ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Six days after a tragic accident claimed the life of an Albuquerque 12-year-old, Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller on Wednesday issued a statement saying he has “directed the Department of Municipal Development to install pedestrian safety signaling at Louisiana and Natalie near Cleveland Middle School.”
The intersection in the Northeast Heights is the site where Cleveland student, Eliza “Justine” Almuina, was killed last Thursday after being struck by a vehicle in a marked crosswalk.
Also Wednesday, City Councilor Diane Gibson, in whose district the accident occurred, and City Councilor Brad Winter, said they will request $300,000 to pay for the pedestrian safety signalling, specifically suggesting a high-intensity activated crosswalk, or HAWK signal, to be installed at the intersection.
“We will go as quick as we can on this to get immediate action,” said Winter, adding that he and Gibson hoped to introduce the legislation at this coming Monday’s City Council meeting.
“We’re also asking for Municipal Development and the Albuquerque Police Department to work with the Albuquerque Public Schools to identify similar intersections near schools that are in better need of safety improvements,” Winter said.
The HAWK system allows pedestrians to press a button on the signal pole, which gets traffic to stop in both directions so the pedestrians can safely cross the street.
“It’s available 24/7 and activated by pedestrians so this would be a good solution here,” Winter said.
Keller said that pedestrian safety signals have a track record of reducing crashes involving pedestrians by 69 percent, reducing total crash numbers by 29 percent, and reducing serious injury and fatalities by 15 percent. The news release did not cite the source of the statistics.
“The city is mourning the loss of this young student today. No parent should ever have to bury their child and that’s why we must take action,” Keller said in his statement. “For me, having grown up in this neighborhood, with my brothers attending Cleveland Middle School, I have seen how the traffic in this area has been a problem for pedestrians.”
Eliza and a friend were crossing Louisiana at Natalie NE 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 was not injured. Eliza was taken to a local hospital where she died.
The two girls were attending an after-hours carnival at the middle school. A school crossing sign near the intersection flashes during the morning arrival and afternoon departure windows. The crossing sign was not flashing at the time of the 5 p.m. accident.
On Friday, the day after the accident, Chrystal Copeland, the mother of a seventh-grader at the school, started an online petition asking that the Louisiana-Natalie intersection get signalling improvements. About 3,350 people have thus far signed it.
Winter said the public input was “a good thing,” but he and Gibson were determined to do something to improve the situation as soon as they learned about the accident.
Copeland asked that people continue to go online to sign the petition, which she will present to the Albuquerque City Council when it meets Monday.
“Mayor Tim Keller called me Tuesday afternoon and mentioned that he knew about the petition,” Copeland said. “The mayor said he was concerned and had sent a group of people out to look at the intersection and they were committed to getting something done there.”
For her part, Copeland said, she is committed to “making sure they follow through with getting it done.”
“For the sake of Eliza and her family, I hope something good can come out of this,” she said.
To read or sign the online petition go to Change.org
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.