A man who got drunk, sped down the wrong way of a one-way street in Clarendon and caused a crash that seriously injured a pedestrian earlier this year has pleaded guilty to a felony charge.
Pentagon City resident Benjamin Andruss, 37, pleaed guilty yesterday to felony DUI maiming. He is scheduled to be sentenced in February.
The crash happened between 8:30 and 9:00 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 12. Prosecutors say Andruss had just left First Down Sports Bar in Ballston, where he had consumed 4-5 beers and three glasses of whiskey while watching afternoon football games. A friend encouraged him to take a cab, but Andruss insisted on driving.
Andruss drove from the Ballston Common Mall parking garage to Clarendon, revving the engine of his Mercedes-Benz at stop lights and “speeding the whole way,” prosecutors said. At the intersection of Wilson, Clarendon and Washington Blvds, he again revved his engine at the stop light, then accelerated straight through the intersection when the light turned green.
Andruss sped the wrong way down Wilson Blvd, past Spider Kelly’s and other bars. His Mercedes ran up on the sidewalk, striking the side of the Clarendon War Memorial. In his path was a pedestrian, a man around 30 years old who works for the U.S. Department of Energy.
The pedestrian tried to dive out of the way, but Andruss struck a parked car, which then struck the pedestrian. The man regained consciousness in the middle of the street.
From a statement of facts entered by prosecutors as part of the plea:
He was taken by ambulance to GW Hospital, where he was treated for numerous injuries to his head and left elbow. Both required serious treatment. His head required more than a dozen staples. His broken elbow required surgery, the insertion of a metal plate, and screws to ensure regained functionality. The elbow now has a permanent visible scar. And [the victim], despite weeks of physical therapy, has yet to regain – and may never regain – a full range of motion.
After the crash, the Defendant exited the vehicle and appeared to try to walk away. He was prevented from doing so by onlookers. The Defendant was described as unsteady on his feet, with slurred speech and bloodshot/glassy eyes. He repeatedly “fell” into an officer’s arms as they spoke. The Defendant admitted to drinking and refused to perform all field sobriety tests. He was placed under arrest at 9:20pm.
“Mr. Andruss made a series of poor decisions that evening,” Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Josh Katcher told ARLnow.com. “He drank too much, he didn’t take a cab, he drove recklessly from Ballston to Clarendon, and then he drove the wrong way, down the wrong street, at the wrong time.”
“Try to imagine this from the victim’s perspective: he’s minding his own business, walking down a sidewalk, when he hears an engine revving, sees a set of headlights speeding towards him, and has no more than a second to try to dive out of the way,” Katcher continued. “Next thing he knows he is on his back in the middle of the street with people looking down at him telling him not to move. This is the type of mayhem that happens when people drink and drive. There is no defense, no reason, and no excuse for this type of behavior.”
Andruss is scheduled to be sentenced on Feb. 6, 2015. He’s expected to receive a sentence of 1-5 years in prison.
This is not the only legal trouble Andruss is facing. Three days after the crash he was fired, and a week after that he was sued by his former employer, accused of making hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of improper purchases on his company credit card and withdraws from the company checking account, all while deliberately concealing evidence of his actions.
The Rosslyn intersection where cyclists and pedestrians face drivers exiting I-66 has received safety modifications in the past two weeks and more changes are on the way, county officials said on a tour of the site Tuesday morning.
In advance of a $5 million overhaul slated to be complete in summer 2016, Arlington County and the Virginia Department of Transportation changed the timing of the traffic lights and walk signals at Lee Highway and N. Lynn Street last week, said Larry Marcus, the county’s head of transportation engineering.
“Pedestrians and cyclists are the priority at this location, period,” Marcus said as county officials and police watched people navigate the corner some locals call the “Intersection of Doom.”
One change is minor in cost but should be significant in impact: A no-turn-on-red sign is being installed at N. Lynn Street for those exiting I-66. That’s being done “as soon as possible,” Marcus said.
Additionally, cyclists and pedestrians crossing N. Lynn Street using the Custis Trail previously had a walk signal when all traffic lights were red — known as a “leading interval” — for just 2 seconds; the length of that signal was increased last week to 5 seconds, Marcus said. The county plans to increase the leading interval time to 15 to 20 seconds in the next six months, once new signal technology is installed.
“We’re giving more time for pedestrians and bikes to go first,” Marcus said, adding that new caution signs for drivers, pedestrians and cyclists will be added to the intersection.
