Family Wants Safety Modifications Added To Intersection Where 8th Grader Was Killed

The family of Kaylah Lentine, 14, who was hit by a pickup truck and killed crossing the intersection of Southwest Highway and Cicero Avenue in May, are petitioning the village for safety modifications that may have saved Kaylah's life.

There was a lot that Krista Wilkinson didn’t know about her 14-year-old daughter, Kaylah Lentine, until after she died.

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Wilkinson didn’t know that Kaylah wrote poetry until her friend Marty showed her where Kaylah had hidden the poems in her bedroom.

She didn’t know that Kaylah had tried to volunteer for an organization that helped abused children, only to be told she was too young.

And Wilkinson didn’t know that Kaylah had set up profiles on a variety of literary websites.

“I had no idea that she wrote poetry,” Wilkinson said. “There were 25 to 30 poems in her room, Marty said five or six were about him.”

“She had so many interests,” Wilkinson’s fiancé, Bob Nelson, said. “She played piano, made movies, I thought, ‘where did you find the time to write poetry?’”

"Probably in school when she was supposed to be doing homework," Wilkinson laughed.

Kaylah has missed the school bus and was on her way to Oak Lawn-Hometown Middle School, where she was to have received a leadership award at the eighth-grade awards assembly.

According to witnesses who have talked to Wilkinson, Kaylah was cautiously crossing the intersection on the east side of Cicero Avenue when she was struck by the pickup truck driving eastbound on Southwest Highway.

The driver, a 26-year-old man from Chicago Ridge, has not been charged. Wilkinson said Oak Lawn police have told them two subpoenas for the driver’s cell phone records for the morning of May 24 have gone unanswered.

Wilkinson and other family members are convinced that had there been a pedestrian signal and other safety enhancements at the corner, Kaylah might be alive today.

“The intersection is dangerous even for adults to cross,” Kaylah’s mom said. “The crosswalks are almost invisible.”

So that her daughter’s death isn’t in vain, Wilkinson and family members are asking the village to lobby the Illinois Department of Transportation for modifications that will make the intersection safer and more accessible to pedestrians and bicyclists.

Kaylah's family and friends plan to go before the Oak Lawn Traffic Review Committee on Aug. 2.

“If this had happened to one of Kaylah’s friends, she would be organizing the petition drive,” said her grandfather, Don Wilkinson, of Oak Forest. “This is a terrible loss for us.”

Active Transportation Alliance (ActiveTrans), a transportation advocacy group that works with municipalities in developing more bikeable and walkable communities, has put together a list of recommendations for the intersection.

“Every street should be accessible to pedestrians,” Leslie Phemister said, suburban outreach manager for ActiveTrans. "People need to be able to walk and bike to places. Not everyone owns a car. Unless they feel safe, people won’t walk or bike.”

Phemister visited the intersection of Southwest Highway and Cicero Avenue last week, parking at on the northeast corner of the intersection.

“Southwest Highway is eight lanes across,” Phemister said. “I tried to cross and it took me three lights. Cars were going fast around the corner. The wider lanes enable cars to take corners at high speeds. The faster you drive, the less you see on the peripheral.”

An Oak Lawn resident and family friend is submitting ActiveTrans’ recommendations to the village traffic committee on behalf of Kaylah’s family, who are Hometown residents.

Recommended improvements to the intersection include:

  • 8 new zebra style crosswalks;
  • 8 pedestrian signals with countdown timers;
  • 2 new pedestrian islands;
  • 12 truncated domes and
  • 12 ADA-compliant curb ramps.

The enhancements will help slow down traffic through the intersection and become less of a barrier to residents.

“Nothing on (Southwest Highway and Cicero Avenue) says that this is a place where pedestrians can be other than a zebra crosswalk,” Phemister said.

Phemister said there is currently only one zebra crosswalk at the intersection, distinguished by diagonal lines on the street. Such crosswalks are more visible to drivers, as opposed to the double straight lines, and help curb aggressive driving.

