Pedestrian fatalities on U.S. roads hit almost 30-year high

Pedestrian fatalities on U.S. roads hit almost 30-year high
By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. traffic deaths fell 2.4% in 2018 to 36,560 although the number of pedestrians killed rose to its highest level in nearly three decades, the U.S. auto safety agency said Tuesday.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said traffic deaths fell for the second straight year – down 913 from 2017. The fatality rate fell by 3.4% to 1.13 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles traveled, the lowest rate since 2014.

Despite the decrease in overall deaths, pedestrian and bicyclist fatalities continue to rise, with deaths of those on foot climbing 3.4% to 6,283 last year. The number of people killed on roads while using bicycles and other non-motorized vehicles rose 6.3% to 857.

More pedestrians and cyclists were killed in 2018 than in any year since 1990. Deaths of pedestrians have jumped by 42% in the last decade even as the combined number of all other traffic deaths has fallen by 8%.

Auto safety experts say the growing number of drivers distracted by mobile devices is at least partly to blame. NHTSA said Tuesday it is looking for ways to reduce fatalities among pedestrians and bicyclists.

The Governors Higwhway Safety Association said in February the increasing shift in U.S. vehicle sales away from passenger cars to light trucks is a factor in the rising number of deaths. The group said the number of pedestrian fatalities involving SUVs increased at a faster rate — 50% – from 2013 to 2017 compared to passenger cars, which increased by 30%.

Earlier this month, AAA said its research showed that automatic emergency braking systems designed to stop vehicles from striking pedestrians did not always work effectively and had a significantly higher failure rate at night.

Three-quarters of all pedestrian deaths take place at night, NHTSA says, while 38% of pedestrians killed had some alcohol in their systems and 74% were not at intersections when struck.

NHTSA said last week it may include vehicle technologies tied to the safety of pedestrians and bicyclists when it revises its five-star New Car Assessment Program.

In 2017, the United States had 6.4 million traffic crashes reported to police agencies resulting in 2.7 million injuries, according to a NHTSA report released last month.

Still, U.S. roads are far safer than they were a half-century ago, when the fatality rate was nearly five times higher and more than 50,000 people died annually in crashes.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Stephen Coates)

‘Lives torn apart in 82 seconds’, UK Westminster attack inquest hears

FILE PHOTO: A woman assists an injured person after an incident on Westminster Bridge in London, Britain, March 22, 2017. REUTERS/Toby Melville/File photo

By Alistair Smout

LONDON (Reuters) – A man who mowed down pedestrians with a car near Britain’s parliament before stabbing a policeman ruined many lives in a matter of seconds, an inquest heard on Monday, as it began with tributes to the victims and details of their last moments.

On March 22, 2017, Khalid Masood, a 52-year-old British-born convert to Islam, drove along a pavement on Westminster Bridge, killing four people, before stabbing to death an unarmed police officer in the grounds of parliament. He was shot dead at the scene.

It was the first of five attacks in Britain last year that police blamed on terrorism, and coroner Mark Lucraft said the attack had lasted less than two minutes.

“The lives of many were torn apart by 82 seconds of high and terrible drama,” he told the inquiry.

The inquest, which is expected to last several weeks, will seek to establish the circumstances around the deaths of the four pedestrians and the police officer, Lucraft said.

A separate inquiry into Masood’s death will be held later.

The coroner held a minute’s silence before hearing testimonials to the victims, and a colleague of the policeman, Keith Palmer, paid tribute to his courage.

“Keith was that brave person who would stand his ground,” Police Constable Shaun Cartwright said in a statement that was read to the court. “I’m immensely proud to have called Keith my friend.”

INSTINCTIVE COURAGE

Two of those killed by Masood’s rental car, American Kurt Cochran and Romanian Andreea Cristea, were tourists visiting London with their partners.

Stills from closed-circuit TV footage showed Cochran pushing his wife Melissa out of the way of the oncoming vehicle, in what was “apparently an act of instinctive courage”, the inquiry’s lawyer Jonathan Hough said.

Melissa sustained serious injuries but survived, and said in a statement read by her sister Angela Stoll that her husband’s “heroic actions that fateful day … saved my life”.

In testimony from Metropolitan Police officer John Crossley, the inquiry heard that Masood’s car may have reached 41 miles (66 km) per hour as it drove along the sidewalk.

“It is my belief that Masood acted alone,” he told the court. “He was deliberately targeting pedestrians.”

Several of the victims’ relatives temporarily left the court while CCTV footage of the attack was played, after Lucraft warned that the images would be distressing.

Leslie Rhodes, a retired window cleaner, died after being dragged under the car for over 30 meters, the court heard, while Aysha Frade was walking with her back to the car when it knocked her under a bus.

Her husband John said she had been worried about security after her office moved to the area, but her family had tried to reassure her.

“It causes myself … excruciating pain to think of Aysha in the past tense,” he told the inquiry. “In truth, it still doesn’t feel like she has gone.”