Drivers headed west on Lee Highway, meanwhile, now have an additional 10 seconds of biker- and pedestrian-free time to clear the intersection.
To pair with engineering changes, the Arlington County Police Department has ramped up traffic enforcement and educational efforts at the corner where numerous car-on-bike accidents have occurred, Capt. James Wasem said.
“People can expect to see uniformed police officers out here flagging cars over, directing traffic, handing out some brochures and citing violations,” he said about the measures enacted about two weeks ago.
Police issued 228 citations at the intersection from Sept. 15, 2013 through the same date this year: 133 for failure to obey traffic signals, 32 for improper turning and 1 for failure to yield to a pedestrian. Fifteen car crashes occurred at the intersection within that period, police said; just two crashes on record involved pedestrians.
The ACPD assigns an officer to direct traffic at the intersection on weekdays from 7:00 to 9:00 a.m. but must spread officers between that corner, schools and other frequent crash sites. The department began sending an officer to the location “as often as possible” following recommendations from a traffic analyst the county hired this year, Wasem said.
ACPD is seeking funding to assign two officers to Lee Highway and N. Lynn Street every weekday morning, plus an additional two officers at Lynn Street and Wilson Boulevard, Wasem said. The latter intersection has been facing a chronic problem of drivers “blocking the box” during rush hour since construction began on the Central Place project, blocking lanes of Lynn Street.
The additional staffing would cost $180,000 through next year.
The pedestrian was crossing Lee Highway at a corner locals have called the “Intersection of Doom” about 8:20 a.m. when the driver of a black SUV plowed into her, officers and a witness said. The driver was headed north on N. Lynn Street and was making a left turn onto Lee Highway when she hit a northbound pedestrian who was using the crosswalk and had the walk signal, according to officers and witness David Clark.
Clark, a 56-year-old Rosslyn resident, was doing his daily exercise routine in Arlington Gateway Park near the intersection when he heard a yell.
“I was coming up from my pushup when I saw a lady crossing the street, and then I heard her holler,” he said. “The lady was in the crosswalk when she got hit.”
An ACPD officer was directing traffic when the crash occurred but momentarily had his back turned to that corner, officers said. An officer is posted weekday mornings from 8:00 to 9:30 a.m. at the intersection packed with drivers, pedestrians and cyclists, an officer said.
The pedestrian was taken to a hospital and thought to have a broken ankle, according to police scanner traffic. Officers on the scene said the driver could be ticketed, pending an investigation.
In May, the Arlington County Board approved spending an additional $75,000 on safety improvements to the intersection where cyclists have been hit by drivers several times. The upgrades will extend curbs at the intersection’s corners, modify traffic signals, add on-street bike lanes and remove a travel lane from Lee Highway. Construction was set to start in the spring and be complete in summer 2016.
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Photo via Textron AirLand
NPS is preparing a new transportation plan and environmental assessment for the heavily-trafficked zone, Park Service Superintendent Alexcy Romero announced Thursday.
“The purpose of the [environmental assessment] is to reduce conflicts between trail, walkway and roadway users and to increase overall visitor safety around the memorial area,” Romero said in a statement.
The Park Service installed temporary flashing lights last winter at a crosswalk on the northbound GW Parkway, prior to the circle, to urge drivers to slow down for pedestrians and cyclists. In summer 2012, various other safety improvements – pedestrian warning signs, rumble strips for drivers and directional pavement markings – were installed.
The changes were made in response to a series of accidents and near-misses.
Comments on new safety improvements can be submitted through September 30 on the Park Service’s planning website.
The Park Service asks that commenters include their addresses, phone numbers and email addresses in their remarks, warning that “personal identifying information may be made publicly available at any time.”
Additionally, park staff will set up information booths at Alexandria farmers markets and near Memorial Circle.
The public will have opportunities to review the transportation plan following its release this fall, according to NPS. The Park Service is expected to make a final decision on the plan by the summer of 2016.
Photo (top) via Google Maps
A pedestrian was rushed to the hospital during rush hour Thursday morning after she was struck by a taxi close to the Rosslyn Metro station.
The woman was walking north on N. Moore Street, crossing busy 19th Street N. about 9:15 a.m. when she was hit by a D.C. cab, witnesses and the cab driver said.
The cab’s passenger, on her way to work, said her ride was interrupted by a shout.
“I heard a scream and then he slammed on his brakes,” the passenger said, declining to provide her name.
A witness said the pedestrian was in the crosswalk when she was hit.
“She didn’t stop walking,” said a consultant, 34, who had been walking to work, noting that he didn’t see the color of the traffic signal.
