City reaches settlement in pedestrian death of 7-month-old girl

City withheld Pt. Loma neighbor complaints from the Reader's request.

Richard Snapper, who worked as the city’s personnel director and served as the assistant city manager, arrived at the scene and requested to speak to an officer. He wanted it in the official record that he had complained about the intersection nearly six years prior.
  • Richard Snapper, who worked as the city’s personnel director and served as the assistant city manager, arrived at the scene and requested to speak to an officer. He wanted it in the official record that he had complained about the intersection nearly six years prior.

The City of San Diego has tentatively agreed to settle a lawsuit filed by a family whose 7-month-old daughter was killed while her father was pushing her stroller across a busy Point Loma crosswalk in 2015.

According to the Superior Court website, a settlement is now "pending city council approval on April 25, 2017."

While the dollar amount has not yet been released, the settlement requires payment be made by October of this year."

As reported by the Reader, John Aavang and his then-wife Ginerva Ryman were crossing Canon Street near the transition ramp for Catalina Boulevard in Point Loma just after dawn when a black Chevy Suburban driven by David Hoban failed to see the man and his daughter, crashing into the stroller, killing 7-month-old Juniper Aavang and seriously injuring the father.

A police report later found that Hoban was driving the speed limit and was not at fault. The police report did find that overgrown foliage, lack of signage, and overall poor visibility at the intersection were partially to blame for the accident.

As a later investigation by the Reader found, nearby residents had lodged complaints about what they considered was a "crosswalk fraught with peril" and posed a "complete blind spot for families trying to cross."

The city, however, was slow to respond to complaints about the crosswalk and was less than willing to release complaint.

Two weeks after the accident this correspondent submitted a public records request for complaints submitted to then-councilmember and current mayor Kevin Faulconer's office, whose district included Point Loma. The city responded with a single complaint from July 2010, nearly five years prior to the accident, submitted by Point Loma resident Jon O'Connor. O'Connor compared Canon Street to "a freeway during rush hour."

Traffic engineers responded, promising to trim the nearby plants and install a ladder crosswalk to improve visibility.

What the city did not release in the public records request, which later surfaced during the two-year long court battle, were three other complaints, two of which from the city's own employees who lived in the area.

Richard Snapper, a 35-year former city employee who worked as the city’s personnel director and served as the assistant city manager, arrived at the scene and requested to speak to an officer. He wanted it in the official record that he had complained about the intersection nearly six years prior. In 2009, during an afternoon walk, Snapper attempted to cross the intersection and found it to be "fraught with peril." He informed the former director of engineering, Patty Boekamp in a phone conversation and a city investigator later went to the site and determined that the crosswalk did not pose a safety risk.

Four years later former deputy city attorney Paige Hazard sent a request directly to then-councilmember Kevin Faulconer's office asking city engineers to "evaluate visibility" issues at the crosswalk.

Despite the written record, none of the complaints were released to the Reader in its public records request, nor immediately to the attorneys for the family who sued the city in 2015.

“[We] have just recently confirmed the lengths to which [the city] has gone to hide critical percipient witness information and documents in this case," reads a February 2017 court document filed by the family's attorney asking that a judge issue terminating sanctions against the city for its failure to disclose the entire written record.

"[The city] can provide no legitimate excuse for concealing Mr. Snapper’s and Ms. Hazard’s records and information. At all relevant times, [it] was aware of these witnesses, and was aware of the records and reports relating to these prior complaints; [the city] did not like the implications of producing this information so [it] tried to hide it. [The city’s] concealment is shocking, and directly contravenes the Discovery Act, the Brown Act, and the [California Public Records Act].”

The city now has decided against taking the case to trial.

Attorneys for the Aavangs declined to comment.

The city council will discuss the settlement offer during a closed session meeting at 10am on April 25.

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It's stories like this that prove the California Public Records Act needs a complete overhaul. The withholding of information and even total non-responsiveness to requests by government officials and private groups receiving public money, in San Diego above all, is out of control.

It's bad enough having a law that lacks enforcement (short of suing in court). But it's worse having one without any penalty when it is broken (as there's no way to recoup the out-of-pocket costs of the effort, let alone awards for punitive damages).

Until or unless we decide to tackle this issue with the same urgency as campaign finance reform, we are at the mercy of our "public servants" deciding how much they want to let us to know. Even if—no, especially when—it kills us.

Cassander: Overall, I think the city does a good job in responding to the PRAs for the most part. Staff are helpful and accommodating. That said, when these lapses occur one has to wonder whether they happened on purpose. There have been several cases where I submitted PRAs and received a different response from those provided to others. One such instance was the chalk case, when the city gave me emails from BofA representatives seeking prosecution but failed to give those same emails to the attorney for Jeff Olson.

While this case is much more than just a PRA issue, it definitely shows more can be done to improve transparency. Thx-dH

I believe the city has moved on some of the complaints regarding this intersection. Ones I have posted here, in The Reader in pervious stories about this incident.

Someone has trimmed back more of the vegetation, including the tree limb which camouflaged the overhead signal lamp head from Catalina to Cañon. I believe the city "red zoned" the area where the neighborhooding community gardener's parked their truck while they worked. Parking a truck there, while convenient for the gardeners, completely obstructed the view of pedestrians using the crosswalk.

While these minor changes have improved site distance safety, the REAL safety solution requires a realignment of the intersection just as the City did at the intersection of Catalina and Chatsworth, years ago. There, the nearly identical sweeping transition lane was removed and replaced with a typical right hand turn. Only then will the speed issue be eliminated. Only then will the conditioned driving response of the signal light being green 99.9% of the time be removed.

Finally, we see how corrupt government official can be. Let's hope this follows Faulconer where ever he goes. I'm just wondering if this settlement offered by the City is done to protect Faulconer from being forced to testify in open court?

Just Wondering: Thanks for the update on the intersection. I am planning on submitting a PRA to see whether there are plans to realign the intersection.

As for whether the city settled to avoid seeing Faulconer take the stand, I'm sure that was at least a small part of it. Other factors likely included that the attorneys had a case for PRA violations in addition to the fact that there were so many complaints made about the intersection. It's difficult to believe that a jury wouldn't be swayed by the complaints, the inaction by the city, and the police investigator's determination that visibility, and not reckless driving was the underlying factor.

Of course, PR likely played a part as well.

Thanks for the great comment and insight!


Dorian: I will be very interested in knowing the City's reasons whichever way they decide to go with this intersection. If they decide to NOT go forward with realignment, I'll be disappointed from a citizen safety aspect, especially since the realignment of Catalina and Chatsworth, years ago was for that very reason.

I submitted the PRA today for any mention of realignment proposals. We'll see what they come back with. There's also a possibility, albeit small, that this could be a condition of the settlement agreement. We will have to wait for that as well. I hope the attorneys for the family will discuss the agreement after council approves it tomorrow. Thanks for the comment.-dH

UPDATE: On September 19 city council is expected to approve a $12.5 million settlement agreement with the Aavangs.-dH

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