It was chilly, just above freezing, around 5:15 p.m. Sunday when Olga Zhak stepped out onto Paseo de Peralta as she walked toward her home.
The 69-year-old presumably was headed from Sprouts Farmers Market in the DeVargas Center back to her residence just south of downtown. She loved to cook but didn’t have a driver’s license, said her daughter, Tatiana Jacques, and might have been returning home after a grocery run.
But she didn’t make it.
According to a preliminary incident report from Santa Fe police, Zhak was crossing the westbound lanes of Paseo de Peralta outside the crosswalk and was hit by a driver in a 2011 Honda. She died at the scene.
A day earlier, around the same time of day, another woman in her 60s was struck by a driver while she was crossing a section of Cerrillos Road that runs at a similar east-west angle as the stretch of road where Zhak was hit. The drivers in both incidents blamed the sun, according to police.
The woman struck on Cerrillos, a frequent guest at the Interfaith Community Shelter who was identified by staff and guests as Kerry Hartman, is in critical condition at the University of New Mexico Hospital in Albuquerque, a hospital spokesman said Thursday.
Police said she was crossing Cerrillos at a crosswalk at Camino Carlos Rey but apparently veered out of the crosswalk to take a shortcut and was then hit by a car.
Officers are still investigating both incidents, according to Santa Fe Police Department spokesman Greg Gurulé, who had not released a full report for either one by Thursday evening.
But over the weekend, Capt. Robert Vasquez told The New Mexican that both drivers had said they couldn’t see the pedestrian in the middle of the street because the sun was in their eyes.
During the winter months in Santa Fe, sunset typically falls inside one of the peak times for motor vehicle accidents, increasing risks for westbound drivers, according to Franklin Garcia, director of the New Mexico Department of Transportation’s Traffic Safety Division.
Peak crash times are from 6 or 7 a.m. to 9 a.m., when motorists are heading to work or school; from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., when workers are taking lunch breaks; and again between 3 and 6 p.m., when kids are getting out of school and people are driving home from work, Garcia said.
At this time of year, the path of the sun can fall directly in a driver’s line of sight during those peak hours.
On Sunday, the sun set at 5:55 p.m.
The day before, it set a minute earlier.
“As daylight saving time changes, and [the sun] hits the horizon at a later time, that really makes a difference,” he added.
Garcia’s division oversees motorist safety and education programs across the state. Among the tips it gives drivers are to slow down when the sun starts to create glare, to scan the road ahead instead of just looking at the lane directly in front of the car and to make sure the windshield is clean.
“Any scratched or pitted windshield is going to add to that glare,” Garcia said.
Pedestrians should stick to crosswalks and be aware of the driving issues that glare can cause around sunrise and sunset, he said.
According to a New Mexican analysis last year, more pedestrian deaths in the city occur on Cerrillos Road than on any other roadway.
Paige Kitson, an advocate who tracks deaths within the homeless community, said at a memorial last year that three of the 27 deaths she counted in 2017 were people who were hit while crossing Cerrillos Road.
Zhak was killed near a corridor designated as an “area of critical concern” in a Pedestrian Master Plan created in 2015 by the city of Santa Fe’s Metropolitan Planning Organization.
Her daughter said Zhak was originally from Kiev, Ukraine. She moved to the United States when she was in her 20s and was a fashion designer in New York’s Garment District for decades, Jacques said. Over the years, she owned a few different clothing lines and a hat company.
She moved to Santa Fe from North Carolina last year so she could be closer to Jacques and her 8- and 10-year-old grandchildren.
“It was amazing. We really got to spend a lot of special times together,” Jacques said, adding that Zhak loved to cook for the family and made friends with Jacques’ neighbors and friends very quickly.
Hartman had been staying at the Interfaith Community Shelter for about a year, according to senior staff members there. A friend from the shelter, who asked that The New Mexican not use her name, called Hartman “one of the nice ones.”
“She never bothered anybody. She was kind and polite and kept to herself,” the friend said.
The woman said she has been driving down to the Albuquerque hospital to visit Hartman, who is in a coma. Whether she might wake up remains uncertain.
“We’re just sitting on our hands right now, waiting to see what happens,” said the shelter’s director, Joe Jordan-Berenis.
Contact Sami Edge 505-986-3055 or email@example.com.