After three accidents in one day, MU’s pedestrian safety is questioned

On average, more than 32 pedestrian-vehicle accidents causing injuries occur in Boone County each year.
Photo Illustration.

Three separate pedestrian-involved accidents reported on Jan. 22 involved MU students, leaving a 24-year-old international student dead.

At about 7 p.m., 30-year-old Alvin Debrose struck 24-year-old Kui Zou, a visiting scholar in mechanical and aerospace engineering from China. Debrose did not see Zou crossing Providence Road at Carter Lane, according to a Columbia Police Department news release.

Zou was pronounced dead on the scene.

Around 9 a.m. that morning, 50-year-old Karla Geerlings, an MU senior library information specialist, struck freshman Amy Wasowicz at the intersection of College Avenue and Rollins Street, according to another CPD news release.

Wasowicz said she was crossing the street when she turned around to talk to her friends. Neither Geerlings nor Wasowicz saw each other coming. Wasowicz said her friends believed the driver was distracted at the time at the accident.

Wasowicz was transported to University Hospital, where she was treated for minor cuts and bruises and kept in observation for internal injuries overnight, she said.

Wasowicz said she’s now terrified to cross College Avenue.

Following the accident, she had to cross a busy street to walk to one of her classes on Jan. 27 but felt uncomfortable doing so.

“I was freaking out,” Wasowicz said. “I was surrounded by this huge group of people, and I still, I did not want to be crossing the street.”

At around 1 p.m., MU freshman Blake Ward hit 20-year-old Darryl Darling at the intersection of Providence Road and Nifong Boulevard.

Darling was crossing Providence on foot in violation of the pedestrian crossing signal when Ward crossed Nifong in his vehicle. Ward did not see Darling, according to the news release.

Darling was sent to University Hospital to be treated for non-life threatening injuries.

Remembering Zou, honoring her family

“We, on behalf of (MU Chinese Students and Scholars Association), shall join with many other students and concerned citizens in expressing our deepest condolences to the family of the deceased member of our community, whose untimely death is truly a great loss to her family, her people and her country,” said the MUCSSA in a Jan. 27 news release.

The MU International Center, College of Engineering, and the Friendship Association of Chinese Students and Scholars met on Jan. 30 to discuss helping Zou’s family. The MUCSSA is raising money to support their upcoming expenses.

MU graduate Xiaoyu Guo is the chairman of FACSS. He said the organization is hoping to raise a minimum of $10,000.

In preparation for Zou’s family’s arrival, Gou said they’re trying to find them accommodations, including somewhere to stay, meals and transportation. The family will be arriving sometime within the next two weeks.

“She was a young, brilliant woman, a prospective student with a bright future ahead of her; yet her untimely death has shattered all the hopes and dreams for her,” according to the MUCSSA release. “Our community was saddened by her passing, our hearts go out to the members of her family in such time of sorrow.”

Donations can be made from now until March 31. Checks should be made out to “Fundraising for Kui Zou” with the address 1133 Ashland Road Apt. 1407. Currently, donations can be made through an online wire. Donation locations around campus have yet to be determined.

Toxicology reports on Zou by the Boone County Medical Examiner’s Office are pending.

Drugs or alcohol did not impair any of the drivers in these three accidents.

A history of accidents

In Boone County alone, 342 accidents involving pedestrians were reported within the past 10 years, killing 10 people. According to records, 94.5 percent of the accidents resulted in injuries. That’s an average of about 32 accidents causing injury per year.

According to MUPD’s records, 74 accidents have occurred off of College Avenue from 2010 to 2014. About 51 percent of those accidents occurred during 2010.

In October, City Council voted in favor of the College Avenue Safety Enhancement, which will install a barrier and fence along College Avenue, split by two mid-block crosswalks, according to an Oct. 1 Maneater article. At a cost of $750,000, the construction is slated to begin in fall 2015.

Wasowicz said she thinks this is a statewide issue, so she doesn’t think there’s much MU alone can do to assert authority regarding crosswalks.

“I think maybe there should be another pedestrian bridge that’s more centrally located because jaywalking across College is such a problem,” Wasowicz said. “I know they’re installing a median to prevent that, but I was in a crosswalk. How does a median help me?”

Distracted driving

In 2014, 198 distracted-driving crashes in Boone County were reported to the Missouri State Highway Patrol and about 47 percent resulted in injuries.

In an effort to curb distracted-driving, Rep. Michele Kratky, D-St. Louis, introduced House Bill 27 this month to the Missouri House of Representatives. The bill would prohibit drivers of non-commercial vehicles from texting while driving in Missouri, with the exception of voice-recognition hands-free texting. A hearing for the bill has not yet been scheduled.

Wasowicz said she thinks today’s society’s constant need to multitask is attributing to pedestrian-vehicle accidents.

“I’ve seen it countless times, even within the last two days, where people are just going through campus, and they’ve clearly got their phone in their hand, and they think that it’s fine,” she said.

Boone County Northern Commissioner Janet Thompson said while distracted driving is a major issue, distracted walking is also a frequent factor in these types of accidents.

“I was driving the other day, and some people walked out in front of me because they were looking at their phones,” Thompson said. “I stopped ... If I had just turned my eyes away for a moment, it could have been a disaster.”

Potential solutions

Fourth Ward Councilman Ian Thomas is a co-founder of Columbia’s PedNet Coalition, an advocacy group that promotes active transportation and now works for advocacy group America Walks.

“Not only were three pedestrians struck on Thursday and one of them died, but there have been three pedestrian deaths in the last three months,” Thomas said.

Coincidently, on Jan. 22, when the three pedestrians were struck, Secretary for Transportation Anthony Foxx launched the “Mayor’s Challenge for Safer People and Safer Streets,” which focuses on improving pedestrian and bicycle safety, according to a U.S. Department of Transportation news release.

“It’s clearly quite badly needed,” Thomas said. “I think in general, we have to slow traffic down in the city where there are people walking. If a pedestrian is struck at about 20 to 25 miles an hour, there’s only a 15 percent chance that that pedestrian will be killed. If the speed is 45, then it’s more like an 85 percent chance that the pedestrian will be killed.”

Despite recent accidents, in the past five years, the amount of pedestrian-related crashes has decreased by about 26.4 percent from the previous five years. There have been about 21.5 percent less injuries and 33 percent less fatalities.

“It’s very sad and disturbing to have that many accidents occur,” Thompson said. “One is too many.”

Thompson said because students are used to having cars stop for them to cross, they’re not as aware of traffic in non-university situations as they should be.

“We as a community, as everybody who is involved in getting from one place to the other, should be more aware of our surroundings,” she said.

Though Wasowicz said she wasn’t walking in violation of the crosswalk, she understands that many do. She said she wishes others would understand that it isn’t worth it in the long run.

Wasowicz also said there’s a mentality on campus that only freshmen look both ways before crossing the street.

“You shouldn’t be ashamed that you’re stopping and looking both ways,” she said. “It’s kind of common sense.”

Keeping eyes on the road can save lives, Thompson said.

“If you have a distracted driver and you have a distracted pedestrian, that’s a bad combination and sometimes a lethal combination,” she said.

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