The corner is also lacking ADA-required truncated domes; a detectable tile that warns visually impaired persons of the boundary between the sidewalk and street, and ADA-compliant pedestrian islands.

The improvements amount to about $50,000. IDOT requires municipalities to pay 20-percent of traffic improvements.

Oak Lawn Trustee Alex Olejniczak supports the family’s request to add the safety modifications to the intersection and is introducing ActiveTrans’ recommendations at the village board meeting on Tuesday. Wilkinson also plans to make a brief statement.

“Speed is not a safe environment for walkers and bikers,” Phemister said. “ActiveTrans believes that every road should be built for users of every ability, whether it’s a senior or child trying to cross the street, a person in a wheelchair, or a driver in semi-truck.”

Krista Wilkinson and family are asking residents in Oak Lawn and Hometown to support “Kaylah’s Cause,” by printing the pdf of the traffic request form, and circulating and signing the petitions. Only one person per household may sign the petition. Mail the petitions to Kaylah’s Cause. c/o 4570 W. 88th Street, Hometown, IL, 60456. The petitions need to be submitted to the village by July 25.

Should Oak Lawn conduct a comprehensive traffic review to enhance pedestrian safety? Tell us in the comments.

Renee Wilkinson July 10, 2012 at 06:21 AM
Don Wilkinson, Kaylah was my granddaughter and I know for a fact, that over the years others have been killed at this intersection ( Bill Musinski ) as well as others injured at this crossing. She was the president of SADD, or Students Against Destructive Decisions (formerly founded as part of Mothers Against Drunk Driving) and worked closely with other students as a leader in recruiting members from Oak Lawn-Hometown Middle School into this program. Kaylah also participated in D.A.R.E. & EDGE (against Gangs) at the school. Her loss is something that we will never get over as We loved her greatly as she loved us. Please help us in our efforts to make this a safer inersection for everyone, in the future. We can't go back & change the past but can try to change the future. This is the only light, walking down Cicero Avenue south, from 79th St to 115th Street that DOES NOT have a crossing light for Pedestrians!?? Ask Why and how you can help! thank you for your support
Nicki Moad July 10, 2012 at 03:14 PM
Our family used to live in Hometown over 5 years ago and I realize that Southwest Hwy is a major street but to live on Southwest Hwy. Whenever we walked, we would go down to the traffic light towards Oak Lawn but even then, didn't feel safe crossing over Southwest Hwy. The intersection going the other direction towards Chicago is even worse. It was bad then and bad now. It's time to make a change. I pray that Kaylah's death is not in vain and that people can learn from what happened and change it NOW! Don't wait for another accident to happen!
Kimberlee Parisi July 10, 2012 at 03:48 PM
Do you have to be residents of Oak Lawn in order to sign the petition?
scouter July 10, 2012 at 07:30 PM
Kids this age don't always think about safety... So, let's help now and get that intersection in better shape and try to make sure that no one else has to face what her family and the driver has to face. We don't want any more deaths or accidents...
Mary July 10, 2012 at 07:32 PM
Nick, First of all no one is attacking the driver. The whole idea of this was to to make sure no other children are harmed at this intersection. Where you there? Did you see the accident? If not then maybe you should keep your opinion about this to yourself. I am just assuming the family wants to make sure their daughter did not die for no reason. The fact of all this is that there should have been a crosswalk at this intersection. I am an adult and I am terrified to cross at this intersection!
Mike July 10, 2012 at 07:57 PM
How about trying to slow down traffic all down SW Highway thru the residential areas? The "limit" is 30 but the majority go 40+. Cops are rarely clocking on SW Highway.
Lorraine Swanson (Editor) July 10, 2012 at 08:18 PM
Oak Lawn and Hometown residents are welcome to sign the petition. I've noticed that Hometown is having its community fest on July 14 at Patterson Park. That would be a great venue to circulate the petition.
Lorraine Swanson (Editor) July 10, 2012 at 08:19 PM
By all witness accounts Kaylah was using caution when crossing the intersection.
IPFWGK1 July 10, 2012 at 08:53 PM
