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The large family and friends of a Cloverdale great-grandmother who was killed in a downtown crosswalk beseeched the City Council on Wednesday night to install more lights and safety features at the street crossing to avoid another tragedy.

Approximately 60 relatives and acquaintances of Maria Ponce, 68, packed the council chamber to make an emotional appeal before marching several blocks away for a candlelight vigil at the spot where she was hit by a pickup on July 7.

"I don't want this tragedy to happen to another family. We are really suffering now," Erlinda Ponce, the eldest daughter of the woman, told the council. "I want some justice done."

"You took away the most beautiful, vibrant woman I've known," said Maria Ponce's youngest daughter, Delia Ponce, who blamed the city for not making safety improvements after previous accidents involving pedestrians in the same crosswalk. "Don't put a price tag on someone's head. Please address that, so no one else is taken from someone they love."

Mayor Joe Palla expressed his "sincere condolences to you and your family" and said there is "an ongoing investigation into the facts surrounding this unfortunate event."

It was the third pedestrian fatality in Cloverdale in less than three years, although the others took place at different locations and during the day.

One in December 2010 occurred on North Main Street, killing an 83-year-old man. The 17-year-old driver left the scene.

Another accident in January of this year resulted in the death of an 87-year-old woman who was knocked over by a slow moving car in a downtown parking lot.

The latest nighttime accident launched a stepped-up enforcement by Cloverdale Police on Wednesday at the crosswalk on South Cloverdale Boulevard where the fatality occurred. Using an undercover decoy, police cited nine motorists for failure to yield to the pedestrian and gave out two warnings.

Sgt. Stephen Cramer said it was to help get "the message out to the public that pedestrians have the right-of-way. Vehicles are supposed to yield to pedestrians in the crosswalks."

But for Ponce's family, it was too little, too late. They said the city should install flashing lights or embedded lights in the street to make it safer, and it should have been done after previous pedestrians were hurt.

"It angered me," Ponce's youngest daughter said of what she termed a belated police crackdown on drivers at the crosswalk. "They should have done it before. Not now."

As if to underscore the hazards of the crosswalk, two people at the vigil were connected to previous accidents at the same intersection.

Andy Barreras, 61, of Cloverdale, said he was hit by a vehicle there on a morning in 2011 and suffered injuries to his hip and arm that still give him pain. "I'm very lucky that I'm still around," he said.

And Magdalena Ruiz said her 15-year-old son, Saul Soriano, was struck down and had his skull fractured while crossing the street there on Jan. 22. "The car didn't stop." she said, adding that the driver "said she was distracted."

She said her son continues to see a neurologist for his headaches.

Ponce, a mother of nine children, with 33 grandchildren and 28 great-grandchildren, was taking her usual walk after dinner with her longtime companion, Atanacio Ramirez Jr.

Read all of the PD's fire coverage here

She was hit shortly before 9:30 p.m. at the intersection of South Cloverdale Boulevard and Healdsburg Avenue, south of the Citrus Fairgrounds.

The crosswalk extends across the broad boulevard, which was the main Highway 101 route through town and much busier before a freeway bypass was built to the east in the 1990s.

Guadalupe Castro Barragan, 83, who was southbound in his Ram pickup said he didn't see Ponce until it was too late.

She was taken by ambulance to Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital where she succumbed less than two hours later to her injuries.

According to Cloverdale Police, a main factor in the accident was that Castro Barragan was not wearing corrective lenses as required by his driver's license.

They said he also failed to yield the right-of-way to the pedestrian in the marked crosswalk.

Court records show that Castro Barragan, has been convicted three times for drunken driving in Sonoma County, in 1991, 1993 and 2012.

His license also has been suspended effective on the day of the accident, due to cancelled insurance, police said.

But according to police, drinking and drugs did not appear to be a factor in the accident. He submitted to a breath test that showed no blood-alcohol content.

Castro Barragan said he was driving about 15 mph, slower than usual, because it was dark, according to the police report.

He told police he did not see anyone in the road or on the sidewalks as he approached the intersection.

The police report said the single street lamp that partially illuminates the crosswalk appeared to be functioning normally.

Just prior to entering the intersection, he said he saw two people directly in front of his vehicle.

He swerved to the left, but said he was unable to avoid hitting Ponce, according to the police report.

A copy of the investigation was forwarded to the Sonoma County District Attorney to determine whether charges will be filed against him.

A spokeswoman for the District Attorney said Wednesday that the case is still under review.

But Ponce's family is still trying to cope with the sudden loss of their matriarch, a hardworking woman who grew up in Healdsburg and Windsor.

She worked in a lumber mill in Healdsburg and for years at a cherry-packing plant in Oregon, where she planned to build a home.

"She was wonderful, healthy, with so much vibrancy, so much to live for," said her elder daughter, Erlinda.

You can reach Staff Writer Clark Mason at 521-5214 or clark.mason@pressdemocrat.com.

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