(Reporting by Alistair Smout)

Car hits pedestrians in suspected terrorist attack at UK parliament

Armed police officers stand at a cordon after a car crashed outside the Houses of Parliament in Westminster, London, Britain, August 14, 2018. REUTERS/Hannah McKay

By Kylie MacLellan and Hannah McKay

LONDON (Reuters) – A man deliberately drove a car into London pedestrians and cyclists on Tuesday before ramming it into barriers outside Britain’s parliament in what appeared to be the second terrorist attack at the building in just under 18 months, police said.

Three people were injured. The driver, a man in his 20s, was arrested by armed officers moments later. He was not cooperating with detectives, the British police counter-terrorism chief said.

“Given that this appears to be a deliberate act, the method, and this being an iconic site, we are treating it as a terrorist incident,” the officer, London Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu, told reporters.

In March 2017, Khalid Masood, 52, killed four people on nearby Westminster Bridge and stabbed an unarmed police officer to death in the grounds of parliament before being shot dead.

It was the first of five attacks in Britain last year that police designated as terrorism, three of which used vehicles as weapons.

Basu said the suspect in Tuesday’s incident was in custody but not cooperating. He said the man had not been formally identified but was not believed to be known to security forces.

The BBC, citing unnamed sources, said the man was from the Birmingham area and known to police, although not to intelligence or counter-terrorism agencies.

Forensic investigators work at the site after a car crashed outside the Houses of Parliament in Westminster, London, Britain, August 14, 2018. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls

Forensic investigators work at the site after a car crashed outside the Houses of Parliament in Westminster, London, Britain, August 14, 2018. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls

NO OTHER SUSPECTS

Basu said there were currently no other suspects from the scene of the incident and no indications of further danger.

Police said a silver Ford Fiesta had driven through a group of cyclists and pedestrians during the morning rush hour before hitting a barrier in front of the Houses of Parliament at 7:37 a.m. (0637 GMT).

Video footage showed the vehicle making an illegal turn before veering across the road and into a security lane leading to parliament before smashing into the protective barrier as two police officers jumped to safety.

The man was detained on suspicion of terrorist offenses and no weapons were found, Basu said.

Two people were taken to the hospital and one woman was still receiving treatment for serious but not life-threatening injuries.

Armed officers swarmed the scene and sealed off a large area around parliament that is usually bustling with tourists and government workers.

“I saw the cyclists, injured cyclists. I don’t know if he’s hit these people or if they’ve just dived to escape,” bystander Jason Williams told reporters. “It didn’t swerve, there was not another car going behind him. It looked like it was planned.”

Images shot by a Euronews journalist showed police pointing their guns at the vehicle shortly after the crash. Footage on social media showed a man being led away in handcuffs.

“TERRIBLE SCENES”

Prime Minister Theresa May, who like other lawmakers is on holiday during parliament’s summer recess, urged Britons to remain vigilant but to carry on as normal.

“For the second time in as many years the home of our democracy, which is a potent symbol of our precious values of tolerance and freedom, has just witnessed terrible scenes just yards from its door,” she said in a statement.

Britain is on its second-highest threat level, “severe”, meaning an attack is considered highly likely.

May’s spokesman said that, since Masood’s attack in Westminster last year, 13 Islamist and four far-right plots had been foiled. At the end of June, security services were carrying out 676 live investigations.

Last week, a Muslim convert admitted plotting to kill more than 100 people by driving a truck into pedestrians on London’s Oxford Street, the capital’s major shopping thoroughfare.

U.S. President Donald Trump, who has previously spoken out about security issues in London, tweeted: “These animals are crazy and must be dealt with through toughness and strength.”

Cordons around parliament began to be lifted about six hours after the incident and Westminster Underground station, close to parliament, was reopened. However, streets immediately surrounding the scene remained closed off.

(Additional reporting by Michael Holden, James Davey, Alistair Smout and Paul SandleWriting by William Schomberg; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

New York attorney general probing Brooklyn police shooting death

Saheed Vassell points a metal pipe at a pedestrian in Brooklyn April 4, 2018, in a still image from surveillance video released by the New York Police Department in New York City, New York, U.S. on April 5, 2018. Images of some faces have been obscured at source. NYPD/Handout via REUTERS

By Gina Cherelus

NEW YORK (Reuters) – The New York State attorney general’s office said on Thursday it would investigate the fatal shooting by police of an unarmed black man in Brooklyn after he pointed a metal pipe at officers that they believed was a gun.

Saheed Vassell points a metal pipe at a pedestrian in Brooklyn April 4, 2018, in a still image from surveillance video released by the New York Police Department in New York City, New York, U.S. on April 5, 2018. NYPD/Handout via REUTERS

Saheed Vassell points a metal pipe at a pedestrian in Brooklyn April 4, 2018, in a still image from surveillance video released by the New York Police Department in New York City, New York, U.S. on April 5, 2018. NYPD/Handout via REUTERS

“We’re committed to conducting an independent, comprehensive and fair investigation,” Amy Spitalnick, a spokeswoman for New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, said in a statement.