The driver, 70-year-old Charlie Harrison, said the pedestrian crossed in front of his car as he had a green light.
“I never saw her. She walked right in front of the car,” the D.C. resident said, pointing to his dangling passenger-side mirror.
Harrison, who said he’s been behind the wheel professionally for 50 years, said safety is his top priority but admitted to having hit a pedestrian in D.C. “about a year ago.”
“The other person I hit was a drunk,” he said about the midday crash near 10th and U streets.
The pedestrian hit Thursday morning was transported to George Washington University Hospital with non-life-threatening injuries, Arlington police said.
Officers at the scene declined to disclose whether Harrison would be charged for the crash, and Universal Cab refused to comment.
Elementary school students got moving and learned about pedestrian safety on the first day of school in Arlington Tuesday morning.
With a police escort, families walked from Fort Barnard Park to Drew Model Elementary School in Nauck as part of a joint pedestrian and cyclist safety initiative by Arlington Public Schools and the Arlington County Police Department.
The new program encourages families to create healthy habits and discuss how to stay safe, Arlington Superintendent Dr. Pat Murphy said.
“The message is safety for students both coming from and going to school,” Murphy said before families strolled in the post-Labor Day heat.
Keeping kids safe on streets using “the 3 ‘E’s” of engineering, education and traffic law enforcement are a top priority of the county, added Larry Marcus, Arlington’s transportation, engineering and operations bureau chief.
As she walked her 3-year-old son Kanoa to his first day of Montessori school, lifelong Nauck resident Jaque Tuck, 30, said she wanted to teach her child healthy habits.
“On his very first day, we wanted to let him know everything is okay and to give him some exercise,” the child protective services employee said alongside her husband, real estate agent Karl Tuck.
Julia Stewart, a substitute teacher at the school, said she opted to walk her 11-year-old son Braden and 7-year-old son Tristan to class as a way to build community.
“I wanted to meet people who live in the neighborhood and go to school with us,” Stewart said. “You make it kind of a walking bus.”
Arlington families were notified about a month ago if they lived in a “bus zone” or a “walk zone” — and were encouraged to walk if possible, a department spokeswoman said.
Principal Darryl Evans encouraged Drew Elementary parents to walk their kids to school and supplement the two crossing guards who have posts near the school.
“We have a lot of children who walk in our community. It’s important that the adults help us out,” he said about school with 671 students enrolled this fall.
In a related pedestrian and cyclist safety campaign, some ACPD patrol cars now have rear stickers — with the words “PAL (Predictable, Alert, Lawful)” — that remind drivers, pedestrians and cyclists to share the road.
The release of the decals coincides with enforcement of the state law enacted July 1 requiring that drivers pass “at a reasonable speed” at least three feet from a cyclist they pass, according to a statement issued by the county.
ACPD stepped up high-visibility safety patrols around schools today for the beginning of the school year.
(Updated at 11:05 a.m.) Arlington will be rolling out a pilot program for S. Eads Street this fall that will give residents an idea of what the future of the Pentagon City/Crystal City corridor will look like for years to come.
The county has decided that the four-lane road, which runs parallel to Jefferson Davis Highway from Army Navy Drive to Four Mile Run, is unnecessarily wide, and should be changed to a three-lane road — the center lane for left turns — with increased pedestrian and bicycle amenities.
The county’s Department of Environmental Services recently released a survey asking residents which plan for S. Eads Street they prefer: a regular bike lane with a buffer and a larger parking lane, a street-level “cycle” track with a physical buffer, or a “raised cycle track” with a larger barrier less space for both parked and driving cars. The survey will be open until June 18.
“The reallocation of the available street space allows for other uses such as widened sidewalks, bicycle facilities, pedestrian median refuges, and on-street parking, all to meet the existing and future needs of S. Eads Street,” the county writes at the beginning of the survey. “This pilot program will include many elements that may be included in the final design of S. Eads Street. During the pilot, various aspects of roadway operations will be monitored, including travel times and vehicle, bicycle and pedestrian traffic counts.”
The pilot program this fall will reduce the traffic to three lanes and institute a “protected bike facility,” as well as increased pedestrian crossings and reconfigured parking. The program will be installed between 15th Street and 23rd Street S., according to DES spokesman Eric Balliet, and most closely resemble “Option 2,” which includes the street-level cycle track. Balliet said the dimensions of the program will differ from those presented as the long-term Option 2 changes.
