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San Jose Family Pleads for Info on Driver Who Struck and Killed Woman In Wheelchair

SAN JOSE (CBS SF) -- A South Bay family was joined by San Jose officials Thursday as they pleaded for help finding the driver who fatally hit a woman in a wheelchair before driving off back in April.

At 11:35 p.m. on April 1, officers arrived in the area of Monterey Highway and Curtner Avenue after receiving reports of a car hitting a pedestrian. They found a woman in a wheelchair after she was hit by a car, which drove off after the incident.

First responders took the victim to a nearby hospital, where she died from her injuries. She was later identified as Vanessa Ann Arce.

Witnesses told investigators that the driver was in a white 2004-2010 Mercedes-Benz CLS that had damage to its front and left side from the accident.

Stock photo of a white Mercedes like the one involved in a fatal accident in San Jose back in April. (Courtesy of San Jose Police)

On Thursday, Felipa Pineda stood at the intersection  where her daughter Vanessa Ann Arce was fatally struck.

Pineda was holding her granddaughter in her arms. They took turns comforting each other as they reflected on the loss of their daughter and mother, respectively.

Pineda and Arce's daughter, who is one of five children, were joined by San Jose police and Councilmember Maya Esparza as the family called for justice.

"(They) took off, left her, didn't check to see if she was alive or dead," Pineda said.

Earlier, police had tweeted surveillance video from a nearby gas station's security cameras that briefly showed the suspect vehicle. But despite a months-long investigation and signs posted around the Plant Shopping Center by Arce's loved ones, police have not been able to track down the culprit or the vehicle.

"I know that nothing will bring my daughter back," Pineda said, struggling to talk past her tears. "But bringing the individual or individuals to justice is what we want."

Arce's mother said finding the driver would also help her and loved ones find closure.

"We are devastated with this horrific incident," Pineda said. "We would like justice and I refuse to have this to be a cold case for my daughter."

"This has been a very dangerous intersection this year as well as the Monterrey corridor here in the area," SJPD spokesperson Christian Camarillo said.

At that intersection, there have been four traffic-related deaths in 2021. And there were many more along Monterey Road, Camarillo said.

Not all were pedestrians crossing on their designating crosswalk like Arce, however. Some were bicyclists and others were car-on-car crashes, and sometimes it was a pedestrian who wasn't using the crosswalk.

"So, we really want to make the public aware. It's going to take, you know, not just pedestrians but motorists as well (to stop these deaths)," Camarillo said.

Esparza, who represents the district where Arce was killed, said she submitted a memo to the City Council asking for more safety tools, like recording cameras at the intersection that would allow police to capture the license plate of a hit-and-run driver, for example, or barriers along the road so that pedestrians are dissuaded from jaywalking, among other things.

"Piloting a program to install cameras in this intersection is something the city has never done before," Esparza said.

The councilmember also asked the city's department of transportation to look at synchronizing the crosswalks with the traffic lights.

However, the city has already been looking at ways to improve Monterey Road, as well as other dangerous roads in San Jose like Senter and Tully roads, through the national Vision Zero project that seeks to eliminate traffic-related deaths.

"Unfortunately, District 7, District 3 (Downtown San Jose), and District 6 have the most dangerous streets for pedestrians and cyclists in the city," Esparza said. "So that's why the city's done some efforts."

Pineda said she wants her daughter to be remembered as someone who always walked in with a smile on her face and sought to make people laugh at any opportunity.

"She was only 4 foot 10 and she was a little firecracker," Pineda said, her voice chocking. "Oh, my baby girl, my baby girl."

Arce was a member of the Black Berets -- an indigenous and Chicanx advocacy group born in San Jose during the peak of the Chicano movement.

The Black Berets, along with Arce's family and friends, will be marching from the Monterey/Curtner intersection to San Jose City Hall on Friday to honor Arce's live and demand justice for her. The rally at City Hall will start at noon.

Anyone with information on this investigation is urged to contact Detective Templeman #3556 of the San Jose Police Department's Traffic Investigations Unit at 408-277-4654.

Those who provide a tip that leads to an arrest will receive a cash reward, Camarillo said.

© Copyright 2021 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Bay City News Service contributed to this report.

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