Mom on a mission: Local hopes to improve PHR intersection after 12-year-old hit by car

A local mom wants to improve the safety of the intersection of Del Mar Heights Road and Carmel Valley Road.
A local mom wants to improve the safety of the intersection of Del Mar Heights Road and Carmel Valley Road.
(Karen Billing)

One local mother has been moved to action after her 12-year-old daughter was hit by a car in Pacific Highlands Ranch.

On Jan. 15 at about 4 p.m. Dylan Marsella was hit by a car while walking her bike across the intersection of Del Mar Heights Road/Village Center Loop Road from the Trader Joe’s side of Carmel Valley Road. The driver was making a right turn onto Carmel Valley Road when she struck Dylan.

“Her whole left side was pretty banged up but she had no broken bones,” said Dylan’s mom Randi Marsella. While she is grateful that her daughter was not seriously injured, she wonders what more has to happen for there to be changes at what she believes to be an unsafe intersection that is frequently congested with kids.

“I’m a mom on a mission,” Randi said. “I am making that intersection safer.”

The Marsella family lives just two lights down from the Village at Pacific Highlands Ranch and for a long time Randi had held off on letting her daughter ride her bike in the neighborhood. That day she allowed her daughter to ride her bike to the pump track at the Pacific Highlands Ranch Community Park on Village Center Loop Road.

“I can tell my daughter to walk her bike across the street and to look both ways but I can’t protect her from distracted drivers, people who are not paying attention,” Randi said. “I found that out the hard way.”

That afternoon, Dylan was well into the crosswalk and walking her bike across when she was hit by a Lexus SUV, causing her to fall over her bike. The woman driver, who had her son in the car, did not stop initially. She yelled out something to Dylan before driving away.

Dylan’s friend who had been on the other side of the intersection, helped Dylan drag her bike out of the intersection. With her leg and elbow bloodied, Dylan sat on the corner with her friend and called her mom.

The woman came back to the scene of the accident after dropping her son off somewhere and approached Dylan. Dylan was scared and did not say anything as the woman reached out to touch her—Dylan did not understand the language she was speaking. The woman then left again but Dylan snapped a photo of her license plate with her cell phone.

“As a mother, I just think she handled it so badly,” said Marsella of the woman driver.

Randi called the police immediately after Dylan’s phone call. The police arrived within 15 minutes and along with Randi, they went over the details of the incident with Dylan. With the license plate identified, the police went to the woman’s nearby home to speak with her. Randi is not aware of any further action with the driver.

Where the accident occurred is right in front of Canyon Crest Academy and is a busy intersection with students on foot and bike traveling to nearby schools such as Canyon Crest, Pacific Trails Middle School and some to Cathedral Catholic High School. In the mornings and afternoons, as well as during lunch, students are crossing the street in packs.

Canyon Crest Academy Principal Brett Killeen said they have made efforts to improve student safety on the street. The traffic light from the campus crossing Village Center Loop now has a protected left turn signal and administrative staff stands out there every day to facilitate students’ crossing the street.

Killeen said they make students stop crossing when there is five seconds remaining on the protected left.

Both Killeen and Mary Anne Nuskin, principal at Pacific Trails, said that the San Diego Police Department occasionally assists before and after school. The administrative teams and campus supervisors from both schools are also present to help facilitate traffic and support student safety in the morning and after school.

Near Canyon Crest, the San Diego Police Department has also done some targeted enforcement to get people to slow down, not let kids out in the traffic lanes and keep cars only turning right from the appropriate right-hand turn lane.

“Despite these measures, it is definitely scary and there have been many close calls,” Killeen said. “Many students from PTMS and CCA commute by bicycle now, too, which is great, but the infrastructure doesn’t really support bicycle transportation. This forces them primarily to the sidewalk, which can be dangerous for pedestrians, or to the street, which is perhaps more dangerous.”

When she posted about the accident on NextDoor, Marsella said she was shocked by the responses she got with people sharing similar stories—as one poster pointed out, the walk signal at the intersection accompanies a green light so cars turning right are often cutting off pedestrians because they don’t want to wait even when many of those pedestrians are kids like Dylan.

Marsella has proposed solutions such as flashing lights in the crosswalk like those used in Del Mar village and potentially having no right turns on red—a similar situation exists on Stevens Avenue and San Rodolfo Drive in Solana Beach near Earl Warren Middle School. At the intersection, no right turns are permitted during school hours from 7-9 a.m. and 2:30-4 p.m. allowing students to safely cross.

She also would like the city to consider something like a pedestrian scrambler, which temporarily stops all vehicular traffic allowing pedestrians to cross an intersection in every direction, including diagonally at the same time.

“Hundreds of kids are crossing that intersection every day and no one is keeping them safe,” said Marsella. “Something has to be done. I just want to make this intersection safe for everyone, it’s really scary.”