The Crystal City Sector Plan calls for increased density along parts of S. Eads Street closer to Army Navy Drive, which is also a part of the alignment for the Crystal City streetcar. There will be a meeting for residents to discuss their thoughts and concerns over the future of S. Eads Street on Wednesday, May 21, at 7:00 p.m. at the Aurora Highlands Community Center (735 18th Street S.).
But drivers aren’t the only one dealing with congestion on the 91-year-old span that crosses the Potomac from Rosslyn to Georgetown. The bridge’s narrow pedestrian walkway is also typically jammed with walkers, runners and bikers, who sometimes come into conflict as they try to pass one another.
Pedestrians also impact traffic, as vehicles must wait for them to clear a crosswalk to take a ramp to the Whitehurst Freeway.
So what should be done to improve matters? Cross-river gondolas have been proposed, as have streetcars. But one self-described “transportation nerd,” writing on the county’s Mobility Lab website, has another suggestion: a dedicated pedestrian bridge.
Such a bridge could better accommodate all of those walkers, runners and bicyclists, while marginally improving vehicle traffic. Built parallel to the Key Bridge, one might expect the project to be similar in scope to the $12 million pedestrian span parallel to the Hot Metal Bridge in Pittsburgh, according to the writer, Sam Krassenstein.
Ft. Myer Drive in Rosslyn has become a hazard for pedestrians due to ongoing construction, but no solutions are on the horizon, according to county staff.
At the County Board’s Tuesday afternoon meeting, Arlington Transportation Bureau Chief Wayne Wentz had no major recommendations for safety upgrades to the heavily-used roadway. The construction that has most adversely affected safety — on the 1812 N. Moore Street skyscraper – is expected to be largely finished by Oct. 31, but the safety concerns will persist.
“We’re never going to be done looking at Ft. Myer Drive,” Wentz said. “We’ve looked a lot at jaywalking. We just can’t find a way to put a crosswalk in there.”
Wentz said county staff is considering installing signs telling residents not to jaywalk in front of the road’s tunnel — a common crossing zone for those entering and exiting from the back entrance of the Rosslyn Metro Station. The county is also in discussion to put up fencing on the sidewalk and in the two small median islands on either side of the tunnel.
“We need to be more proactive in preventing crossing there,” Board Member Mary Hynes said, “given the fact that we have had near-misses and a hit there relatively recently.”
The sidewalk between N. Moore Street and Ft. Myer Drive on 19th Street will remain closed after Oct. 31, Wentz said. The size of Ft. Myer Drive in that area is part of what makes it unfeasible to install a crosswalk. With more than five lanes, the likelihood of a multi-vehicle accident is much greater than on a smaller road.
“We think that there is a chance to reconfigure what Ft. Myer Drive looks like. It could be a two-way street or a narrower street someday,” Wentz said. “There is hope in the future to do something different there, but we don’t recommend it at this time.”
Arlington Trail Counters — Arlington has “the region’s most extensive bike and pedestrian tracking system,” with nearly 30 sensors on trails and sidewalks. According to sensor data, two thirds of trail users are bicyclists. [Washington Post]
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Police officers will be a high-visibility presence, directing traffic in school zones, and variable message boards will be placed along county roadways reminded drivers to take extra precaution as students start returning to area schools.
Arlington County issued the following tips for safe driving on the first day of school:
Drivers are reminded to:
- Obey speed limits which may change during school zone times.
- Avoid distracted driving and keep your attention on the road.
- Watch for students walking and riding bikes to school.
- Don’t pass a stopped school bus loading or unloading passengers.
- Have all occupants wear their seatbelts.
Students, bicyclists and pedestrians are reminded to:
- Cross the street at marked crosswalks and never against a red light.
- Look before you cross and follow the direction of the school crossing guards.
- Always walk on designated sidewalks or paths never along the side of a road.
With a little prevention, all drivers, bicyclists and pedestrians can arrive at their destinations in a timely and safe manner.
Sept. 3 is also being billed by AAA Mid Atlantic as “Terrible Traffic Tuesday,” the day when roads are jammed because school returns and summer vacation season ends.
According to AAA, “the average 20.4 minute daily delay that drivers experienced around [the D.C. area] in July and August will return to an average of 25.8 minutes during September.”
The pedestrian bridge over Crystal Drive at 20th Street S. is set to close Monday, in advance of being removed permanently.
The bridge, which connects to the 220 Twentieth Street apartment building, is being removed to bring the prior redevelopment of the building “in line with the County Board’s policy of removing above street-level pedestrian circulation in order to focus such activity on the existing exterior sidewalks, thereby creating a busier, more active, and exciting streetscape,” according to the Crystal City Business Improvement District.
