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Panhandlers and pedestrians at risk on freeways

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By Rikki King
Herald Writer
MARYSVILLE -- The woman was walking along the shoulder of northbound I-5 in Marysville on Thursday morning, cars whizzing past at 60 mph. She was pregnant, carrying a bag of food.
Washington State Patrol trooper Mark Francis pulled up beside her in his police cruiser.
"Are you OK?" he asked.
Francis told the woman she was breaking the law and offered her a ride to a safe place. She accepted.
Troopers in recent weeks have been working to keep pedestrians away from the freeway, including on-ramps and off-ramps, Francis said. They're also asking folks not to give money to panhandlers in those locations.
Since 2011, at least eight pedestrians have died on I-5 in Snohomish, Island, Skagit and Whatcom counties, Francis said. More still have been hurt.
Some of those deaths involved pedestrians who were drunk or on drugs, Francis said. Some were trying to cross the freeway. Others were suicides.
Problem areas in Snohomish County include I-5 at 116th Street NE and Fourth Street in Marysville; 128th Street SW in south Everett and 41st Street downtown; and the intersection of Highway 526 and Evergreen Way.
"It's got to stop," Francis said.
The patrol has connected the problem of pedestrians on the freeway with panhandlers on the ramps.
Panhandlers return to areas where they're most successful, Francis said.
The pedestrians who are getting in trouble often are repeat offenders, he said. If they fail to heed the warnings to stay off the highway, they can face charges for trespassing and for failing to obey a police officer. Lesser infractions generally are issued first.
Drivers can make it worse because they're slowing down or stopping to give money regardless of traffic conditions, Francis said. Panhandlers also have been known to hit the crosswalk button repeatedly so they can delay traffic.
There have been rear-end collisions as well when drivers stop too soon, trooper Keith Leary said.
"We just don't want them to get hit or get hurt," he said. "They don't understand how dangerous it is."
Even at the low speeds on on-ramps and off-ramps, a car that hits a person can cause serious damage, Francis said.
Drivers don't expect pedestrians on the freeway, and often can't react in time to keep from hitting them, Leary said. That's especially true if drivers are talking on their cell phones, texting or have other distractions.
Troopers encourage people to give to charity, but in safer ways, Francis said.
Rikki King: 425-339-3449;
Story tags » EverettMarysvilleCrimePoliceAccidents (general)Highway 526I-5TrafficTraffic SafetyHomelessness

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