CAPE MAY COURT HOUSE — Family and friends of two teenage girls killed last month on a dimly lit rural roadway appealed to the Cape May County freeholders Tuesday night to make the road safer for pedestrians.
Members of the freeholder board said they have already fast-tracked a traffic study on Bayshore Road, a county road in the Green Creek section of Middle Township, but they made no promises beyond that.
Freeholder Will Morey said a traffic consultant was hired shortly after the July 31 accident that took the lives of Nioami Lazicki, 15, of Middle Township, and her cousin, 13-year-old Ashley Dauber, of Philadelphia. The girls were struck while walking at night on Bayshore Road by a Ford Bronco driven by Joshua Malmgren, 30, of Lower Township, who was allegedly driving under the influence of alcohol.
“This is on a fast-track basis. They were deployed immediately and the report is due at the end of the month,” Morey said.
Freeholder Director Jerry Thornton blamed the driver more than the roadway, which he said is like any number of rural roads in the county.
“This was a terrible, terrible criminal act. No matter what was there, a double-yellow line or a speed limit of 25 miles per hour, it wouldn’t make any difference with this criminal act,” Thornton said.
Malmgren has been charged with first-degree aggravated manslaughter and vehicular homicide and has pleaded not guilty. He is in the Cape May County jail in lieu of posting $400,000 bail.
About 50 people came to ask for improvements to the road, including building sidewalks and curbs so pedestrians do not have to walk on the shoulder separated from traffic by only a white painted line. Other ideas included better street lights, rumble strips, making it a no passing zone, lowering the 45 mile per hour speed limit, crosswalks, road reflectors and guardrails.
Speakers often fought back tears as they begged the freeholders to take action. Farrahanne Gaston, Nioami Lazicki’s sister, said she saw the girls get hit and “watched them die.”
“We need something more than just a white line. More than just a speed limit lowered,” Gaston said.
Len Guthrie, a resident at 60 Bayshore Road, said there have been 20 accidents within 200 feet of his house during the past 20 years.
“It’s all because of the passing. We need double yellow lines. Lowering the speed limit would help but we need double yellow lines,” Guthrie said.
His wife, Terri Guthrie, who said she has lived there for 55 years, wanted other improvements as well. She showed pictures of a utility pole at a curve in the road that she said has been hit multiple times. She said motorists reach 70 to 75 miles an hour on the road.
“We need a no passing zone, 35 miles per hour, sidewalks and curbing. If there were rumble strips, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. If there were sidewalks, they would still be alive,” Guthrie said.
Bill Gaston, Nioami Lazicki’s father, said rumble strips would help, but the bigger key is to slow down traffic on the road. He noted the speed limit drops from 45 to 35 a short distance away. Gaston also noted there is “no lighting whatsoever” on the road, which the girls were using to walk to get ice cream at about 9:15 that night.
Thornton extended condolences to the families.
“Every one of us felt this emotionally, as a freeholder board and as members of the community,” Thornton said.
Del Haven resident Robert Jackson said there needs to be public education on walking along roads. He noted bicycles are supposed to go with traffic and pedestrians should walk facing it. The girls were hit from behind.
Gaston said it was not fair to blame the children.
“There’s no safety for pedestrians. It was an adult that messed up. It wasn’t a child,” Gaston said.
Thornton said the county has to comply with federal and state standards regarding traffic regulations. He said traffic studies have been done on the road dating to 2001. The speed limit was lowered by 5 miles per hour several years ago amid complaints from Terri Guthrie.
Thornton said another study is under way, and the freeholders have requested accident data from the Middle Township Police Department. He said the board would also request that police have more of a presence on the road.
“We’re going to do another traffic engineering study and try to make some changes here, but to be honest it’s a rural road and there are roads like that throughout the county,” Thornton said.
Terri Guthrie was not happy with that.
“Enough is enough. We don’t need one more study. We need this done now, not a year from now, before anybody else is maimed or killed,” she said.
Thornton said the speed was lowered 5 miles per hour because “that was the most we could do at that time.” He said the tragedy was caused by reckless driving.
The family left the meeting hoping they had some impact.
“We’ll see. I don’t want to make any enemies yet,” Gaston said.
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