This story first appeared online at www.tetonvalleynews.net. It has been updated for print.
The City of Tetonia has waited more than a year for the Idaho Transportation Department to install its school safety lights on Main Street. Those lights could have proved helpful this morning before an accident occurred in front of a Tetonia Elementary School student waiting to cross the street heading to his second day of class.
Janice Strong of Tetonia agreed to let her two sons ride their bikes to the Tetonia Elementary School on Thursday. She told her oldest son, Hope, 7, to wait at the cross walk and the family would all cross together – younger brother, herself and the two-year old twins.
That’s when she heard the crash and the sound of breaking glass.
“This was intense,” said Strong Thursday afternoon. “I heard the accident and if he had decided to cross without me, my kid could have been hurt.”
Idaho State Police Officer Dustin Green who was patrolling Tetonia that morning said he saw the entire accident and how close Hope was to the two vehicles that had collided.
Green said the first car was traveling south on Main Street when the driver slowed at the cross walk where Hope had pushed the cross walk button. The driver of an Ford F150 truck pulling a horse trailer was following the first car too closely, going 45 mph in a 25 mph during school zone. Both were local drivers.
The F150 collided with the first vehicle, pushing it into the cross walk and, said Green, laid some heavy tire on the street.
For Strong, this unfortunately wasn’t a surprise to witness in the north end where she watches cars and trucks speeding through town all summer. And while the cross walk lights work and her son was standing at the designated cross walk, the Idaho Transportation Department has yet to schedule a time to install the school safety lights.
“I don’t know why this isn’t a priority,” said Strong of installing the school safety lights. “What’s it going to take to get that fixed? I have the luxury of walking my kids to school every day, but I see a lot of kids crossing the street alone. Hope made the right decision, but he still could have gotten hit. I can stand there all day and hand out tickets for people not stopping at the cross walk.”
Tetonia Mayor Gloria Hoopes is frustrated with ITD and said that her staff calls the state transportation department on a daily bases.
“We have called everybody at every number I can get,” said Hoopes on Thursday about ITD. “We have the signs and the poles that are just laying in the city shop waiting to be installed. I have called, Monte (Woolstenhulme, School Superintendent) has been calling and asking to get the signs up, everybody!”
There are signs up at both ends of the town that read “School Zone” with solar powered lights which Hoopes said need to be looked at because those too are not working correctly. The cross walk lights, however are working.
Brian Young, Traffic Materials Engineer for ITD District 6 said this was the first his department was hearing about the lights. He said that this issue had not been on ITD’s radar until today when he heard about the accident in Tetonia. He added that he knew ITD needed to install another cross walk light at the north end of town, and that sign crews were coming next week to do that install.
He also did not know why members of ITD had not returned a call from the city over the last year regarding the school safety lights.
Teton County Sheriff Sergeant Kendall Bowser, who lives in the north end, said on Thursday that he knows that the sheriff’s office is stretched thin. The office makes every effort to patrol during the start and end of the school day, but he relies on Green and the sheriff’s office detective to cover the entire valley. It’s a budgetary issue that needs to be addressed in the county, said Bowser. He also would like to see the Main Street speed limit lowered to 25 mph across the city, and not just in the school zones.
Green said having the school safety lights would help to make drivers more aware, but he’s frustrated with the overall lack of attention drivers have on any given day or night.
“If people obey traffic signs, I don’t believe this crash would have happened if this person was going 25 mph through Tetonia,” said Green. “But it’s not uncommon for people to fly through Tetonia regardless of the speed limit. And it’s not just Tetonia, I see it everywhere. That could have resulted in a serious crash this morning, but obeying the traffic signs and speed limits can help.”
Strong said she spoke to the city who gave her the number of ITD in the hopes that if more people call, they might respond to the request to install the lights. She also said that Woolstenhulme called her and said that he too has made calls to have the lights installed.
There are school zones in both Tetonia and the City of Driggs, but there is no designated school zone in the City of Victor. Green, who also serves as a Victor City Councilman, said he would work to establish a school zone in Victor.
On Monday, members of ITD were out on Main Street in Tetonia measuring the cross walk for painting and said the lights would be fixed and up in a few weeks.