Frustration for the family of a 14-year-old Hometown girl who was killed by a pickup truck in May 2012 while trying to cross Southwest Highway and Cicero Avenue is mounting.
The family of Kaylah Lentine, who died of her injuries just a few days before her graduation from Oak Lawn-Hometown Middle School, expressed their disappointment with the Illinois Department of Transportation's plan to modernize the intersection's traffic signals.
Working with a transportation advocacy group, Kaylah's family had petitioned for more features to make the intersection compliant with federal disability standards, including timed pedestrian lights and islands, zebra-style crosswalks, and truncated curb cuts.
The family is concerned that IDOT's plan for Southwest Highway and Cicero Avenue still doesn't address inherent pedestrian safety at the corner.
“It doesn’t make it as safe as it needs to be," Kaylah's mother, Krista Wilkinson, said. “I’m glad they’re doing something but I don’t feel like it’s enough.”
The IDOT plan calls for modernizing the corner’s existing traffic signal which will consist of signal heads in all directions, emergency vehicle preemption, illuminated LED street name signs. pedestrian signal heads and push buttons.
The approximate cost for the project is $683,150, to be shared 80/20 with the village. Oak Lawn’s share is $62,387. Work is expected to begin sometime in the summer/fall 2014.
Oak Lawn Tr. Alex Olejniczak’s (Dist. 2) announcement that IDOT had sought the village’s approval for its plan to add pedestrian crossing signals at the Jan. 14 village board meeting came as a surprise to the family.
Wilkinson said that she only learned of the plan from friends on Facebook.
“I don’t understand why nobody thought to contact me about the [Jan. 14] meeting,” Wilkinson said. “This is the same problem we had with [Oak Lawn] police. They closed their investigation with Kaylah in October 2012 and didn’t tell us until December of 2012 that the case was closed.”
The Oak Lawn-Hometown Middle School student had missed the morning school bus on May 24, 2012. Eager to make a school assembly, where Kaylah was to have picked up a community service award, she decided to walk to school.
She was struck and killed by a pickup truck driven by a 26-year-old man from Chicago Ridge.
In October 2012, Oak Lawn Police concluded from its investigation that the driver was “not at fault” for the accident that claimed the life of the Hometown girl.
Security video obtained from a nearby business showed Kaylah taking her time while crossing the intersection, Wilkinson said.
“The video shows that Kaylah wasn’t running like it was described in the police report," Wilkinson said.
Wilkinson also expressed disappointment that IDOT's plan did not address guidelines and recommendations of transportation advocacy experts Active Transportation Alliance.
ActiveTrans blasted the intersection in the months following the accident for its almost-invisible crosswalk lines and lack of pedestrian crossing signals. The intersection also was not compliant with the Americans With Disabilities Act.
The transportation advocacy group identified Southwest Highway and Cicero Avenue was the only intersection between 79th and 115th Streets that did not have a pedestrian crosswalk signal or pedestrian activation buttons traveling south down Cicero.
Twenty-one pedestrian and bicycle accidents involving cars that occurred along Cicero Avenue between 91st and 95th Streets, and on 95th Street between Museum Drive and Kilbourn Avenue, based on IDOT statistics for 2006-2010.
Further, three pedestrian fatalities happened at 92nd and 95th Street at Cicero Avenue, and at 95th Street and Kenton Avenue, ActiveTrans said based on its analysis of IDOT statistics.
Olejniczak said, based on his understanding, that countdown timers were not possible because of the Metra train crossing on Cicero just south of Southwest Highway.
“Where do you stand and where do you go to? That’s the problem Kaylah had,” Wilkinson said. “There was nothing telling her when to cross. It’s the same problem. It’s not going to help people on bikes or in wheelchairs.”
The family says they will continue to press for additions to the intersection recommended by ActiveTrans.
Hometown and Oak Lawn residents continue to leave flowers in remembrance of Kaylah near the spot where she struck and killed. A few more steps and she would have safely made it to the other side, her family says.