The Sonora man hit by a woman’s vehicle while walking on Stockton Road near the Mother Lode Fairgrounds Saturday night died Monday from head injuries sustained during the accident.
Tony Ortega, 38, was a longtime resident of Sonora, his sister-in-law Rose Chase said in an email. He was pronounced dead at 1:20 p.m. on Monday at Doctors Medical Center in Modesto.
“It affected us really bad. We were not expecting to bury our son at such a young age,” said Roger Chase, 58, Ortega’s stepfather, who said Ortega had been characterized as “brain-dead” when he arrived via air ambulance to Modesto. “We're elderly people. It is very heartbreaking and we did not expect this.”
Ortega was described by his sister-in-law as a “fun, outgoing man” and a longtime hard worker with Feriani Construction, a Tuolumne-based construction company.
The family has planned a wake in remembrance of Ortega and will also set up a Go Fund Me account to assist with the unexpected expense of his arrangements, she said.
Sonora Police Department Interim Police Chief Turu VanderWiel said his office had previously received word that the hospital was going to discontinue life support on Ortega and that next of kin notifications had been made.
A Sonora Police Department press release had identified the injuries as non-life threatening. But the injuries observed at the scene that night were serious enough, he added, to warrant a thorough investigation to determine which party, or parties, were at fault, and determine if there were possible vehicle code violations.
“The focus and the scope of the investigation remains the same,” he said.
The driver of the 2004 red Honda SUV associated with the collision, Kathleen Dunigan, 47, of Sonora, showed no indication of being under the influence at the time of the accident, he said.
The accident happened around 7 p.m. Saturday.
Sonora Police officers said Dunigan hit Ortega while he crossed the highway outside of a marked crosswalk.
Officers said the man had attended the King of the Mountain California Fighting Championship held at the Mother Lode Fairgrounds that evening.
The investigation, which is expected to take about a month, will involve the actions of the driver beforehand, her visibility and driving speed, how far away the man was from the crosswalk, and the presence of other vehicles and pedestrians.
The site of Saturday’s accident was close to that of another Stockton Road accident in March 2015 in which Kathy Warner, 61, of Stockton, was hit and killed by a vehicle after she left the Sonora Celtic Faire.
VanderWiel said pedestrian safety efforts had originated from the concern that certain areas of the city were unsafe, especially in dimly lit areas.
“Accidents do happen,” he said. “We haven't completed the investigation so we don't have a primary collision factor, but we do have the pedestrian outside of the crosswalk in the roadway at this point.”
Dozens of vehicle vs. pedestrian accidents recorded by Caltrans in downtown Sonora since 2010 have prompted a public outcry for new traffic safety tools and stricter enforcement of crosswalk violations.
A CHP and Sonora Police Department joint-operation throughout Tuolumne County during Pedestrian Safety Month in September sought to educate the public about the dangers of Sonora’s crosswalks for both drivers and pedestrians.
The operation netted more than 100 citations, 33 of which were crosswalk safety violations, over three different days.
More accidents could be avoided, VanderWiel said, if pedestrians and drivers took proper safety precautions.