2021 | News

As traffic fatalities rise nationally, survivors share memories of those killed on local roads

New Montgomery County safety advocacy group participates in World Day of Remembrance

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Allan Jimenez, right, hugs Mindy Badin after each shared memories of relatives they lost to vehicle crashes. For Jimenez, it was his brother, Ricardo. For Badin, it was her son Brett.

Photos by Andrew Schotz

Ricardo Jimenez loved lengua, or beef tongue. It was the dish by which he measured a restaurant.

Now, catching a whiff of lengua makes his brother Allan Jimenez miss the 53-year-old man, who was struck and killed by a minivan as he tried to walk across Georgia Avenue on Dec. 22, 2020.

Speaking at a remembrance event, Allan Jimenez said he can never shake the devastation of the 3 a.m. phone call when he learned of his brother’s death. He has felt “so much pain, so much anger” as he struggles to cope.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said in October that the number of traffic fatalities in the U.S. in the first half of 2021 was up 18.4% from the previous year — from an estimated 17,020 to 20,160. This year’s total is the highest since 2006.

A new group in Montgomery County has formed to bring awareness to traffic deaths and help look for solutions.

Allan Jimenez and others who lost relatives to Montgomery County road deaths shared their stories and their grief on Sunday during an event at Marion Fryer Town Plaza in Wheaton.

Rachel Grossmann talks about losing her father after a 2016 crash, then her mother after a crash this year.

The occasion was World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims, a chance for safety advocates, surviving relatives and government officials to focus on the human toll of motor vehicle travel — road deaths.

Rachel Grossmann lost both her father, Robert, and her mother, Claire, as they crossed roughly the same stretch of Georgia Avenue — five years apart.

Robert Grossmann was 64 when he was struck and killed in 2016. Claire Grossmann was 63 when she was struck and killed in April 2021 — about 1,000 feet and a few intersections from the spot where her husband was hit.

Rachel Grossmann said traffic cameras are needed to help deter drivers from speeding.

In May, Montgomery County Council Member Nancy Navarro urged the State Highway Administration to look more closely at that stretch of Georgia Avenue. She wrote that SHA has lowered the speed limit on Georgia Avenue before and has installed other signals to help improve pedestrian safety.

Mindy Badin, left, talks about the death of her son Brett, as Peter Gray of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association holds up Brett’s photo. Gray is a co-chair of Montgomery County Families for Safe Streets.

Sunday was the first event for Montgomery County Families for Safe Streets, which formed this year, Co-Chair Leah Walton said. It’s a local chapter of an organization that started in New York City in 2014 to work on awareness of road safety, policy changes and legislation. Another local chapter is in Washington, D.C.

The Montgomery County chapter works with the Washington Area Bicyclist Association and with Action Committee for Transit, an advocacy organization that creates memorials when pedestrians and cyclists are killed on the roads.

Jennifer Homendy, the chair of the National Transportation Safety Board, said at Sunday’s event that more than 1.3 million people are killed worldwide on the roads each year, including about 40,000 in the United States. She called those figures “a public health crisis.”

“Our goal has to be zero,” she said. Montgomery County has set that goal — no serious or fatal crashes on its roads by the end of 2030.

Peggy Safa, left, recalls when her son Angelo died in 1977 at age 7 1/2. Peter Gray of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association holds Angelo’s photo. 

County and state elected officials who attended took turns reading the name and age of the 85 people killed on roads in Montgomery County roads in 2020 and 2021.

They included:
• 20 pedestrians
• 1 person working on a construction site
• 5 people who were near disabled vehicles
• 1 skateboarder
• 2 bicyclists
• 1 dirt-bike rider
• 1 motor scooter rider
• 14 motorcyclists
• 40 car or truck drivers and passengers

Mindy Badin spoke about her son Brett, who was struck by a car and killed on Jan. 16, 2020, as he tried to cross Rockville Pike. It was the second fatal crash on Rockville Pike in less than 24 hours.

Observers held luminarias on Sunday as elected officials took turns reading the list of 85 people killed on the roads in Montgomery County in 2020 and 2021.

Brett, 32, had autism and worked at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. His mother said the family joined him on Saturdays for bowling through Special Olympics.

Bowling time, though, is a now a reminder that Brett is gone. A recent family reunion did the same.

“I could not shake that sadness that surrounds my heart,” Mindy Badin said.

Peggy Safa said that 44 years after her son’s death, the sadness “doesn’t go away. It takes forever.”

Her son Angelo was 7 ½. He was struck and killed near the post office in Wheaton on Dec. 24, 1977.

Since then, Christmas has not been a day to celebrate and exchange gifts

“When you bury your son,” she said, “you bury your heart.”

Montgomery County Council Member Andrew Friedson helps Rachel Grossmann, right, and Dan Treadwell, left, light luminarias.