Lexington police are investigating three recent wrecks in which pedestrians were critically injured or killed while trying to cross roads at night.
Police have found several common factors: The victims, all of them adults dressed in dark clothing, were trying to cross busy roads of four or more lanes. The victims were not in crosswalks. In each case, drivers stayed until police arrived and told officers there was nothing they could do to avoid the pedestrians.
No charges have been filed. That's typical unless a driver flees or is clearly at fault, such as being drunk, high or distracted.
The unanswered question is why the victims didn't avoid the approaching cars. There are clues to their states of mind, but no clear answers. Police can only reiterate the rules of safe crossing: Look both ways, use the crosswalk and don't "text and walk," spokeswoman Sherelle Roberts said.
Statistics show that the problem is bigger than the three recent, serious collisions. Nearly 800 pedestrians have been hit by cars in Lexington over the past five years, and 28 have died, according to Lexington police data.
"Unfortunately, people are hit all the time, but it is unusual for so many people to be so seriously injured in such a short period of time," Roberts said.
On May 13, Justin DeMarcus Conover, 33, was hit by one vehicle and run over by another as he attempted to cross the outbound lanes of Richmond Road, near Fontaine Road.
Clues to Conover's state of mind came from a nearby Walgreens, police Lt. Chris Van Brackel said: Minutes before the wreck, workers at the drug store kicked out a man matching Conover's description because he appeared to be intoxicated.
Toxicology reports are pending on Conover, and on the other victims.
The next night, Romeo Adolfo Tema Lopez, 32, was hit and killed while trying to cross Nicholasville Road near Zandale Drive. Witnesses told police he waited for one car to pass and ran into the path of a car behind it, which he apparently didn't see.
Police found an iPod with headphones plugged into it. It wasn't clear whether Lopez was listening to music, which could have distracted him.
"The iPod was damaged to the degree that we'll never know if it was on or off when he was hit," Van Brackel said.
The third wreck happened May 19 on Newtown Pike near Earl Court. Police have not released the name of that victim, who suffered life-threatening injuries. Police said in a news release that the man walked in front of a car being driven by an elderly woman, who did not see him in time to swerve or brake. His head struck the car's windshield.
So far this year, there have been three fatal crashes involving pedestrians.
The first was a hit-and-run on Leestown Road on March 23 or March 24. A passerby found Gary Akers, 57, in a grassy area near Leestown and Westhampton Drive early on March 24. It was unclear how long he had been there, and police are seeking the public's help to find the driver who hit him.
Despite those recent pedestrian fatalities in a relatively short time, this year's total is on pace with last year's.
Six pedestrians were hit and killed in 2011, according to data obtained through open records requests.
The data, compiled by the police department's Division of Planning and Analysis, shows that there is little predictability in pedestrian fatalities. There were three in 2007, 10 in 2008, two in 2009, and four in 2010.
The year with the fewest pedestrian fatalities, 2009, had the most overall pedestrian collisions. There were 171 people hit by cars in Lexington that year.
The unpredictability makes it difficult for police to counter an increase in cases. "There doesn't seem to be any particular rhyme or reason to it," Kentucky State Police Lt. David Jude said.
Statewide, there has not been a noticeable spike in pedestrian fatalities this year, Jude said, but there have been 267 fatal car crashes across the state — 29 more than this time last year — and 59 percent of the victims were not wearing seat belts.
Jude said state police will meet next week with the director of the state Office of Highway Safety to plan an educational campaign, and officers are adjusting traffic enforcement as more drivers are out and about this summer.
"You can expect an increased enforcement presence this summer from the Kentucky State Police with the goal of keeping these numbers where they need to be, which is toward zero," Jude said.
Meanwhile, Lexington police are warning pedestrians to use caution and common sense when crossing the street. Turn off the phone, look both ways, and wait for cars to pass if there's any question about whether you can safely make it across.
"You can't always judge the speed of the vehicle, or the distance. If you misjudge, the consequences can be deadly," Roberts said. "Take the extra time and wait, because it's not worth losing your life."