Sarah Kier went to the Kent intersection of Reith Road and Lake Fenwick Road South to find some closure where a pickup driver struck and killed her brother as he walked across the street.
Larry Kier, 37, of Seattle, and Sarah Kier’s only sibling, died at the scene of the Aug. 23 collision.
As Sarah Kier stood at the site, she couldn’t believe what she saw. She discovered a intersection so dangerous for pedestrians that they crossed the street in fear to get to two nearby bus stops. Kier said her brother had visited his girlfriend’s apartment near the intersection that night and left to catch a bus.
“People looked absolutely terrified,” Kier said as she watched them cross Reith Road. “Sometimes they just stand there for a while. One girl kept walking back and forth trying to figure out the best place to cross. People are thinking about it, but there’s nothing here.”
No traffic light. No flashing light. No marked crosswalks. No streetlights.
“Maybe my brother was stupid for crossing diagonally, but maybe if there was a crosswalk, he wouldn’t have,” Kier said.
Kier, a Normandy Park child and family therapist, has made it her mission to make the intersection safer so others don’t have to go through losing a relative or friend struck by a vehicle.
“When I sat here and watched people try to cross the street, that’s what made me really mad,” she said. “It doesn’t need to happen to anyone else, but with no lighting, no crosswalk this isn’t OK, it’s not safe for people. It’s not just about me and my brother and being emotional, this is not OK.”
Initial information from the Kent Police indicates that Kier was crossing Reith Road, near Lake Fenwick Road. The driver was traveling eastbound in his pickup truck on Reith Road and struck Kier in the roadway. Kier crossed the roadway just down from the intersection, and was wearing dark clothing at the time of the collision, police said. The location of the collision is on a curve near the base of the steep Reith Road hill.
Kent man arrested
Officers arrested the driver, a 53-year-old Kent man, for investigation of DUI. The driver remained on the scene following the collision and exhibited signs of impairment, according to police.
Kier said the police report makes it sound like the collision occurred because of an alleged drunk driver and her brother wearing dark clothing and crossing in the middle of the road. But she said pedestrians could easily be hit whether or not a driver is drunk or someone is wearing dark clothing at night.
“Maybe my brother was negligent,” she said. “But it’s so dangerous. I saw an old man try to run across the street. People are trying to cross the street in fear. It’s a half-mile down the road to the nearest crosswalk (at Kent Des Moines Road).”
Kent Police Cmdr. Robert Hollis said Kier appears to be the first pedestrian struck along Reith Road near Lake Fenwick Road South.
“After reviewing the data, we found no other reports of pedestrians being struck in that area,” Hollis said in an email. “There was a fatality collision up the hill, but that was car v. car.”
Hollis offered safety tips for pedestrians.
“I would recommend that pedestrians cross at an intersection, even if there isn’t a marked crosswalk,” Hollis said. “It’s safer as drivers are more likely to pay more attention at intersections and have better sight lines than say mid-block at a curve. There is usually more light at intersections as well.”
Both streetlight poles, however, at the Reith Road/Lake Fenwick intersection have been knocked out by vehicles, according to city Public Works staff.
“There are two street lights at the intersection, one in the northeast corner and one in the southwest corner,” said Rob Brown, city Public Works transportation engineering manager, in an email. “The two streetlights at the intersection are not currently working due to foundation damage. The foundations are scheduled to be repaired, and the street lights reinstalled, by the end of this year.”
Brown said the city received two requests from residents in 2016 to add a marked crosswalk at Reith Road and Lake Fenwick Road. He said the intersection didn’t meet the crosswalk criteria (based on federal guidelines) adopted by the City Council, to get a marked crosswalk.
“This location was evaluated in 2016 when the crosswalk policy was being developed,” Brown said when asked for specifics about why it didn’t qualify. “I see it on the list, but I cannot find the backing data.”
The criteria to establish a marked crosswalk includes a certain number of pedestrians using an intersection per hour as well as traffic volume and speed limits. Reith Road has a posted speed of 35 mph and a sign coming down hill and around a curve that recommends a speed of 25 mph just prior to Lake Fenwick Road because of limited sight distance.
“It’s a danger for the drivers coming down the hill because there’s no lights, there’s no crosswalk, there’s nothing,” Kier said.
She would like to see a crosswalk or traffic signal because of the nearby apartment complexes (Apex West Hill Apartments and Westridge Townhomes are right near the intersection) and the two bus stops on each side of Reith Road.
“You are dropping pedestrians off in an unsafe situation,” she said. “There’s too much going on in a tiny area. And hundreds of people live here.”
Federal Way roots
Sarah and Larry Kier grew up in Federal Way. Larry Kier graduated from Decatur High School. In addition to his sister, mother and father, Larry Kier leaves behind a 12-year-old son.
“My brother had his own struggles,” Kier said. “But he was extremely well loved and was doing really well.”
Kier pondered what her brother would want.
“I don’t know if my brother would want forgiveness or what,” said Kier, who found out about her brother’s death with a call from the King County Medical Examiner’s Office the morning after the collision. “I’m upset that what my brother did was negligent, but if the road was safer he would not be in that position.”
Several people who posted comments on the Kent Police Facebook page about the collision, agreed the city needs to improve the intersection.
“I’ve lived on Lake Fenwick Road since 1990 and turning right onto Reith Road has always been a crap shoot,” said Reese Dengler. “Almost nobody goes down that hill at 35 mph, let alone 25 mph.”
Lauren Johnson said it’s a challenge for pedestrians to cross the road.
“This is terrible,” Johnson said. “I drive up that road multiple times a day and I would never try and cross there in the daytime, let alone in the dark. Even if a car was going 25 mph, it would be incredibly hard to see anyone walking, and most people go quite a bit faster. It’s a shame and I feel bad for all involved.”
When Kier visited the intersection, the street still had the painted markings that showed where her brother’s left shoe and right shoe ended up. He was knocked out of his shoes from the impact of the collision with the pickup.
“The officer told me where he landed, the driver probably was not speeding because the body didn’t fly real far,” Kier said.
Kier plans to stay on a mission to see what charges the driver faces, and what the city can do about adding a traffic light or marked crosswalk.
“At first I just wanted to see where he was,” Kier said about visiting the site. “When I saw all of it, it’s not about my brother, but ways to make this safer. … Unfortunately, there’s not change until someone gets hurt.
“I want to bring attention to this. I want to make sure nobody else gets hurt.”