Parishioners and neighbors of St. Adelaide Parish say something needs to be done at the crosswalk in front of the Catholic church before another tragedy occurs.
"Councilors, you have to take quick action on this... Something has to happen soon before we have another tragedy," Ledgewood Way resident Tim Barry told city councilors Tuesday night. "Don't let another family go through what this family is going through. You have to act and you have to act quickly."
It was just 2-1/2 weeks ago that 87-year-old Theodore "Ted" Buttner of Somerville was struck by a car while leaving the church. He died from his injuries later that same afternoon while at Mass. General Hospital.
Buttner was reportedly in the middle of the crosswalk when he was hit by a car driven by an 84-year-old Peabody man around 1 p.m. that Sunday.
Ward 6 City Councilor Barry Sinewitz said it was just a few days later that parishioners reached out to him, asking about making the area safer for pedestrians. He contacted his fellow councilors and set up a neighborhood meeting Feb. 12 at City Hall to start talking over options.
The common complaint Sinewitz has heard, and which has been echoed by Peabody Patch readers in the days since the accident, is speeding on that section of Lowell Street.
About 40 people came down to Wiggin Auditorium Tuesday and the majority of them appeared to favor installing a push button-operated pedestrian light at the crosswalk. In fact, about 1,000 people signed a petition to that effect.
Buttner's daughter Patricia Caton, a regular parishioner at St. Adelaide's, read a statement Tuesday in memory of her father and called on city officials to take quick action.
"We are heartbroken to have lost such a gentle, loving man who always had his arms extended to help everyone who knew him," Caton said, describing her father as an active and lively family man, even at 87, a devout Catholic and eucharistic minister at a parish in Somerville.
"We miss him terribly," she said, noting her father was actually on his way to visit her and her family when he was struck that day.
"It's important to have this issue addressed right away so we can prevent another person from being injured or killed [there]," Caton said. She asked that city engineers and the police assess the situation and how best to improve safety while considering the option of installing the traffic signal.
In the days after the accident, police and Public Services did place a cone in the middle of the crosswalk to warns motorists to stop for pedestrians and improve othe signage. An officer was also present at the church to monitor traffic the following Sunday.
Police Capt. John DeRosa, who is the area commander for West Peabody, said the department plans to have an officer on traffic patrol there on Saturdays and Sundays for the forseeable future as much as possible.
He said it's not entirely clear if state transportation officials have any jurisdiction over whether the city can install a light there or not.
"We'll support whatever needs to be done 110 percent," he said.
City engineer Jim Nicholas likewise said an investigative traffic study would be conducted, recommendations made and then submitted to the state for review and possible funding. But then again, that may just apply to state highways, such as Route 114 or Andover Street.
He said that study would also include pedestrian accidents.
Edward Quinn, a parishioner and former city councilor, said that when he was on the council nearly 20 years ago, he actually tried to get a traffic light installed in the wake of two pedestrian accidents, but his efforts were rebuffed by the state.
Quinn said a traffic study was done and a plan submitted for state approval, but officials at the time ultimately decided a light was unnecessary at the crosswalk. He said a flashing yellow light was installed instead, but that doesn't really accomplish much.
Councilors Anne Manning-Martin and Barry Osborne said they were puzzled by that response, but maybe things have changed in two decades.
They said a pedestrian light was installed several years ago on Lynn Street at the crosswalk to the new Brown School, mainly in response to grave safety concerns from parents. Not more than a "stone's throw away," said Manning Martin, is a traffic light at St. Ann's Parish.
Mayor Ted Bettencourt, who also attends church at St. Adelaide's, said he's confident Lowell Street is not subject to any state jurisdiction -- it isn't a state highway nor near one in that area as far as he knows -- and therefore the city should be able to move forward.
He said he still wants to be sure, however, and generate some data for a study while reviewing the various options before just installing a light.
Bettencourt assured Caton and parishioners he was taking the problem very seriously and the city would make any improvements that are needed.
"I think every person here could talk about a time they had a close call," he said, asked his take on the crosswalk situation.
Sinewitz said the council will be also talking further about the issue in committee, and it may take some time, but a solution will be had.
"We're going to do everything we can," he said.
DeRosa suggested reducing the speed limit from 35 mph to 30 on that section of Lowell Street -- it's already 30 before that and 25 mph closer to Lynnfield. He said that saves 2.6 seconds in which a driver can bring a car to a full stop. A car can travel 500 feet in that time, he said, and could prove the difference between a fatal accident and a close call.
The state, however, would have to approve a change in the speed limit.
DeRosa said education, engineering and enforcement are key to making lasting changes. He, Sinewitz and parishioners all agreed that pedestrians as well as motorists need to follow safe practices in the crosswalk.
A few other options were also discussed, among them one from Councilor Arthur Athas, who suggested enlisting a school crossing guard from the neighborhood. He said that person could be on duty for weekend Masses and help with coordinating parking in the two lots at the church.
In regard to the facts of the accident, those remain somewhat unclear. For instance, it is unclear if the elderly driver that hit Buttner was turning into or out of the parking lot at the time or traveling along Lowell Street.
DeRosa said the state police accident reconstruction team is still wrapping up its investigation and declined to comment until a full report is ready to be released.
He said the team essentially handles all fatal and major accidents now in Massachusetts, and as such, has an extensive backlog to wade through.