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The new mechanical gates outside the parking garages at Santa Rosa Plaza are not just giving headaches to motorists.

At least three pedestrians have been struck on the head by the automated barricades while walking in or out of the garages at the downtown Santa Rosa mall over the last four weeks.

Two of them said the arms were raised and out of view when they walked past the gates, which were installed at several entrances and exits to the garages two months ago when the mall began to charge for parking.

Both said they had no warning before the mechanical arms dropped on their skulls as they walked in driveways that were commonly used by both cars and pedestrians before the mall's new parking policy.

At first, neither even realized what had happened when the pain began. A third was unavailable for comment.

"I never sensed it, even when it was getting close to me," said Santa Rosa resident Brenda Russell, who was walking and talking with her two children when the hinged arm struck her forehead outside Macy's on Sept. 14.

Petaluma resident Pat Goddard Sirna, who was struck on the crown of her head and knocked to the ground Monday evening, was still in pain and suffering waves of dizziness two days later.

Sirna, a registered nurse, said bystanders helped her get back on her feet until security personnel arrived. The security people told her there had been several similar incidents previously, though it was unclear how many.

A third woman was struck in the head by a mall parking arm on Sept. 22 and taken to Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital, according to Santa Rosa Fire Department records. Her physician, Dr. James Trapnell, said she is still being seen for neck issues related to the injury.

Mall officials declined to answer questions about the number and severity of accidents involving the mechanized arms. Security personnel and a representative with AmeriPark, which operates the parking structure, also declined comment.

Mall manager Laura Kozup issued a written statement Wednesday saying that signs have been installed to alert pedestrians to changes in the parking garage.

"The safety and security of our shoppers is always our primary concern. Reconfiguration of the parking garage has affected some automobile drives that were commonly used as pedestrian walkways in the past. Signage has been installed to make patrons aware of the changes to those automobile drives and to highlight new equipment in those areas. There are pedestrian walkways located throughout the parking garage. Pedestrians are encouraged to use those pathways, to be aware of the new parking configuration, and of the equipment in those drives," Kozup said in the statement.

Paper signs with the words "Caution Watch For Gate Arm" and a graphic drawing of a figure being struck have been taped to some of the gates at the Plaza parking structures.

It was not clear when the signs were posted, though Sirna said none were there Monday afternoon or evening when a friend went back to see if any changes had been made in the wake of her accident. Those apparently taped up later are only visible from one direction.

Sirna said she received a call from AmeriPark after her accident saying additional signs had been ordered, but no details were available.

Press Democrat Poll

What type of warning did you receive about last October’s fires? (Multiple responses allowed)

Official alert on my landline: 5 percent

Official alert on my cellphone: 17 percent

Neighbor warned me: 14 percent

Family member or friend warned me: 28 percent

Police or fire came to my home to warn me: 5 percent

None: 43 percent

Don’t know: 1 percent

In the future, how would you like to be notified about a fire or other impending disaster?

Phone call: 31 percent

Text message: 30 percent

Email: 1 percent

Air raid siren: 28 percent

Other (specify): 7 percent

Don’t know: 3 percent

Do you think Sonoma County is more prepared today to warn you about fires or disasters than it was last year?

Yes: 54 percent

No: 31 percent

Don’t know: 15 percent

SOURCE: The Press Democrat Poll/David Binder Research

The downtown mall had offered free parking for decades when it began charging in August to discourage downtown workers from snapping up prime parking spots each day. The change required installation of concrete pylons across some exits and entrances, and mechanized gates at others.

Pedestrians observed Tuesday were entering and exiting the parking structure through narrow gaps between barriers.

Both Russell and Sirna said the mechanical arms were already raised when they approached the gates and they naturally resorted to walking in the driveway, a passage used by many shoppers before the advent of paid parking.

Russell said she was looking toward her children when she was smacked in the forehead. She got a horrible bump above her eye, and then a massive black eye, but has had no other medical repercussions.

Sirna said she parked near the west side of the mall early this week to pick up some eye glasses and, seeing no designated pedestrian route, headed toward the vehicle entrance with plans to walk across it.

She was positioned 90 degrees to a car passing by, on the opposite side of the mechanical arm, and never realized it was there. When the car passed, she started to cross and "got clobbered with something."

She said she saw an emergency room physician who found no injury. Though improving on Wednesday, she still had pain and was getting a ride to see her own doctor.

"This accident could have been prevented," she said. "It has significantly impacted my life."

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