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Palm Coast Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2015 3 years ago

Flagler Schools, city of Palm Coast look for ways to make bus stops safer after 7-year-old's death in car strike

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Members of the community created a petition calling for safer streets, and Palm Coast City Council and Flagler County School Board members are looking into the issue.
by: Jonathan Simmons News Editor

Less than a week after 7-year-old Kymora Christian, a Wadsworth Elementary School second-grader, died when a car struck her as she waited for her school bus, the city of Palm Coast and the Flagler County School District have formed a team to discuss making the district’s bus stops safer for children.

The group held its first meeting Oct. 13.

“We brainstormed; everyone threw out two ideas,” City Councilman Jason DeLorenzo said after the meeting, which lasted for about an hour and a half. “We talked about education, enforcement, the actual engineering of bus stop locations. ... The teams will get together and boil that stuff down, and see where we can make some headway.”

DeLorenzo led the effort from the City Council’s side, convening the group — which includes City Manager Jim Landon, School Board member Andy Dance, School Board Superintendent Jacob Oliva, Flagler County Sheriff’s Office Palm Coast Precinct Cmdr. Mark Carman, and staff members from the city of Palm Coast and the school district — after getting the City Council’s approval in a City Council workshop the morning of Oct. 13.

Some of the ideas discussed, DeLorenzo said, included moving bus stops off collector roads and onto less busy ones, or to areas that have safe spots for children to gather away from the roadway, and making sure each stop has street lighting. The group is using mapping data to evaluate the stops, Dance said.

“It’s a complicated process, because there’s so many points of data that we’re overlaying,” Dance said. “We have over 600 bus stops, and we’re overlaying information like street lighting, and making sure bus stops have adequate lighting.”

The school district does a have a process for evaluating the safety components of a bus stop before it’s installed, Dance said. But with the new city/school district group, he said. “We’ll just be looking at an extra layer of safety factors that can be implemented.”

The morning of Oct. 7

Dance, who himself has three children in the school system who ride the bus, was participating in a walk-to-school  safety event the morning of Oct, 7, when Kymora died near the intersection of Whippoorwill Drive and Winter Haven Court after a white Lincoln Navigator struck her as she waited for her bus. The stop was the first on the bus’ route.

Melissa Beane-Meeth, the 36-year-old woman who was driving the car, called 911, breaking into sobs as she told a dispatcher that the little girl ran in front of the car and didn’t seem to be breathing.

“Please hurry,” she told the dispatcher. “Oh my God, I can’t believe I killed somebody’s kid.”

Beane-Meeth had been driving her 11-year-old son to school when she struck Kymora.

Repeatedly during the nearly seven-minute call, the dispatcher asked her if the little girl was breathing.

“No, she’s — there’s blood all over the road,” Beane-Meeth said at one point.
Beane-Meeth said over and over again that the girl had darted in front of her. The dispatcher asked her how fast she’d been going.

“I was going the speed limit; I don’t go fast during the day,” she said. “I’ve got my kid in the car.”

She said another car prevented her from swerving. The dispatcher tried to comfort her.

“I can’t believe I did this,” Beane-Meeth said. “This is so horrible. Oh my God.”

The little girl’s mother arrived at the scene a couple of minutes after the call came in.

A bystander also called 911, and at first offered to do CPR, but said, “But you can see all the blood coming from her head. I don’t think she’s breathing. … She couldn’t be.”

Third child struck 

Kymora is the third child to be struck by a vehicle in the morning this school year. In September, a school bus struck a Buddy Taylor eighth-grader, causing minor injuries, and an Indian Trails Middle School student was struck in a hit-and-run crash.

“They’re just unfortunate accidents from what I understand; this one being the most serious of them all,” Flagler Schools Information Specialist Jason Wheeler said. “There’s not really a common denominator between the three, other than children were involved.”

A day after Kymora’s death, residents placed balloons, cards and stuffed animals on the grass near the intersection of WinterHaven and Whippoorwill.

Some had created and signed a change.org petition, addressed to Palm Coast’s mayor, city manager and City Council members, and titled, “Safer residential streets in Palm Coast, Florida.” It had more than 900 signatures by Oct. 14.

“Three children have been hit by cars while walking or biking to school in 2015 since school started in August,” the petition’s text read. “Our children should not have to worry about their safety when they are going to school. We need to make sure our children have a safe, well-lit path to walk and ride on. … We can do better by our kids.” 

— Brian McMillan contributed to this story.

 

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