The major demolition work will be completed Aug. 10 and 11, according to Vornado Vice President for Development Gordon Fraley. Vornado is coordinating and funding the demolition as the owner of the 220 Twentieth Street building.
After the bridge is taken down, it will clear the way for a planned “pocket park” in the area and a new stair/escalator to the Crystal Drive shops and restaurants from the upper plaza, the BID says on its website.
Photo (top) via Google Maps. Photo (bottom) via Crystal City BID.
Arlington County is mulling a proposal to narrow Wilson Boulevard west of George Mason Drive from four lanes to two through lanes and a center turn lane.
The proposal was conceived and endorsed by the Bluemont Civic Association (BCA) last fall, as part a recommendation to widen the sidewalks along Wilson Boulevard in the neighborhood.
The association’s “Task Force on Arterial Road Sidewalks and Pedestrian Safety” came up with the plan after considering various ways to widen the narrow sidewalks to Americans With Disabilities Act standards.
Two possible options — undergrounding utilities (thus removing utility poles that partially block the sidewalk) and acquiring additional right-of-way from private property owners along Wilson Boulevard — were rejected as too expensive and otherwise infeasible.
The solution endorsed by the task force and the BCA membership instead calls for a two-phase project that, in the first phase, would halve the number of through-lanes west of George Mason Drive while adding a center turn lane and two bike lanes.
The second phase of the proposed project would widen the sidewalks to ADA standards, while relocating the utility poles.
“Two through lanes with a center turn lane typically provides a better line of sight and safer transitions for cars entering the traffic lanes,” the presentation said. “Speeding may be reduced while maintaining the same overall travel time. Reduced crash risks for all users are expected.”
The presentation compared the Bluemont stretch of Wilson Boulevard to nearby Washington Boulevard, which has only two lanes and higher peak traffic volumes.
A small section of fence is prompting a big stink at the River Place condominium complex (1011 Arlington Blvd) in Rosslyn.
The fence was put in place at some point this spring to block a paved pathway that served as a shortcut for those walking to and from the complex. The pathway leads to a parking lot used by TV station WJLA, which residents use to access a marked crosswalk that leads to the complex.
According to a Facebook page set up by a resident who opposes it, the fence was erected — or, more precisely, an opening in an existing fence was closed — by property owner Monday Properties due to safety concerns.
“An individual listening with headphones was allegedly ‘almost backed over’ by a WJLA news van,” a Facebook post said. “Monday Properties (MP) owns the lot and leases it to WJLA-TV. Obviously with liability in mind, MP closed the opening in the fence and chained the side entrance to the lot.”
Even though residents could just walk five yards out of their way to get around the fence altogether, Omar Baddar, who is helping to organize opposition to the fence, argues that that’s not a viable option.
“It’s not an acceptable alternative because there is no walkway there,” Baddar said in an email. “We’re forced to walk over mulch and then directly in between parked cars, which is an inconvenience, particularly to people with baby strollers or carts of any kind.”
“It is… obviously inconsiderate to block a pedestrian path and tell the hundreds of people who use it ‘why don’t you just walk over the mulch?’” Baddar continued. “Blocking a pedestrian entrance that has existed for decades without consultation with the residents who use it is simply not defensible.”
Baddar says he has collected more than 200 signatures — more than 10 percent of the River Place population — for an anti-fence petition.
Another option for pedestrian access to the apartment complex is walking down the N. Lynn Street sidewalk to the vehicle entrance for River Place. That adds travel time and another resident we talked to said it’s potentially dangerous at night due to poor lighting.
Tim Helmig, Executive Vice President at Monday Properties, says the fence was necessary to keep pedestrians from accessing the parking lot.
“What we have to focus on is keeping pedestrians safe,” he said. “What we noticed is that that parking lot is used by vehicles to pull in and out. It’s just not a safe place for pedestrians to walk.”
Helmig continued: “What we’ve encouraged pedestrians to do is utilize the sidewalk to access River Place. The sidewalk is there to provide a safe passageway, as opposed to cutting through that parking lot, which has a lot of traffic and has the potential to create a dangerous condition.”
No changes to the fence are planned, Helmig said.
Opponents, meanwhile, are not done fighting. Last week, a message on the River Place North building email listserv encouraged residents to call Monday Properties and sign the petition. It also called for those with legal backgrounds to help out with a pending legal challenge to the fence.