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Andrew Traub

Austin traffic deaths hit five-year high

A pedestrian killed on Texas 71 earlier this month became the 89th person killed in Austin traffic this year, exceeding the 2019 total.

Just after 6 a.m. on Dec. 18, 35-year-old Jesse Jay Gomez Jr. was in the 3100 block of Texas 71, just east of Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. Witnesses told police they saw Gomez walking toward traffic.

Multiple vehicles swerved to avoid hitting Gomez. The driver of a black 2016 Ford Expedition noticed the vehicles in front of him in the middle lane of the highway veering to the left and moved right, assuming there was a traffic hazard ahead, police said.

When the driver moved right, he hit Gomez, who was pronounced dead at the scene, police said.

The driver remained at the scene and no charges are expected to be filed. The case remains ongoing and anyone with more information on the incident can call police at 512-974-6873.

By Tuesday, the city's 90th traffic death, a person who was killed when a vehicle crashed into a tree, was reported.

A total of 88 people were killed on Austin roadways last year, marking the first increase in such deaths since 2015 when the city recorded a historic 102 deaths.

Police and Austin transportation officials thought the number of traffic deaths would go down this year because of so many people working and attending school from home during the coronavirus pandemic.

But empty roads have led to drivers speeding more than before.

Even before the pandemic sent many Austinites home, the year started with a faster pace of deaths than in 2019. Between Jan. 1 and Feb. 14, Austin recorded 17 traffic deaths. During the same time period in 2019, only seven people had died on city roads.

Drunk driving accidents were also prevalent in 2020, as were fatal crashes involving pedestrians.

As of Tuesday, police recorded 31 pedestrians killed in Austin traffic this year.

In addition to speeding, impairment and pedestrian crashes, the number of fatalities 2020 saw may have to do with less enforcement. Officers continue to staff coronavirus testing centers and quarantine hotels, pulling them away from things like traffic enforcement.

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