police made a legal determination that is counterintuitive.  The vehicle code gives the pedestrian the right of way.  The driver was speeding and distracted.  The police nevertheless ruled that Ms. Westergaard entered the street and gave the driver no chance to respond.  I’ve posted the photo of the crosswalk and looked at the scene and the ruling makes little sense.

    The second aspect of this just as important – the administrative handling of this appears to be insensitive, overly legalistic and did not take into account the sensitive nature of this incident.

    We’ll see what happens – the police of course have their own perspective, but I don’t think this process was handled particularly well.


    1. Jim Hoch

      That particular crosswalk is highly used with kids coming to NDE, going to Holmes, and the Little Leaguers. Always lots of people. Why was the drivers name not published? it must be in an accident report.

  5. darelldd

    This is a perfect place to NOT use the word accident. Everything written here describes a collision, not an accident.  The victim here was hit, and injuried. It wasn’t an act of god. It wasn’t due to an unforseen circumstance. There’s no hidden cause.

    Please, PLEASE stop calling these accidents. It works against finding a solution. Otherwise, we continue to throw our hands in the air and say, “accidents happen.”

        1. Howard P

          Yes, David, “ya’ done good”… “hit by…” is pretty much objective… as is ‘collision’ (or ‘crash’)… the latter assigns no culpability.  It is also objective.

          I question a number of folks’ use of the turn “safety”… if something is ‘safe’, can no one at any time have a ‘bad outcome’?  And unless that test is met, is it “unsafe”?  

          I genuinely wish the ‘victim’ well, and hope for a full and complete recovery.

      1. darelldd

        Todd – This report is from the victim, and David simply introduced it. It would be inappropriate for him to edit the words that are attributed to the victim and spouse.

        Unfortunately, it is the very people who are hurt most by using “accident” that seem to keep using it. If this was an accident, then there’s nothing else to see here. Move along, and “hope” it doesn’t happen again. But it was no accident of course. And something DOES need to change.

        We need to change things not to avoid future accidents, but to avoid future collisions and injuries…. and deaths.

  6. John Hobbs

    Sorry for Ms Westergaard’s awful experience. Her experience with incompetent and abusive police reflects mine. When I was part of an “accident review committee” for a public works department, I don’t remember ever seeing an accurate field report from a police officer. Often the geographic information was obviously wrong, Even when physical evidence and their own photographs contradicted their statements and conclusions, they were steadfast in their judgement. Sad to say that it appears your Chief Pytel is all hat and no cattle when it comes to police/community relations.

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