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Petition seeks safer crosswalk

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Eliza “Justine” Almunia, 12, a student at Cleveland Middle School, was struck by a vehicle while crossing the street in front of the school last Thursday and subsequently died. (PHOTO COURTESY OF FAMILY)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — An online petition to improve the safety of an intersection in front of Cleveland Middle School, where a 12-year-old student was tragically struck by a vehicle and killed last week, already has nearly 2,700 signatures.

The petition was started Friday by Chrystal Copeland, the mother of a 12-year-old seventh-grader at the school.

She told the Journal Monday that she was driving her son to an after-school carnival at the school about 5 p.m. last Thursday “when we saw emergency vehicles gathering at the scene,” she said. “I drove a different way so my son wouldn’t have to see it, but I could tell by the number of emergency vehicles racing there that it was something serious.”

Eliza “Justine” Almuina and a friend were crossing the intersection of Louisiana and Natalie NE in a marked crosswalk on their way back from the Smith’s grocery store, where they had gone for a snack. The two girls paused in the median, and when a driver going south on Louisiana in the left lane stopped to let them cross, they began to proceed. A southbound SUV in the right lane, however, failed to see them. Eliza was struck by the vehicle. Her friend, Hailie Estrada, also 12, was not injured. Eliza was taken to a local hospital where she died just after midnight.

Albuquerque Police Department officer Simon Drobik, said a motor unit investigated the crash and determined it was a “tragic accident,” and did not charge the 76-year-old man who was driving the SUV.

Copeland said she started the online petition Friday morning. “I talked to a few concerned parents hoping that word would spread and we’d get a few hundred signatures.” By Monday afternoon, the petition had nearly 2,700 signatures.

“We were just heartbroken that Eliza died, and we believe the intersection could be improved with a better traffic light system for pedestrians that works all hours, and not just during school hours,” Copeland said.

While there is a school crossing sign near the intersection, it flashes only during morning arrival time and afternoon departure time. The school carnival was after the departure window had closed and consequently the sign was not flashing at the time of the accident.

What the intersection needs is a “technology-based solution,” Copeland said, such as a traffic light with a push-to-walk button that pedestrians can activate “when they want to stop traffic in both directions, so they can safely cross the street.”

Copeland said she will soon present a copy of the petition in person to City Councilor Diane Gibson, who represents that area, as well as present it to the full City Council at the appropriate time.

The Journal reached out to Gibson on Monday but did not receive a return phone call or message.

APS spokeswoman Monica Armenta said that to her knowledge the intersection at Louisiana and Natalie NE has never come to the attention of APS administration as a safety issue.

While the decision to ultimately provide additional signaling is up to the City of Albuquerque, she said, “anything APS can do to provide information we will do, because the safety of our kids is our first priority.”

In addition, a GoFundMe page has been set up in the name of Eliza “Justine” Almuina to help the family defray funeral and related costs.

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