My son Declan, age 7, a first grader at Chesnut Charter Elementary walks about two blocks to school every day with a fourth grade neighbor. Thursday morning about 7:15 am (15 min before sunrise) it was a foggy morning with a slight drizzle so Declan was wearing his bright Red rain coat. The kids walked down North Peachtree Rd to Chesnut. Crossing guard Ms. Lorraine Knox assembled a few children at the crosswalk in front of the school, stopped North Bound traffic with her Double Sided Lit Stop Sign and there was no South Bound traffic to stop.
Kids crossed under the supervision of Ms. Knox who was standing in the middle of the road with her lit stop sign and Declan was the last child to go across. At this point a vehicle coming Southbound was heading towards the Chesnut crosswalk without acknowledging Ms. Knox’s stop sign nor having any intention to stop and she then she took it upon herself to push my son Declan out of the way of the large pickup truck. Declan’s rolling backpack was hit and dragged 10 feet down the road.
The driver, Mr. Henry G. Skelton of Sandy Springs pulled over, saw that no one was hurt and the Principal Veronica Williams escorted him to the office so he could provide his driver’s license and a phone number. After the license was copied, Mr. Skelton was in a hurry so he decided to be on his way.
I was getting ready for work when the call from the school came in, I rushed over, verified Declan’s well being and called the police as they had not yet been contacted. The next hour was mostly spent being a wall flower in the Principal’s office where I listened to the details of what happened as the Dunwoody Police and the DeKalb County School Police questioned Ms. Knox, Ms. Williams and others. Knowing that Declan was fine, I actually spent most of my time worrying about Ms. Knox, reassuring her and providing numerous hugs as she was physically shaken by the incident. That evening Principal Williams notified the entire Chesnut community of the incident in an email and asked that we all be advocates for safe driving in our school zone.
Based on the official Dunwoody Police report, Mr. Skelton was cited later in the day with “Obedience To Authorized Person Directing Traffic”.
By all accounts, Ms. Knox saved my son Declan’s life and the Heneghan family will be forever grateful!
I have been a proponent of traffic safety, especially around schools and through residential zones for a long time and believe that more still needs to be done to secure our children's well being. I will be asking the City of Dunwoody to work very closely with the DeKalb County School System and the various Parent Teacher Associations to do a full analysis of each school and then install the best in class infrastructure suited to each school's needs as well as provide further education to all involved.
I am not sure if any real infrastructure improvement would have stopped this specific incident but we as a community have the responsibility to try. My possible suggestions or next steps to stop this accident or other accidents from being repeated are as follows. Please feel free to comment or email me with more.
The South bound school zone flashing light showing that the school speed zone is in effect on North Peachtree is located almost two blocks away from Chesnut at Riverglenn and I believe that distance needs to be shortened by placing another Flashing School Zone light system before Peachford, most likely near North Peachtree Court. North Bound may not need another notice as PCMS is served by a traffic light and visibility is much better. I do not believe that there is a School Zone flashing light system on Peachfrord and this needs to be reviewed.
The crosswalk indicators that have been placed in between the two rows of traffic may be ineffective as they are routinely hit and knocked out of place. On Thursday, the date of the incident the sign was not in place at Chesnut and honestly it wouldn’t have been much of a help if it had. At my Monday night Dunwoody City Council meeting I will be returning the last two signs that were placed at Chesnut as they aren’t doing anything productive being propped up against the school building near the front door of the school.
I will be suggesting that all major roadway crosswalks serving Dunwoody schools be outfitted with HAWK lights and/or the in ground crosswalk lights I suggested for a possible new crosswalk at Tilly Mill and Stonington. (On related news, I talked to Mr. Bob Lundsten who is Elaine Boyer’s Chief of Staff and he will be exploring more options with the City of Doraville in order to get the cross walk on Tilly Mill installed).
State law allows a zero tolerance for speeding in a school zone whereby the Dunwoody Police can issue citations at 1 mile over the maximum posted school zone speed limit and we need to seriously assess what our standards and priorities need to be for the safety of our children. This incident needs to be a wake up call for the community and I am not just saying it as the Father but also as the City Councilman who is worried about your children. The City Council hired a special traffic (and crime suppression) unit who will soon be targeted at the problem spots within our community. My question is will the community be able to stomach strict enforcement?
On Wednesday, the day before the incident I was tasked to be the "walking school bus driver" for my neighborhood walk to school day and on my walk to school with a group of children I noticed that the four foot wide sidewalks on North Peachtree Road are not wide enough to allow a parent and a child to walk side by side without someone being in the grass or terribly close to the street. I would like to see the sidewalks around all Dunwoody schools evaluated for proper width and safety and where possible I would like them widened where numerous children walk. I would also like the curb height evaluated near schools as the granite curbs on N. Peachtree (and many other places) are woefully inadequate to stop a car from rolling on to a sidewalk.
I would like to see standardized, highly reflective crossing guard uniforms and devices for all Dunwoody crossing guards. I would like to see assertiveness training as well as a refresher course for all Crossing Guards on an annual basis and then make sure that each guard is evaluated by a supervisor at least once per quarter of the school year. I would like to see an educational program by both the schools and the city on traffic and bike safety to educate our children.
I would like each PTA as well as the Dunwoody Community in general to start planning for Wednesday May 1st which is national crossing guard appreciation day. Though I am not sure I want to wait that long to honor Ms. Knox and the other dedicated crossing guards; I want this to be a yearly Dunwoody event.
Please slow down in our school zones and know the 25 miles per hour speed limit is the maximum speed allowed and that slower is also acceptable.
Declan's Dad and a Dunwoody City Councilman
Declan's Dad and a Dunwoody City Councilman