Monday, February 11, 2013

A hero walks among us - a Dunwoody crossing guard saved my son's life.

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


Pattie Baker said...

John: I am so sorry this happened, and so grateful of the outcome in saved lives. Our problem with crosswalks dates back many years,as you can see in this post on this topic I wrote in September 2008:, and I have still yet to see an officer give a ticket to a driver who does not stop for a pedestrian in a crosswalk (which is a misdemeanor, which is a criminal offense) anywhere in our city.

MP said...

I am so glad Declan is OK. My son also goes to Chesnut Charter Elementary and I always have appreciated Ms. Knox's diligence. Please let me know if I and others in the Chesnut Charter Elementary community can do to help advance the various safety ideas you outlined in your post.

Will you be attending the Principal's Information Exchange tomorrow evening before the PTA meeting? If so, I hope to have a chance to say hello in person then.

Jude said...

John, I'm glad your son is OK. I am disappointed that the driver only got a ticket for this scary situation. Hope your son is recovering from the scare- Thank goodness for Ms. Know being such a diligent crossing guard!

Kcaj said...

Good work Ms. Knox! Glad to hear Declan is ok too. Years ago, DeKalb PD had a policy that all radar units had to be school zones during "walking" hours; slowed down alot of south bound Roberts traffic at Austin. Maybe DPD could consider something similar...

SDOC Publishing Internet Solutions said...

Geez John.....

No words. That could have been any one of my kids going to Brook Run, the pool, etc.

Re: traffic enforcement to prevent any other parent having as bad a near-stroke as you did this morning.

Before Pat and I moved to Dunwoody, we lived in the small town of Bellaire, Texas. Bellaire, like its neighbors West University Place and Southside Place are boroughs within the City of Houston.

These towns wrote the book on traffic enforcement. EVERY violation is ticketed. Even a tail light. No one gets off with a warning, ever. And God help the poor, stupid soul who goes even so much as 26 MPH in a school zone during school hours. No paying a fine via phone or online, you're taking a day to go to traffic court, buddy.

More recently, West U banned talking on cell phones in school zones during school hours. Enforcement is just as severe for that rule.

You can tell they have a reputation for total traffic enforcement: it is rare to find anyone driving over the speed limit, even on major thoroughfares.

If you want compliance from all drivers, including the good Dr. Skelton who didn't think of the speed limit before nearly running over a child, you have to have a complete structure for enforcing EVERY school zone ALL THE TIME and a ZERO-TOLERANCE policy for violations. For example, in West U, if you're busted yapping on your cell phone in a school zone, it's 500 bucks.

Now you know what's going to happen if Dunwoody implements a zero-tolerance policy toward traffic violations. You'll get the "they don't think like Dunwoody" types sucking up to you and your colleagues on city council to "fix" their tickets. You'll get the self-righteous types pontificating during public comment at city council. You'll probably even get Al Sharpton holding a sit-in at council chambers because clearly, you must be racist to enforce your traffic laws so completely (/sarcasm).

I think it would be worth every bit of grief to protect lives from people who don't think past their own noses.

Lindsay said...

My wife put in a request with See Click Fix for a street light at the school crossing. She drives past there every morning. Here's what she said.

"Please add a street light at the Chestnut elementary school crossing. It is very dark in the morning and is difficult to see the children crossing even with the crossing guard present."

Visit the link, feel free to add your comments.

Glory_Jackson said...

From SDOC Publishing Internet Solutions comment -

"You'll probably even get Al Sharpton holding a sit-in at council chambers because clearly, you must be racist to enforce your traffic laws so completely (sarcasm)."

Why in the world, SDOC Publishing Internet Solutions, in an article about a little boy being saved by a brave crossing guard and a cautionary tale about driving careful near schools would you want to spew an agenda of hate towards the Reverend Al Sharpton and implying that African-Americans feel that they shouldn't be ticketed for traffic violations in a school zone?

Even if this was your inept attempt at humor, this surely wasn't the forum. Have a little tact, please.

Get the Cell Out - ATL said...

So glad that your son, the other children and the crossing guard all escaped harm in what could have been a terrible tragedy.

We have been concerned about the safety of children who walk to school when we heard that DeKalb County Schools had dismissed many crossing guards a couple years ago as part of their budget cuts. I cannot recall if they were actually cut completely or if they were going to become employees of the county, but hope that your task force might be able to look into the issue of whether or not we even have guards at all necessary crossings, not just in Dunwoody but near all our schools. Also, we believe the schools have let many of the paths become poor in their condition as they have tried to encourage more families to use the bus service which now goes right to the door step of each child in many cases even within a mile from the school. Not sure what purpose this serves other than an attempt to disguise the number of kids being bused in from other parts as the neighborhood children are now bused in as well. Walking to school is a great way for kids to get exercise and to feel like the school is a part of their own community, something that is being lost here in DeKalb as we seem to be moving to bigger schools, more impersonal staff and less of a connection to the surrounding community, which could be why drivers can just pass by a school and hardly notice it is even there anymore. The communities are becoming less connected to the schools in many ways.

I am curious if you were told whether or not the driver of that car had been using a cell phone at the time that he nearly hit your son? Texting and driving is not legal and should be strictly enforced around school zones. I do not think this law is being enforced as strictly as it could be and the distracted driver is often the cause of many of our accidents in the Atlanta area.

Also, there is current legislation underway that using any device, including a cell phone for talking, is banned unless the driver is using a "hands free" device. Here is a link:

It would help considerably if the voters in Dunwoody and throughout DeKalb would support stronger measures like this one so that we can make our roads safer for everyone.

Thank you for taking action and bringing attention to these important issues. We hope your son is doing okay after the scare and is proud of you for doing the right thing to ensure the safety of other children like him.


John Heneghan said...

Thanks for all of the kind words and outpouring of support as it was much appreciated. Declan is fine and in the end a few positives will come out of the event.

I have received hundreds of emails and many of them listed possible action items for improvements around the schools therefore I will start to catalog the entries and reach out to the schools and various PTA's for suggestions too.

I have already met with Chesnut PTA, met with Dunwoody Public Works, and had numerous conversations with parents and residents near schools.

As far as possible use of a cell phone, I do not believe it was the case. The morning was dark & rainy and the oncoming headlights caused a glare on the windshield of a driver who never passes the location at that time of day. This was a accident and by the grace of God we go, as honestly it could have been anyone of us behind that wheel. We are just very thankful for the outcome and the quick actions of Ms. Knox.

Thanks again to everyone who reached out and Love to all on Valentines Day.

John, Kristin and the Boys.

Steve Barton said...

"I would like to see assertiveness training as well as a refresher course for all Crossing Guards..." Larry Adams at the Dunwoody Elementary School crossing does not need this training! He is totally in charge of that sector.