By Brian Rokos, September 26, 2013
Riverside County Sheriff’s deputies watch for violators as the
Gingerbread Man crosses Eucalyptus Avenue in Moreno Valley on Thursday,
Yes, that really was a 7-foot-tall Gingerbread Man — wearing sneakers
— walking back and forth across Eucalyptus Avenue in Moreno Valley.
Yet the costumed deputy was invisible to most of the 13 motorists who
were cited in a 50-minute span during a Riverside County Sheriff’s
Department pedestrian decoy operation Thursday morning, Sept. 26.
The drivers were accused of failing to yield the right of way to a
pedestrian in a crosswalk. This crossing was in front of Rainbow Springs
Elementary and just down the street from Sunnymead Middle School.
Most, Sgt. Bill Guimont said, claimed they never saw the brown fairy-tale character with the round head.
“Our concern is if they can’t see a 7-foot Gingerbread Man, then how
are they going to see their son or daughter that is only 5 feet tall
walking through a crosswalk,” Guimont said.
Seven other drivers were cited for other violations, and four
vehicles were towed because the drivers didn’t have valid licenses.
The Sheriff’s Department had received complaints about drivers
cutting off students as they crossed Eucalyptus at Running Deer Road and
several times nearly striking the crossing guard. So Thursday morning
at 8, five deputies on motorcycles arrived, along with Deputy Chris
Gastinger, who put on the Gingerbread Man costume.
Gastinger has participated in the stings for two years. The Moreno
Valley station has also used Santa Claus and the Human Traffic Cone as
decoys and is one of the few Inland agencies to employ costumed decoys.
The purpose of the operations, Guimont said, is to educate drivers
about the crosswalk laws and make them more aware of the dangers,
especially in front of schools.
Cpl. Jimmy Hamrick said there is confusion among the public about
what the Vehicle Code says about drivers and pedestrians intersecting.
The bottom line is that both have a legal obligation to ensure the
safety of the other. Neither always has the right of way. A pedestrian,
for example, cannot step into the crosswalk at the last second, failing
to give the driver time to stop. And a driver must try to avoid a
In the case of crosswalks, once a pedestrian — or Gingerbread Man —
safely steps into the street at a marked or unmarked crosswalk, the
driver must stop, no matter how far away the pedestrian is, and stay
stopped until the pedestrian reaches the far curb, Hamrick said. He
added that he once investigated a case in which a driver began to
proceed after a child had apparently passed, but the child suddenly
doubled back and was struck.
Some law-enforcement officers do not hold drivers to the letter of
the law — as long as the pedestrian is far away while coming or going,
the driver may proceed — but on Thursday, the deputies were not
allowing any leeway.
As Gastinger crossed Eucalyptus, the motorcycle officers waited on
Running Deer. If Gastinger saw a violation, he would signal by raising
the Gingerbread Man’s right arm.
Chuong Cao was pulled over after driving through the crosswalk on the
far side of Eucalyptus after the decoy had taken a few steps into the
street. He was stopped in the parking lot of the elementary school as he
attempted to drop his son off.
Cao protested that he was watching the crossing guard — she was on
the curb at the time — and said the Gingerbread Man had barely entered
He was still handed a ticket, accusing him of violating Vehicle Code section 21950(A).
“Understand, we’re here for your kid’s safety,” Deputy Dean Colbert told Cao.
Hamrick said most of the drivers cited Thursday were exceeding the 25
mph school-zone speed limit, making it difficult for them to stop for
pedestrians of any height or appearance.
A Sunnymead student, seventh-grader Armando Morales, said he was glad to see the enforcement.
“It’s safer because kids won’t get injured,” he said.
Other passersby praised the deputies and described traffic dangers.
Students high-fived the Gingerbread Man and at least one parent snapped a
Guimont said that the enforcement is working: Five pedestrians were
killed and 72 injured in 64 accidents in Moreno Valley 2012. In 2013,
two pedestrians have been killed with 33 injured in 29 accidents.
“The parents need to slow down — that’s the bottom line,” Gastinger
said. “In front of these schools during these hours is the most
dangerous place in the city.”