Dearborn Heights — The death of a Dearborn Heights youth in October has pushed residents to call for city officials to raise safety standards around school district zones.
Joseph Smith, a 12-year-old student in Dearborn Heights District No. 7, was returning home from a football game at Annapolis High School on the night of Oct. 14 when he was hit by a vehicle near Pardee Avenue and Annapolis Street.
At the time of the crash, police said they were investigating the case.
“The driver of the Jeep involved was fully cooperative, staying on scene as required by law and cooperating with law enforcement,” Dearborn Heights police Chief Jerrod Hart told The Detroit News in October. “Per investigators, it does not appear the driver committed any traffic violations, and this is a tragic loss of life.”
Maria Miller, a spokeswoman for the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office, told The Detroit News on Friday charges did not appear to have been filed in the case.
Dearborn Heights police did not respond to requests for comment Friday.
This month, another student was hit in a school zone while crossing Canterbury Street near Whittington Street in Dearborn’s south end, which is about a five-minute drive from where Joseph was hit. The Edsel Ford High School student was expected to make a full recovery. A person has been arrested in the incident.
The district, with Westwood and Crestwood school districts and the Mayor’s Office, has established a Dearborn Heights School Safety Commission to assess needs and services to enhance safety and prevention measures for the community.
“The loss of a student and particularly in matters such as this, causes reflection and review of what can be done to prevent similar events from occurring in the future,” Weeks said. He said the district’s resource officer also provides safety presentations to students.
Erik Biggs and his brother, Casey Telfer, were raised around the school district between Dartmouth and Carlysle streets in Dearborn Heights. Casey was fatally struck by a truck while riding a big-wheel bike, a plastic trike for youngsters, on Pardee in 1980.
He was 5 years old; severe brain damage led to his death, Biggs said.
“My parents went in and said, ‘Hold on, Casey, we’re going to go get our shoes on, we’re going to for a bike ride,’ and my mom says they were in the house three seconds,” Biggs said. Seconds later, Casey was struck.
When Biggs saw a Facebook post about Joseph Smith’s death in October, he and others commented on the post and asked the city and mayor to install speed bumps and lower the speed limit in the area.
“That street (Pardee) is just nasty,” he said. “The reason why people are going so fast down the street is because it’s a thoroughfare. When people are trying to get through traffic really quick, they’re flying down that street.”
Biggs and his mother have reached out to the city to complain about traffic in the area but have seen little change other than more stop signs, which Biggs said many drivers still disregard.
Pardee Park, which is near where Biggs grew up and Joseph was hit, attracts children and pedestrians, who Biggs said, also have been injured from vehicle crashes in the area.
“It’s like Dearborn or Dearborn Heights just doesn’t want to do anything about it,” he said. “There’s not a whole lot of police presence in that area other than at the schools.”
But the Dearborn Heights police chief and mayor say they are studying enhancements to safety on neighborhood streets.
From 2019 to 2021, four crashes have occurred in Dearborn Heights near Pardee Avenue and Annapolis Street, according to a crash report provided by the Transportation Improvement Association (TIA), a company that identifies transportation safety issues.
Biggs is one of thousands of residents who want to see the city and local government make changes to the neighborhood’s traffic policies. A petition called “Joey’s law” was started after the his death and has received nearly 4,000 signatures calling for the city to install speed bumps and flashing stop signs in school zones.
Mayor Bill Bazzi said the TIA will assess the area to see which safety measures best suit the streets.
“There’s a lot of stuff that needs to be studied before you do anything with speed bumps,” he said. “We’re actually looking at other municipalities for best practices. We’re not going to just throw something down if it’s not effective.”
Bazzi said he is periodically meeting with the school district’s superintendent to “see what we need to do to best serve” residents.
Increasing lighting on the streets, brighter stop signs and increasing crosswalk visibility by painting the streets are some of the options the city and the traffic company are discussing, Bazzi said.
“There’s a lot of things we’re looking at,” he said. Some cities’ speed bumps have proven to be ineffective because some drivers will use the speed bumps as ramps or they may accelerate on streets without speed bumps, which can cause bigger issues for nearby residents.
“That’s some of the concern that we’re having. We don’t want to put something (on the street) that’s going to cause bigger issues for the residents,” he said. How long it takes to install or deploy safety measures depends on the scale of the project the Transportation Improvement Association suggests, Bazzi said.
“My top priority is safety. We’re doing everything we can,” Bazzi said. “After the incident with the fatality we had, right away, our police chief just jumped on it … to get the team together with TIA.”
Jim Santilli, the traffic safety company’s CEO, said in an email that the company conducted a sample traffic study, requested by the Dearborn Heights police chief, in May over relocating a stop sign and to review the intersection.
The city contacted TIA for other traffic studies and information, and established a partnership in August, but prior to the crash resulting in Joseph’s death, a review had not been requested at that location.
In November, a month after the crash, the company’s engineering director attended a City Council meeting and another meeting at the Dearborn Heights Justice Center over the issue of school traffic safety.
After, TIA received a request to study “the tragic crash that claimed the life of a 12-year-old,” Santilli said in the email.
“Potential actions include reviewing the traffic crash history, conducting a site review to examine traffic control and sight distance, collecting traffic data and more,” adding that reviewing sight distance, pavement markings and traffic control are amongst the procedures in the traffic study.
The company will start the study in January and estimates giving the city a final report by February. Police chief Jerrod Hart and Santilli also discussed reviewing school zones in Dearborn Heights. A review is expected to be completed in 2023, Santilli said.
Staff Writer Louis Aguilar contributed to this report.
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