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Hopkins students, parents signal drivers to slow down near site of hit-and-run




HADLEY – As students and parents at Hopkins Academy put up new temporary signs along Route 9 warning drivers to watch out for pedestrians on Wednesday afternoon, a motorist honked a horn at a man using the crosswalk at the same place where a Hadley boy was seriously injured last month.

As the man crossed safely, the incident illustrated the dangers involved in crossing the busy trunk road, which is why they were spending time putting up the signs.

“A lot of us really care about this person and really want to help raise awareness so this type of accident doesn’t happen again,” said Calli Regish, 13, referring to the injured boy, who is still hospitalized.

“We know this person well and want to support him,” added 13-year-old Nora Dowd.

The initial effort to improve pedestrian safety comes weeks after a white van hit the 13-year-old Hopkins Academy student on the morning of October 11 as he crossed Route 9 on a pedestrian crossing near from the Cumberland Farms gas station. The van and its driver have not yet been identified.

Designed to stand out

Rebecca Casagrande of Pelham, whose daughter, Autumn, attends Hopkins, was one of the organizers of the security action. She had the special panels designed by Sunraise Printing and also obtained permission from the school committee.

“As a group of parents, we are focused on finding positive ways for students to support their friend and effect change in a positive way,” Casagrande said.

Of the 20 signs, 15 were placed on Route 9, with the rest passing near Hadley Elementary School on River Drive.

Each is designed to stand out from the traditional black and yellow signs, like the one with blue letters that say “school coming soon” on a yellow background, similar to school colors. Others depict cartoon children crossing a street and say “slow down, students ahead” and “slow down pedestrian traffic.”

Casagrande said challenges in the hallway include the fact that there are no flashing yellow lights to alert drivers that they are entering a school zone, and no crossing guards, although students sometimes have to move around side to side.

She wanted the students to be part of the action so they could do something for their classmate and friend.

“Our main goal, in general, is to raise awareness that we all need to take care of our children,” Casagrande said.

Hadley’s Meredith Vissas said many drivers don’t seem to pay attention when they’re on Route 9. “It’s a suburban road for people, and they’re going out without that school zone sign,” Vissas said. .

Casagrande said the plea also includes state Rep. Dan Carey and state Sen. Jo Comerford speaking with the state Department of Transportation.

City Administrator Carolyn Brennan said she spoke to Comerford, who said when local and state police complete their investigation, it will help local authorities understand the factors that caused the accident.

Van still wanted

The Northwest District Attorney’s Office continues to seek information from anyone in the vicinity of the hit-and-run accident when it occurred, as well as anyone along Bridge Street in Northampton and along Interstate 91 south in Connecticut.

A passenger side mirror has been recovered from the scene, and information received so far has shown that the van continued to drive west on Route 9 to the Damon Road roundabout to Northampton, after which she likely headed south on I-91.

Police believe the van to be a full-length Ford Econoline van, dating from 1997 to 2004. Investigators have also asked anyone working in the automotive parts supply or body repair business to be at looking out for anyone looking to buy parts or perform repairs on a similar van.

Members of two University of Massachusetts fraternities, Zeta Beta Tau and Tau Kappa Epsilon, came to help Hopkins students and parents. They fear fellow college students were injured crossing campus, Casagrande said.

Also present was Ephie Vissas, 13, a student at Hopkins, who said her friend was still recovering. “We all really miss him and it’s sad,” she said.

Although she was never afraid to cross the street, Vissas said her family reminds her to make sure vehicles stop and no other cars try to pass.

Even when functioning properly, the existing signal in the crosswalk may be too high off the road, Casagrande said.

“We would like him to become a standing stopper,” Casagrande said.

The subject of Highway 9 safety was raised at the Planning Council, where Chairman James Maksimoski said lights to stop vehicles at the crossing were hung high in the road. “It’s not exactly the most visible thing in the world, it’s just my two cents,” Maksimoski said.

“It’s a tough place to go through,” Boyle said. “I wouldn’t want my son to cross there.”