Updated: Homeless Man Dies in Crash

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Friends remember Richard McCrary at a roadside shrine. Photo by Jody Tiongco
Friends remember Richard McCrary at a roadside shrine. Photo by Jody Tiongco

A roadside shrine on Laguna Canyon Road near the dog park now marks the location where a homeless man was struck and killed by an outbound motorist about 1 a.m. last Friday, Aug. 7, police said.

The death is the fourth traffic fatality within the city this year, all of which have occurred in Laguna Canyon, Capt. Jason Kravetz said.

Some among the homeless population say parking enforcement outside the homeless shelter contributed to the fatality.

The motorist involved, a 20-year-old woman from Laguna Beach, was not charged or cited, though police say the investigation is continuing. Neither drugs nor alcohol were a factor, Kravetz said.

The coroner’s office identified the victim as 40-year-old Richard McCrary. Accident investigators are trying to determine why McCrary strayed into the traffic lane, said Kravetz. Police surveillance cameras do not include the section of the roadway where the collision occurred, though McCrary’s car was parked in a legal parking spot, he said.

The public log of police activity shows police were called to the homeless shelter in Laguna Canyon hours before the accident, at 7:48 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 6, over a stolen backpack, but had not been on the premises later that night, according to Kravetz.

A woman who says she was in the shelter parking lot offers a differing account.

Homeless people with their own cars and sleeping bags, who are turned away when the 50-person shelter fills for the night, often take refuge in the city-owned parking lot outside.

Signage in the area is unclear, displaying conflicting restrictions about where parking is permitted and in the past police have rousted people sleeping in their cars and on the ground and seized unattended possessions in the lot, said local resident Leonard Porto, who also formerly lived out of his car.

Last Thursday night, McCrary, his wife, and others were drinking socially in the lot when two officers told them about 9:30 p.m. to remove their vehicles, according to Katrina Aune, who has bedded down at the shelter or in the parking lot off and on for the past four years.

Originally from Longview, Wash., Aune works at an auto parts store in Lake Forest and most recently paid $300 a month to live in a garage until the owner sold the home. “I can’t afford to pay rent anywhere,” she said in explaining why she lives on the streets.

About five people complied with the police directive by removing their cars to Laguna Canyon Road, but they returned to the lot on foot, Aune recounted in an interview Thursday. About 12:30 a.m., when McCrary started “nodding out,” he and his wife left together and headed back to their car, she said. “They hadn’t been gone too long,” Aune recalled, when she heard screams from the road.

Both Porto and Aune lay some blame for McCrary’s death to the police practice of clearing the shelter parking lot late in the evening, which they say endangers the safety of homeless people by forcing them onto Laguna Canyon Road.

Porto said he befriended McCrary and his wife a year ago. “They are homeless people who had no place else to go,” said Porto, who described giving the couple a pair of extra large pillows to use in their car. “He and his wife almost did cartwheels over those pillows,” said Porto, who filed a federal lawsuit in 2012 against the city over policies that impact homeless people.

Local resident and homeless advocate Jim Keegan said a memorial service for McCrary is planned but has yet to be finalized.

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