Dad pushes to make road safer

Published February 14, 2007

BAYONET POINT - Tom Washburn was walking on the track at Bayonet Point Middle School, taking his 8-year-old son to neighboring Schrader Elementary, when he heard the announcement over the loudspeakers.

Classes would start late that Feb. 2 morning because of a traffic accident on Little Road at Star Trail, right outside the two-school campus.

Washburn delivered his son to his classroom and headed to see what had happened.

A speeding dump truck had plowed into a few cars - at least one of which had students inside - and then veered toward the sidewalk where some prekindergartners and kindergartners were getting ready to cross from day care to school with their teachers. No one was seriously hurt.

"My heart fell into my stomach," said Washburn, 65. "It's an out-of-control speed enforcement problem."

He decided right then that his personal goal would be to get drivers to slow down on Little Road, which he calls "a beautiful shortcut to Spring Hill." He has called the school district, filed a complaint with the county, asked for help from the Sheriff's Office.

Now he's launching a letter-writing campaign, hoping that parents of all 1,500 children attending the two schools will ask for flashing lights and a slower school-time speed limit. Washburn plans to distribute the letter to parents within the next few weeks.

"This is a dangerous, dangerous problem. All you have to do is come out at 8:30 a.m. and you'll see," said Washburn, who does not drive.

He's not alone in that view.

Schrader principal Mary Stelnicki, who has led the school for 12 years, said traffic concerns have been around "even back at the beginning, when we had no traffic lights."

The area has traffic signals to the north and south, each of which has crossing guards, and there's a crosswalk sign as you approach the school entrance. From time to time, the Sheriff's Office runs speed surveillance.

Another neighbor called the county in the fall with similar complaints, county engineering services director Jim Widman said. The traffic division analyzed the area and did not recommend action at the time.

In light of the latest accident, Widman said, he will ask the division director to bring the intersection up at the next monthly meeting of the county's school safety committee "to be sure there is no issue left unresearched." A speed study also might be in the offing, he added, to see exactly how bad the problem is.