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