Amid grief, a call for safety

Early edition: A memorial and the launching of a campaign bring attention to dangers on U.S. 19.

Published December 27, 2006

More than a year later, Daryl and Judy Knight still can’t bear to drive by the place where their daughter Stephanie died.

It was on U.S. 19 at County Road 95, near a Sweet Tomatoes restaurant, that Stephanie, 16, was struck by a pickup truck while trying to cross the highway to get to a bus stop.

But on Wednesday, her parents returned to that spot in an effort to keep the same pain from touching another family’s life.

“We knew Stephanie would make a positive impact as she became an adult,” Daryl  Knight said footsteps from where Stephanie was killed Nov. 25, 2005.

“We never thought it would be like this,” he said, “but I’m sure she’d want us to bring attention to a very dangerous road for drivers and pedestrians.”

Knight’s words came at the unveiling of a memorial for Stephanie and the launching a monthlong campaign to promote safety on U.S. 19.

City, county and state officials and law enforcement authorities Wednesday announced that they have formed the U.S. 19 Pedestrian Safety Task Force.

The group of 20 includes elected officials, citizens and law enforcement. The group has met for the past five months to discuss ways to make the road safer.

U.S. 19 carries as many as 100,000 vehicles a day. Between 2004 and 2005, a dozen people died along the roadway and more than 50 were injured.

The safety task force began meeting after Daryl Knight e-mailed county commissioners and county officials about the his daughter’s death.

“After the initial shock I was angry,” Knight said. “I had to use that anger toward doing something positive.”
County Commissioner Karen Seel said Knight’s efforts prompted the group to act.

“He saw this as a chance to make a change,” said Seel, who sat on a U.S. 19 safety task force in 2000. “So we decided we had to go out here and look at every single possible recommendation to make it safer.”

Since the task force began meeting, the group has come up with more than two dozen recommendations for improvements to U.S. 19, including:

- Extending the time that crosswalk signals give pedestrians to cross the road.

- Adding pavement markings or making them a different color at crosswalks to alert drivers that pedestrians are present.

- Widening sidewalks.

There have also been two sub-committees formed — one to discuss and evaluate transit-related topics such as the location of bus stops and a second to evaluate topics related to law enforcement and education.A few months ago, task force members got first-hand experience of the dangers on the road by catching a Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority bus along U.S. 19 and crossing some of the busiest crosswalks.

“We almost got hit,” Seel said about an incident at U.S. 19 and Curlew Road.

The Florida Department of Transportation, which has jurisdiction over U.S. 19, has already begun planning to implement at least one of the group’s recommendations — adding more “countdown” signals, which tell pedestrians how long they have to cross the street, at intersections.

In 2007, the state will install countdown signals at all of the signalized intersections on U.S. 19 in Pinellas County — 54 in total, said Don Skelton, secretary for the department’s District 7, which includes Pinellas.

Seel said the task force will continue meeting every other month to discuss safety measures and get more recommendations funded.

During January, Clearwater police Chief Sid Klein said his officers would put more emphasis on patrolling U.S. 19.

“We’re hoping that people become more educated about the inherent dangers that exist if you’re not cautious and pay attention as prudent drivers should,” Klein said.

The goal is to not have to add any more markers like the one where officials gathered Wednesday.

After it was unveiled, a teary-eyed Judy Knight put a bouquet of orange, red and yellow daisies at the base of the circular marker, which read: Drive Carefully In Memory of Stephanie Marie Knight.

Nicole Johnson can be reached at njohnson@sptimes.com or (727)445-4162.