Really? Ever get paid a visit from the Red unmarked car (Rybcka I believe his name was who patrolled with that car) or now the blue & black unmarked car? You are correct..SWHY average speed is around 40mph. But it's patrolled.
Jerry July 10, 2012 at 09:13 PM
Has anyone considered the idea of a pedestrian bridge across Cicero Avenue?
Lorraine Swanson (Editor) July 10, 2012 at 10:58 PM
Are you referring to a Southtown Star article? Can you send me the link please.
Lorraine Swanson (Editor) July 10, 2012 at 11:01 PM
I want to know why you think my article is biased? Bottom line, that's a dangerous intersection that can be made a lot safer through some simple improvements.
Lorraine Swanson (Editor) July 10, 2012 at 11:27 PM
I read my story, Nick, and no where does it mention that the pedestrian in the breaking news alert was running through traffic, unless you're referring to the comments. The accident is still under police investigation. I look forward to reading the findings, which I hope that I would have the opportunity to share with readers.
ann July 10, 2012 at 11:32 PM
I was there and Kaylah was not "dodging cars" just to set the record straight. Yes a tragic accident but in no way was her fault.
Lorraine Swanson (Editor) July 10, 2012 at 11:54 PM
Nick, I appreciate what you're saying. However, I still have to follow professional standards when reporting stories. I know that the comments on the initial breaking news story were thoughtful and included many witnesses that saw what happened, but I still have to go through official sources, in this case, the Oak Lawn Police Department. And I agree with the others: no one is disparaging the driver. I personally have great empathy for him.
Lorraine Swanson (Editor) July 11, 2012 at 12:01 AM
I'm heading over to the village board meeting. Until I get back, I'm going to put this story on comment moderation, which means you won't see your comments posted right away. You may come back later this evening to read your comments.
Nikki G July 11, 2012 at 12:01 AM
Why does everyone have to BLAME someone in an ACCIDENT. I mean, look at the very definition of ACCIDENT. Unfortunate things happen; but trying to point fingers doesn't get the intersection fixed. I grew up in the area...worked in the area...and I would NEVER even THINK about trying to cross that intersection. It's clearly not a safe intersection...not even to DRIVE through. People in that area are unnecessarily reckless drivers. Going either direction on either street...everyone is always in a hurry to get somewhere. To be honest, I don't even think a working pedestrian system would be beneficial at all -- I agree with a previous comment; pedestrian bridge (or underground walkway)...has there been an estimate for how much that would cost? The last thing that is interesting in this article is that there are subpoenas for cell records...but no charges have been filed? I'm pretty sure that's why those requests went unanswered...you can't just ask for people's records of anything just for the hell of it.
Nikki G July 11, 2012 at 12:10 AM
Was it your friend/family member behind the wheel? You seem a little worked up & invested in this article which is just alerting the public of a tragedy and what can be done to HELP. There is no BLAME -- just hope that a little girls life wasn't taken in vain. Show a little respect, please.
ann July 11, 2012 at 02:55 AM
Krista was so brave and did an awesome job at the meeting! My prayers are with the family during this difficult time. I have hope that there will be change in Kaylah's name. That's what she would have wanted.
AmyFrombach July 11, 2012 at 04:40 AM
I have walked across that same intersection and I am all for the changes myself . I live in hometown too and I will do everything in my power to get as many people to sign and get the changes that need to be done!!!!!
Lorraine Swanson (Editor) July 11, 2012 at 04:45 AM
Please email me if you need the petition, Amy, lorraine.swanson@patch.com.
AmyFrombach July 11, 2012 at 04:51 AM
No thank you I was able to print it up myself and will everything to help her family out!!!!!
Renee Wilkinson July 11, 2012 at 05:24 AM
Yes for the Oak Lawn petition part of it, you would need to be a resident. This also will involve the State of Illinois (Through IDOT or Illinois Department of Transportation) as they will have to also approve and fund the balance of what Oak Lawn pays which I think is 20% of the $50,000.00 estimated cost, to have the intersection put together safely for all pedestrians. To the best of my knowledge, that's what we were told by Illlinois State Representative Kelly Burke and Oak Lawn District #2 Trustee Alex Oleiniczak. Don Wilkinson
