Motorist killed trying to beat $AFEclear wrecker

A woman was killed last night after her car broke down on the I-10 shoulder, she abandoned it to obtain gas at a nearby convenience store, and was struck by traffic as she madly rushed back when she saw a $AFEclear tow truck was about to confiscate her vehicle.

Houston's television stations get credit for balanced reporting on this tragedy.

Here is KTRK-13's coverage:

Woman dies trying to stop towing of her car

Eyewitnesses say a driver lost her life Monday night because she didn't want to have to pay for a Safe Clear tow off the East Freeway.

The woman's van stalled on the left shoulder of I-10 near Holland around 7pm. She ran across the freeway to fill up her gas can. But when a Safe Clear tow truck showed up, eyewitnesses say she panicked, dropped the gas can, took off her shoes and ran back across.

The woman was struck several times by passing cars.

The Houston Police Department says this is exactly the type of tragedy Safe Clear is meant to stop. Drivers are not supposed to leave their vehicles once they stall.

KHOU-11 and KPRC-2 also emphasize that the woman had crossed the freeway in an attempt to obtain gas for her stalled vehicle, and rushed back when she realized a $AFEclear wrecker was about to seize her vehicle.

For readers of the Chronicle, why she was running across the freeway is a complete mystery:

Police said it wasn't clear why she chose to risk running back through the speeding traffic.

"Whether it was to let the wrecker know that she was taking care of (the breakdown) or to further seek that wrecker's assistance, we just don't know," Crain said.

The Chronicle's readers still "just don't know," since that's the extent of reporter Mike Glenn's assessment.

That newspaper should be ashamed of itself for its inadequate, and therefore misleading, coverage.

And Mayor White and his council should be ashamed of this poorly implemented, draconian program that now bears some responsibility for the death of a woman on the east side (we can debate how much responsibility in the comments). Attentive readers will recall that mayoral advisor Bob Stein admitted that east side wrecker companies paid higher franchise fees to participate in the $AFEclear program, because they anticipated generating additional revenues from seizing and reselling vehicles of motorists who could not afford the towing/storage fees. It is shameful that this woman died because she was faced with the thought of losing her vehicle to $AFEclear confiscation and exercised tragically bad judgment.

After a month of $AFEclear, we now know that its funding mechanism was built on unfair assumptions that nonetheless amounted to yet another "revenue stream" for Mayor White, that wrecker drivers with criminal records have been a part of it (despite assurances to the contrary from the mayor's office), and that misunderstanding over the six-minute rule and fear of losing her vehicle have now contributed to some extent to a woman's death. And those are just the major problems.

There is no shame in admitting a mistake, shelving the program, and coming back in six months with a better program (say, an expanded and improved MAP). There is shame in perpetuating this mistake, even if it did create a $1 million "new revenue stream" for the city.

UPDATE: Initial news reports misreported the gender of the victim. Updates indicate that the motorist who was killed was a 72-year-old man, Lawrence Kahng. Our condolences go out to the family.

UPDATE 2: Another report indicates that Kahng was 77. Some of the original hyperlinked reports have been updated with the new information. I'm keeping our original post the same, but will post any additional information here or in a new post as needed.

UPDATE 3: The Chronicle has updated its original story, and now includes this snippet:

Houston police said Kahng first pulled his Chevy Astro van to the left shoulder of eastbound I-10, then successfully crossed over the westbound lanes with a gasoline container in his hand. A wrecker participating in the city's Safe Clear towing program then pulled up to the van.

Kahng then dropped the container and ran back across the freeway toward the van but was hit by several vehicles, said Sgt. David Crain.

It's good that someone apparently reads blogHOUSTON, but there's no excuse for that information not being in the original story, which I reproduce below (with the original timestamp)

Original Chronicle coverage of this tragedy follows. Note that the story gives no reason why the motorist (thought to be a woman at the time) was in the road:

Feb. 1, 2005, 12:53AM

Woman killed crossing I-10 after wrecker arrives

Police uncertain why she took risk when a Safe Clear truck pulled up

By MIKE GLENN

Copyright 2005 Houston Chronicle

Moments after a Safe Clear tow truck pulled up to her disabled van Monday night, a stranded motorist was hit by several cars as she attempted to run across the East Freeway.

The victim, whose identity had not been determined, was running across the westbound lanes of Interstate 10 between Holland and Mercury when she was killed about 7 p.m.

Houston resident Sam Hewitt said the woman "just appeared" in front of him on the freeway.

He said she flew into his lane after being struck by another vehicle.

"I hit my brake and fishtailed. I think I clipped her," said Hewitt, still shaken by the incident. "I don't know how many people ran over her."

Houston police said the woman first pulled her van to the left shoulder of eastbound I-10, then successfully crossed over the westbound lanes. A wrecker participating in the city's Safe Clear towing program then pulled up to the van.

The woman then ran back across the freeway toward her van but was hit by several vehicles, said Sgt. David Crain.

Police said it wasn't clear why she chose to risk running back through the speeding traffic.

"Whether it was to let the wrecker know that she was taking care of (the breakdown) or to further seek that wrecker's assistance, we just don't know," Crain said.

Crain said Mayor Bill White ? the architect of the controversial towing program ? was informed of the death.

"We grieve for the family of this victim," Crain said. "We just ask that people stay with their vehicles when they break down or become stranded."

He said the central reason behind the Safe Clear program is to reduce the number of motorists injured and killed on Houston's freeways.

"This is a perfect example of why we want that program to succeed," he said.

Crain didn't know whether the woman was attempting to beat the six-minute time limit for wreckers to arrive at a disabled vehicle when she was fatally struck. He said that section of the program was not meant to apply to the public, saying they should remain with their vehicle regardless.

"The six minutes is a performance standard for these wreckers to get to the people and safely get them off the freeway," Crain said.

Posted by Kevin Whited @ 02/01/05 08:25 AM | Print |

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