Centreville High, VDOT and local police are working together to improve safety after three students were stuck by cars while trying to cross Union Mill Road.
"THE THIRD student was hit Tuesday, Oct. 30, in front of the school, and we're very alarmed that this is happening," said Capt. Cindy McAlister, commander of the Sully District Police Station. "We're going to do a pedestrian-safety campaign for the students, as well as the community."
Officials say the teens were at fault because they didn't cross at the marked crosswalk at the stoplight with the crossing guard. And though none of them were seriously injured, McAlister said even the idea that children are placing themselves in danger has become "nervewracking." And, she added, "I think the parents have no clue about what's happening."
Two signs are posted on Union Mill, warning drivers to stop for pedestrians. But when children dart out in front of them, unexpectedly, motorists have no time to react to avoid hitting them.
There used to be a little crosswalk, further down Union Mill, which was eliminated when the stoplight went in at that road's intersection with Union Village Circle, in front of the school. But unfortunately, said McAlister, the students "often cross where it's quicker" for them.
Centreville High Principal Mike Campbell concurred that these dangerous incidents have happened when students haven't used the crosswalk. In the first incident, he said a student ran across the street, in between traffic.
The Oct. 30 incident involved a boy, 15, on a bicycle. Campbell said he was a former Liberty Middle School student who did not attend Centreville. But afterward, said Campbell, "I went on the P.A. system and told the students to make sure they use the crosswalk."
AFTER SCHOOL last Thursday, Nov. 1, Sgt. Bill Fulton — who oversees all the school resource officers (SROs) for the Police Department's Youth Services section — stood near the crosswalk with Thomas Trapp, Centreville High's Safety and Security specialist.
Trapp said only two of the teen/vehicle collisions were officially reported, but students said three people had been hit, altogether. "So we're out here today looking at the design of the whole campus and how we can better funnel the pedestrian traffic to the designated crosswalks," he said.
"We've also contacted VDOT about it. None of the accidents have indicated there was any speeding involved."
Melissa Young, a crossing guard from the Sully District Police Station, was on duty Oct. 30 when the bicyclist was struck. "I've been at Centreville eight years and I've seen lots of rear-end accidents," she said. "But this was the first time I've seen a child get hit."
She said the first accident, Sept. 14, happened across from Kindercare, and the boy, 15, "got a concussion, plus some teeth knocked out. I didn't see that one, but I heard about it from other crossing guards. And I'd seen the ambulance and firetruck go down there."
Centreville High SRO R.B. Wrobel was also outside the school, Nov. 1, with Fulton. "We're here reinforcing the jaywalking law," said Wrobel. "We're stopping [kids] before they have the chance to, and redirecting them to the crosswalk."
If not, he said, "They'll walk a tenth of a mile to cross the street because they live in that area or they're going to the [Colonnade] shopping center. Or, added Fulton, "Since they know they're not supposed to jaywalk, they'll go into the woods to the side of the school, come out at the crest of the hill and cross Union Mill — not at a light, crosswalk or anything."
ON OCT. 30, said Fulton, the bicyclist was on the school side of Union Mill, saw some friends across the street and "pulled into the path of a Tahoe SUV coming [uphill], preparing to turn right on Union Village Circle." Wrobel said he "zigzagged across traffic, and the schoolbus driver [between the boy and the turning vehicle] waved for him to stop. The Tahoe was only doing 15 mph but, before it had time to stop, it struck him."
"Thank God, the drivers in all these incidents were obeying the 25-mph speed limit," said Fulton. "Otherwise, the injuries could have been much worse." Wrobel said the bicyclist got abrasions to his arm and head and also hurt his leg. Said Fulton: "The vehicle broke the bike's pedal and handlebar right off."
Now, Centreville's electronic sign is warning drivers to look out for pedestrians crossing Union Mill, and Campbell is advising parents of the situation in both written and electronic newsletters. Fulton said VDOT's also seeing if the crosswalks could be re-marked. Possibly, he said, "They could be repainted so they're more visible."