VINELAND — Mayor Ruben Bermudez said Thursday that city government and the school district are reviewing bus routes in an effort to improve safety for students going to and from their schools.
The review will help determine “hazardous routes” and hopefully result in upgrades that will help prevent fatalities involving schoolchildren, he said.
On Oct. 30, 14-year-old Vineland High School freshman Alexa Strittmatter died from injuries suffered when she was struck by two cars while crossing Main Road on her way to her bus stop.
Bermudez said the review could result in intersection upgrades that include signs, crosswalks and traffic signals. The city also will seek federal grants to finance safety upgrades to intersections in the center city area, he said.
Alexa’s death already prompted a meeting scheduled for Nov. 25 involving representatives of city and Cumberland County governments, the school district and local police. Main Road is a county thoroughfare. Safety improvements will be discussed during that gathering, Superintendent of Schools Mary Gruccio said.
Also in response to Alexa’s death, about 2,000 people have signed a petition asking the school district to implement a number of safety upgrades, including setting bus stops that no longer require students to cross streets.
Julie Howerton gave the petition to hte Board of Education at its meeting Wednesday night. Howerton’s 14-year-old daughter, Shelby Watts, was a longtime friend of Alexa’s and one of three people who spoke during Alexa’s funeral earlier in the day. An emotional Howerton pledged during the meeting that she “would not back down” in her quest for improved safety for students.
“At this point, if I am not provided the requests that I have made, my intentions are to become (the) biggest thorn in your side,” she told board members.
Panel members did not respond directly to Howerton’s requests, although Board of Education member Scott English said, “Let’s just look at those (school bus) routes.
“My gut is telling me (to) pick that kid up in front of the house,” English said. “That’s a life. That doesn’t come back.”
Board of Education member Susanne Morello said the “community should get together” and work on the problem of improving safety as a group. That includes getting students to concentrate on safety, she said.
“Students can lead the way and join together with other adults in the community to make their voices heard,” she said.
The Board of Education and City Council are working together to find innovative ways to improve safety, City Council President Anthony Fanucci said. That involves the planned installation of sidewalks on parts of Mill, Oak and Almond roads and Simca Terrace near the Wallace Intermediate School, he said.
That cooperation “accomplished at least one thing” Gruccio said of the sidewalks near the school. She also made it clear that the installation of sidewalks is the responsibility of city government.
Authorities said Alexa was struck by a car being driven north on Main Road by 35-year-old Hammonton resident Norberto Rodriquez-Centeno. They said Alexa was then struck by a vehicle being driven south on Main Road by 66-year-old local resident Marthenia Gaymon.
Authorities said Alexa’s older brother and sister, Tessa and Richard, saw the accident.
Alexa died later at Inspira Medical Center Vineland.
The investigation into the accident, which includes a routine review by the Cumberland County Prosecutor’s Office, is still in progress.
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