The Mountain View Police Department faced a tough year in 2015, after six traffic fatalities and a sharp increase in bike and pedestrian accidents had many residents demanding safety improvements through the end of the year.
In October, 54-year-old Los Altos resident Michelle Montalvo was struck and killed by an SUV while walking through a marked crosswalk at the intersection of El Monte Avenue and Marich Way. The death prompted a public outcry for more traffic safety measures at the dangerous intersection, and citizens appealed to Mountain View's Bike/Pedestrian Advisory Committee (BPAC) in November. Residents near the intersection, including family members of Montalvo, urged the city to place a stoplight or at least a stop sign to ease the speed of traffic along the major thoroughfare.
That accident was just the most recent pedestrian fatality on Mountain View's roadways this year. In August, a man was hit by a vehicle in the Trader Joe's parking lot in the San Antonio Shopping Center, and later died of his injuries. And in February, a 68-year-old Los Altos man was struck and killed by a car at the intersection of Charleston Road and Independence Avenue. Robert Schwehr of Los Altos was walking in a crosswalk when he was struck by a car making a turn.
A bicyclist was also killed near a busy intersection in Mountain View this year. In July, bicyclist Eric Palmquist, 63, of Palo Alto was struck by a car near the intersection of San Antonio Road and El Camino Real. Palmquist was taken to Stanford hospital, where he died.
Motorists were also among the victims in fatal accidents this year. In August, a man driving down eastbound Central Expressway collided with a tree and later died of his injuries. And in May, a motorcyclist was struck and killed in a traffic collision on southbound Moffett Field near the Highway 85 overcrossing.
All the incidents occurred during a year when the Mountain View Police Department is down one traffic officer. And each fatality has to be treated like a homicide by the department, including extensive evidence-gathering and mathematical calculations to determine who, if anyone, is at fault, according to traffic Sgt. Saul Jaeger of the police department.
The driver responsible for the death at the intersection of Independence and Charleston, David Lam, was charged with manslaughter without gross negligence. On Nov. 10, Lam pleaded no contest and was sentenced to 350 days of community service, three years of probation, a fine and a general order of restitution, according to Deputy District Attorney Robert Philbrook.
Philbrook said of the accident, "He made a horrible mistake when he made that left turn, but it was not a case where he was under the influence of drugs or alcohol (or) intended to kill someone that day."
The city of Mountain View responded to the fatal accident at Independence and Charleston by altering the traffic light at the intersection to prevent drivers from making an unprotected left turn while pedestrians are crossing.
Major fires kill one, displace others
The city also saw its first fire fatality in years, after a Mountain View resident was found dead inside his home following a house fire in the Cuesta Park neighborhood.
The single resident inside the home at the 700 block of Lola Lane, Dan Theodore, was described by neighbors as a gun enthusiast, and was well known for developing new types of long-range ammunition. He was also described as reclusive, mostly keeping to himself.
When the fire broke out in the early morning of April 23, neighbors tried to alert Theodore, but did not get a response. The fire had also spread to the garage of the home, which was full of guns and ammunition that had begun to go off in the intense heat.
Another major fire in Mountain View that topped headlines this year was the two-alarm blaze at the Park Vista Apartments on Escuela Avenue in July. The fire damaged 29 units and forced hundreds of people to take refuge inside the nearby Mountain View Senior Center for the night, with some returning as fire crews cleared the area.
Then, on Aug. 18, as many as 13 families living in the damaged units received a lease termination notice from the apartment management. The notice claimed the families' apartments had been damaged and "deemed uninhabitable for an indefinite period of time." They were told that they had 48 hours to vacate the premises. Other residents claimed to have received 30- and 60-day termination notices as well. But questions arose about the evictions because only one apartment unit was red-tagged by the Mountain View Police Department.
Mountain View city staff stepped in immediately after the notices were issued, and contacted the apartment owner's lawyer to get the evictions rescinded. Through the lawyer, city staff discovered that the landlord of the large apartment complex planned to remodel "numerous" apartment units, including the ones damaged and destroyed in the fire, once the current tenants left.
In such a case, the landlord would have to follow the city's Tenant Relocation Ordinance, which requires a 90-day notice and relocation assistance equal to the tenant's full deposit, plus three months of market-rate rent.
The move by Mountain View city staff to intervene was atypical, according to Krishan Chopra, senior assistant city attorney. But in this case, it seemed like the right thing to do.
"Although the city does not enforce landlord-tenant laws, it felt compelled to bring this to the landlord's attention out of concern for the residents," Chopra said.