Renee Wilkinson July 11, 2012 at 05:53 AM
Nick, You don't know what the police investigation is so don't assume anything about what a "supposed witness" said. If you think that you can cross this intersection safely, give it a shot at 8:10 in the morning under the same, rush hour conditions or anytime that it's busy! The professional organization: Active Transportation Alliance has reviewed the intersection and could not cross it safely, as pedestrians, after 3 attempts! They have changed over 1000 intersections in Cook County and have made their recommendations which were submitted tonite to theVillage of Oak Lawn.There should be no "Kill The Driver" , the police have interviewed many witnesses and are still actively investigating this case & will arrive at their conclusion as to what happened, when they are done. I know far more than anyone else does about Kaylah's death as I have spoken to some main witnesses who chose to come to the family. Let justice handle this folks, it's the very foundation that our country was founded upon. Kaylah's Grandfather Don
Renee Wilkinson July 11, 2012 at 06:08 AM
The most dangerous area is crossing Southwest Highway on the west side of Cicero as it's eight lanes across and the ONLY intersection, on Cicero between 79th St. all the way to 115th Street, that does not have a pedestrian crossing light! Some of the others are far less dangerous, like 91st street & it has pedestrian crossing lights??? A double bridge crossing both streets is an excellent Idea! Especially on the west side of Cicero, going north to south over Southwest Highway and over Cicero going East to West (By Boston Chicken). Until that time, IDOT should eliminate the right hand turn lane on both sides of Cicero onto SW HWY and the right turn light. They need to put up pedestrian crossing lights ASAP! The intersection should also be set up like 95th & Cicero. NO TURN signs, double posted, giving pedestrians a fair chance to cross the street! Don
Renee Wilkinson July 11, 2012 at 06:18 AM
Are you against protecting pedestrians? Were you involved in the accident?? What is your interest here??? How can any focused driver who is acting responsibly "not see" what was described as a "Fully Grown, 25 year old woman", crossing a street and then hit her on the passenger side of the driver's truck??? The lane to the right of the driver was fully open according to witnesses, giving the driver full view of any pedestrian?? Have you no compassion or is it OK for someone to hit and kill a child on her way to school? Don
Renee Wilkinson July 11, 2012 at 06:32 AM
The article says nothing about any Witnesses saying that the Pedestrian was acting Irressponsibly?? Just that it was being investigated. Pedestrians always have the right of way, in a cross walk and even if they "bolt out in the middle of a traffic" as they have done to me many times, in my life, even in unexpected situations where ther was no approaching intersection or stop light. I always watch for traffic and pedestrians and have never hit one yet in 2.5 million miles of driving?? It's the drivers responsibility to approach every intersection with caution looking for all sorts of traffic and pedestrians, covering your brake and not rush through lights in excess of the speed limit as happens frequently on Southwest Highway! Read the Rules of the Road! Like I said before, what's your interest here??? Don
Renee Wilkinson July 11, 2012 at 06:37 AM
What's your interest in this case? Are you the driver?? If you are, where is your remorse?? A wonderful child was killed who meant the world to her family & friends. Sounds like you are trying to defend yourself or a friend in the newspaper? Save that for the courts. Let the police complete their investigation and see where it goes??
michelle west July 11, 2012 at 08:10 PM
Someone bring me a pile of petions on sat at hometown days I will make sure everybody signs one!!! Bring them to the concession stand.. tell whoever is in there. They are for michelle west!
STM July 13, 2012 at 10:57 AM
I agree with Jerry. A pedestrian bridge and a connecting elevator for the handicap people would be a great idea. They have such bridges with elevators all over the world in major cities, and the accident rate is non existent. Better spend our tax money on safety of our citizens than have the politicians steal it for their benefit.


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