Shadow Of Young Victim Looms Over Pedestrian Safety Meeting

14 Feb

The monthly Morgantown Pedestrian Safety Board Meeting is normally a rather simple affair. Led by the mutton chopped Matt Cross, meetings primarily consist of safety lectures, with such advice as “wear bright colors” and “look both ways”, delivered by Cross in a fashion that can perhaps best be described as  exuberant.

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Pedestrian Safety Board Chair Person Matt Cross models a reflective arm brand.

    This particular meeting was attended by far more concerned citizens than normal however; over 40 packed themselves into the small police house conference room. And unfortunately they weren’t attending just to hear Cross’s safety tips.

      Instead, meeting attendees had come to discuss a tragedy; the death of 21 year old Leah Berhanu, a WVU student who was hit by a car on Patterson Drive. Berhanu had been using the crosswalk at a time her family confirms the traffic lights should have all been red. While the police report is as of yet unreleased, it appears the driver would have had to run the light to hit Berhanu.

     Tensions ran high at the meeting as blame was shifted; Patterson Drive has been known for car accidents, with police reporting upwards of one a month. Director of Public Works Kenny Holloway, one of the chief individuals responsible for infrastructure in Morgantown, said his hands were tied in regards to that particular patch of road. Most of Patterson Drive is under the jurisdiction of  West Virginia’s Division of Highways.

        Holloway became visibly emotional as he spoke, his deep voice booming and cracking throughout the room.

        “We can’t let this happen!” he exclaimed. “People are getting run down like animals!”

       Holloway and city engineer Alex Stockdale proposed a bridge be built over the dangerous crosswalk, although both admitted that since the stretch was out of their range of influence, it would likely be years before such a project could be passed.

       Another issue is the lack of lighting along the road. While there are three streetlights at the point where Berhanu was hit, all three of them were out the night she was hit. According to Syihan Muhammed, a close friend of Berhanu, one of the lights was still out as of the morning of the meeting.

      One attendee of the meeting had perhaps the most firsthand knowledge of the intersections dangers; Hannah Booth, a senior engineering student at WVU, was actually struck by a vehicle in the same general area as Berhanu was in October of 2017. To add insult to injury, the driver who struck Booth managed to get the incident annulled from his record, despite the fact he, according to Booth, ran a light.

    As the meeting ran over 90 minutes, there were many calls for justice, for protest, for activism. A sheet was sent around for everyone to put their email on, the mayor of Morgantown stopped in to speak of his sorrows on the accident, Matt Cross walked back and forth, using an eraser as a phone; lots of words were spoken, actions promised, hearts spilled out. But rather this passion will turn to progress remains to be seen.

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