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Police intensify search for hit-and-run drivers

Activity results from two hit-and-runs that left three women badly injured.

October 06, 2013|By Veronica Rocha and Brittany Levine
  • Pedestrians cross the intersection of Broadway and Central Avenue near a sign instructing drivers to yield to pedestrians on Friday, Oct. 4, 2013.
Pedestrians cross the intersection of Broadway and Central… (Roger Wilson / Staff…)

A police investigation into the identities of two hit-and-run drivers intensified Friday as the victims — three Glendale women — battled for their lives after they were struck down on city streets this week.

Glendale police investigators planned to review video surveillance footage to better identify the fleeing motorists in the two separate collisions — the first occurred at 4:22 p.m. Wednesday in the 1100 block of Western Avenue and the second was at about 8 p.m. Thursday at Central and California avenues.

“Please do the right thing, turn yourself in,” Glendale Police Sgt. Tom Lorenz said, in a plea to the hit-and-run drivers.

Meanwhile, the victims — Leleh Issakhanian, 75, Serpouhi Gharapetian, 74, and Bekzad Shahbazian, 69 — remain at Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center.

Issakhanian, who was hurt in Wednesday's crash after she exited her parked car and was struck, remained in grave condition Friday, Lorenz said.

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Gharapetian was in a coma Friday, and Shahbazian suffered severe head trauma after the two women, who were described by Lorenz as “good friends,” were hit in a crosswalk while taking their regular nightly stroll around the neighborhood on Thursday.

Police investigators are also following up on tips from the public concerning both collisions, Lorenz said. But the tips, he said, “have yet to identify possible vehicles and suspects.”

The motorist in Wednesday's crash was driving a white utility van, while witnesses described the vehicle in Thursday's hit-and-run as a white or light gray four-door compact or mid-size sedan.

While police didn't find any broken glass or vehicle parts at the collision scenes, they believe the drivers' vehicles likely have front-end damage and possibly shattered windshields.

“We are going to have to rely on people having their eyes and ears open,” Lorenz said.

As result of the collisions, Lorenz said police placed three electronic message boards throughout south Glendale on Friday, advising drivers to yield to pedestrians or they would be cited.

Officers also planned to hand out pedestrian safety pamphlets to the public and conduct pedestrian sting operations for drivers during the weekend in neighborhoods with frequent collisions, he said. 

Police will also issue citations to individuals who jaywalk. “We can't blame any one particular group. It goes both ways,” Lorenz said. 

This week's devastating collisions come almost two weeks after 88-year-old Glendale resident Balasan Mirzabegianliwasgan was struck and killed on Doran Street.

Aghast at the rash of pedestrian incidents in Glendale, some council members and safety advocates are calling on a thorough review of recent traffic safety improvements, as well as a discussion about what more can be done.

Rye Baerg, co-chair of the advocacy group Walk Bike Glendale, urged city officials to dedicate a portion of the public works budget to improving the most dangerous intersections in the city.

While Glendale has adopted a “Safe & Healthy Streets” plan, there are many elements that have yet to be carried out, including lowering the speed limit around schools and senior centers, he said.

“These types of collisions are too common in Glendale and they can be avoided,” Baerg said. “The way we design our streets and the amount of enforcement we engage in as a city can have dramatic effects on pedestrian safety.”

Councilwoman Laura Friedman agreed that the city has to address its traffic safety issues.

“There's no question we need to do more. We've done a lot, but there's more that we can do,” she said.

Councilman Ara Najarian echoed her sentiment, adding that Glendale has to do more if it wants to become a pedestrian-friendly city, especially as more apartment buildings spring up downtown.

“As you know, Glendale's whole downtown renaissance is based on the assumption that people will be walking and biking and not getting in their cars and driving. If hit-and-runs and pedestrian accidents continue, people are not going to be safe walking,” he said.

Friedman added that it's not just the city that has to do more, but drivers, too.

“I'd like to say it's people coming from outside the city, but it's not. It's people in Glendale,” Friedman said. “We need to take ownership of that. We need to be good drivers. We need to not text and drive.”

Anyone with details about the hit-and-run collisions is asked to call the police department at (818) 548-4911.

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Follow Veronica Rocha on Google+ and on Twitter: @VeronicaRochaLA.

Follow Brittany Levine on Google+ and on Twitter: @brittanylevine.

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