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Students say crash that injured teacher happened at dangerous intersection

PMG PHOTO: ANNA DEL SAVIO - Sam Herscovitz, seated left, speaks to the Scappoose City Council about the crash that seriously injured his mother, a Scappoose High School teacher, in early February. Herscovitz joined a group of three local students, including DJ Backus, seated next to Herscovitz, who approached the City Council to urge improvements to the high-traffic intersection near their school.Scappoose High School students are pushing for traffic safety improvements after one of their teachers was seriously injured by a motorist while crossing a street before school.

DJ Backus, a Scappoose senior and Associated Student Body president, was one of three students who attended the City Council's March 2 meeting.

Also in attendance was Sam Herscovitz, whose mother, Carol Herscovitz, was the teacher hit in a Highway 30 crosswalk on Feb. 5.

Sam Herscovitz said that morning, like every morning, his mother pushed the crosswalk button at Highway 30 and Walnut Drive, waited for the light to change, turned on the light on her phone to make her more visible in the early-morning darkness, and began to cross the street. But she was hit by a motorist turning left onto the highway. The collision fractured her lower leg, broke her nose and orbital bone, and caused minor brain bleeding and a concussion, Sam Herscovitz said.

"This should not have happened, it was 100% preventable," he added.

Carol Herscovitz spent a week and a half in the hospital, followed by eight days in a rehab facility, and is now home resting, Sam said.

The incident sparked conversations among students and teachers about traffic safety concerns at that intersection. Classmates shared stories of close calls with drivers and pedestrians there.

"I walk that (intersection) every day, my brother walks that, my sister walks that. I fear for my life walking across that," senior Amelia Schlosser said.

"We understand that accidents happen, but I've witnessed drivers not following the law, pedestrians jaywalking when they shouldn't be, and the deterioration and lack of crosswalk monitoring and signs," Backus told city councilors.

"While the presence of police officers at the middle school crosswalk is necessary and much appreciated, tonight we are proposing that more could be done to ensure that students have a safe walking route to school and drivers aren't put into a situation where a split (second) decision could be fatal," Backus said.

The students came prepared with ideas of changes that could be made at various intersections and grants that could provide funding for those changes.

The highway is under the jurisdiction of the Oregon Department of Transportation, meaning the city is unable to make any changes to it.

City staff and council members encouraged the students to voice their concerns directly to ODOT.

"Virtually every community in Oregon is adjacent to a highway or freeway or something, and they're constantly going to ODOT and saying, 'Will you make these improvements

or will you do this?' It's incredibly rare for organized high school students that are actually impacted by this to make that ask to ODOT," Scappoose legal counsel Peter Watts


City Manager Mike Sykes noted that Safe Routes to School, one of the programs the students looked at, was one of the proposed uses for funds from the local fuel tax, which went into effect Jan. 1 and is expected to generate $300,000 annually.

Schlosser, Backus, and Kaylie Schrotzberger attended the Traffic Safety Committee meeting the following morning to continue the discussion with city staff.

At that meeting, the students "got some clarity on what ODOT needs to do and what the city can do," Backus said.

Backus said the reaction at the City Council meeting was "better than I expected."

"They really wanted to see us involved ... It was really encouraging to hear what they had to say," Backus said. The students will now work with city staff to nail down details on locations for desired improvements, price estimates and data on the vehicle and pedestrian use of different streets and intersections.

On Tuesday afternoon, Schlosser said she'd hoped for more from the meeting and felt city officials spent more time criticizing ODOT.

"I just thought I was going to get more help and more of 'yeah, let's do that,' not 'you've got to talk to ODOT,'" Schlosser said.

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