Pedestrian deaths spur NJ to warn drivers

April 1, 2009 7:31:52 AM PDT
Carlos Grijalva Florian drank a bottle of Johnnie Walker and three beers before his cousin picked him up. He acted belligerent in the car, and when his cousin pulled over on the New Jersey Turnpike to make him cool off, Carlos got out and started walking on the highway. Soon after, he was hit by a bus and a tractor trailer, leaving blood and body parts strewn across the roadway, and chunks of flesh in the undercarriage of the truck.

Grijalva Florian, killed Feb. 20, is one of four people to die this year walking on the Turnpike or the Garden State Parkway, New Jersey's most heavily traveled highways. The death toll is already equal to last year's.

To stanch the climbing fatality rate, the New Jersey Turnpike Authority is launching a public awareness campaign, urging motorists to stay in their cars if they pull over on the two roadways.

Joe Orlando, an agency spokesman, said warnings are already being posted on electronic message boards along the highways. In the next few weeks, toll plazas and rest stops will have signs, fliers or posters with similar warnings.

Orlando said it's not a new phenomenon that people walk on the Turnpike and Parkway, which carry 2 million vehicles a day. He attributed the rising death toll to "bad luck and a bad trend."

"We still have a lot of people who just think they're gonna run from one end of the roadway to another," he said.

At least three of the victims this year had left their cars before they were struck, according to police and accident reports.

Barry Gillman, for example, pulled his 2003 black Acura to the side of the Turnpike on March 5, then got out of his car. Authorities believe the car was accidentally put in reverse instead of park, and drifted onto the highway.

Gillman, 65, followed it into the lane, where he was hit by a tractor trailer.

Another victim, James Kent, pulled over on the Garden State Parkway after he was in a crash. The 27-year-old left his car, jumped over the center divide and was sitting or kneeling in the left lane when he was hit by a sedan. It was dark and raining at the time.

A few weeks earlier, Grijalva Florian, 28, was riding with a cousin and a friend to Boston, for a Guatemalan fair known as La Feria Canoas. His cousin picked him up in Towson, Md., the Baltimore suburb where Carlos and his younger brother lived.

In the car, Carlos started to choke his cousin and punch their friend, and he also took the friend's baseball hat. His cousin pulled to the shoulder of the Turnpike to calm him down, but Carlos took off his shirt and shoes and left the car. He refused to get back in.

At 9:40 p.m., police were notified of a shirtless man walking on the Turnpike. Soon after, Grijalva Florian was struck twice and killed.

A bus chartered by the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra hit him first. Investigators later found blood splattered across the front of the bus, and a 3-foot-long dent above a damaged headlight.

"It was unbelievable," said Darryl Kubian, a passenger on the bus. "It's one of those things you don't forget. It's one of those things you wish didn't happen."

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