New bike trail underpass raises deadly crash questions

FRESNO, Calif.

There was no controversy over the unanimous vote by Fresno's city council to build an underpass, but the location is a hot button issue for the community.

The city will dig underneath the Shepherd Ave. crosswalk -- the location where a drunk driver crashed into seven-year-old Donovan Maldonado and killed the young bicyclist last summer. Several tributes to Maldonado are still at the site nearly a year later.

The city is now doing something to avoid accidents like the one that killed him, but they say they started the work before Donovan's death.

Donovan Maldonado's name still sits on a bicycle feet away from the spot where a driver killed him -- the diagonal crosswalk that takes the Sugar Pine Trail across Shepherd Ave. Bicyclists and vehicles have long had a tense co-existence here, but Maldonado's death shined a spotlight on the difficulties.

"It's an uncontrolled crossing with two major intersections between it less than 600 yards apart," said attorney Warren Paboojian. "If I was to tell you that we're putting an uncontrolled crosswalk across Herndon Ave., you would say 'That's crazy.'"

Paboojian is suing the city on behalf of the Maldonado family. He says the city's plan to dig across Shepherd for an underpass just proves it was dangerous all along.

The city is using federal funding to build the underpass and public works director Patrick Wiemiller says the project has been in the pipeline since long before the Maldonado tragedy. "We applied for that, like four years ago, and we were approved shortly thereafter, but this program always has a number of projects in the queue, waiting for funding, and our turn at the funding finally has come along," Wiemiller said.

City grant documents acquired by Action News show the city did start work on the underpass in 2009, three years before Maldonado's death. But Paboojian says the request for funding is telling.

In the grant application, the city said the underpass would "improve the crossing safety for bicyclists, joggers and pedestrians."

"It's obvious the city knew back at least from 2009 that they needed to do something about that crossing," Paboojian said.

The city will close Shepherd during construction while they excavate underneath the street. Crews hope to finish the project, and re-open the street, before school starts in late August.

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