The death of Saheed Vassell on Wednesday was the latest fatal shooting of an unarmed black man by police, fueling more protests and heightening a nationwide debate over the use of excessive force by police and accusations of racial bias in the criminal justice system.

More than 200 demonstrators and activists took to the streets of the Crown Heights neighborhood in which Vassell was shot, chanting “Justice for Saheed.”

“They murdered my son and I want justice for him,” Lorna Vassell, his mother, said at the protest.

The family has demanded a coroner’s inquest.

Police said Vassell was killed by officers responding to reports of a man aiming a gun at pedestrians. When the officers arrived, police said, Vassell took a two-handed shooting stance and pointed an object at them.

The officers believed the suspect was holding a firearm, a senior police official told a news conference on Wednesday, and three plainclothes officers and one uniformed officer fired 10 shots. Vassell died in a hospital.

Saheed Vassell points a metal pipe before being shot to death by police in Brooklyn April 4, 2018, in a still image from surveillance video released by the New York Police Department in New York City, New York, U.S. on April 5, 2018. NYPD/Handout via REUTERS

Saheed Vassell points a metal pipe before being shot to death by police in Brooklyn April 4, 2018, in a still image from surveillance video released by the New York Police Department in New York City, New York, U.S. on April 5, 2018. NYPD/Handout via REUTERS

Police on Thursday released security camera footage that showed Vassell approaching people on the street and pointing the pipe at them as if it were a pistol. They also released partial transcripts of three 911 emergency calls.

“There’s a guy walking around the street, he looks like he’s crazy but he’s pointing something at people that looks like a gun and he’s pulling the trigger,” one of the callers said.

Local media reported that Vassell was 34 years old, suffered from mental illness, and was well known in parts of Crown Heights.

His killing followed the fatal shooting by police of an unarmed black man, Stephon Clark, 22, in Sacramento, California, that has sparked more than two weeks of demonstrations.

Officers responding to a report of someone breaking windows killed Clark on March 18 in his grandmother’s backyard. The officers feared he had a gun, but it turned out he was holding a cellphone, Sacramento police said.

(Reporting by Gina Cherelus in New York; Additional reporting by Bernie Woodall in Fort Lauderdale, Florida; Editing by Daniel Wallis, Bill Trott, Tom Brown)

Australia police say don’t suspect terrorism after car plows into pedestrians

Australian police stand near a crashed vehicle after they arrested the driver of a vehicle that had ploughed into pedestrians at a crowded intersection near the Flinders Street train station in central Melbourne, Australia December 21, 2017.

By Melanie Burton and Byron Kaye

MELBOURNE (Reuters) – An Australian man of Afghan descent with a history of mental health issues drove a car into Christmas shoppers in the city of Melbourne on Thursday, injuring 19 people, but police said they did not believe the attack was terror-related.

In January, four people were killed and more than 20 injured when a man drove into pedestrians just a few hundred meters away from Thursday’s attack. That too was not a terror attack.

Jim Stoupas, the owner of a donut shop at the scene, told Reuters the vehicle was traveling up to 100 kph (62 mph) when it drove into the intersection packed with people, hitting one person after another.

“All you could hear was just ‘bang bang bang bang bang’ and screams,” Stoupas said in a telephone interview, adding the car came to rest by a tram stop.

Police said they detained the 32-year-old driver, an Australian of Afghan descent with a history of assault, drug use and mental health issues.

“At this time, we don’t have any evidence or intelligence to indicate a connection with terrorism,” said the acting chief commissioner of Victoria State, Shane Patton.

Four of the injured were in critical condition, including a pre-school aged boy who suffered a head injury.

Police also detained a 24-year-old man at the scene who was filming the incident and had a bag with knifes.

Patton said it was “quite probable” the 24-year-old was not involved.

The men had not been charged and their names have not been released by police.

The attack took place on Flinders Street, a major road that runs alongside the Yarra River, in the central business district of Australia’s second-biggest city.

Melbourne has installed about 140 concrete bollards in the city center to stop vehicle attacks by militants similar to recent attacks in Europe and the United States.

“We’ve seen an horrific act, an evil act, an act of cowardice perpetrated against innocent bystanders,” said the state premier, Daniel Andrews.

Sydney, Australia’s biggest city, has also installed concrete barricades in main pedestrian thoroughfares.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and the emergency health workers who are treating them,” Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said in a post on his official Twitter account.

Australia has been on a “high” national threat level since 2015, citing the likelihood of attacks by Australians radicalized in Iraq and Syria.

Two hostages were killed during a 17-hour siege by a “lone wolf” gunman, inspired by Islamic State militants, in a cafe in Sydney in December 2014.

 

(Reporting by Melanie Burton in MELBOURNE and Byron Kaye in SYDNEY; additional reporting by Sonali Paul and Paulina Duran; writing by Jonathan Barrett; Editing by Nick Macfie, Robert Birsel)