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Halloween Accident Prompts Safety Discussion in Williamstown
By Stephen Dravis, iBerkshires Staff
02:15AM / Wednesday, November 20, 2019
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Chris Johnson addresses the Select Board on Monday evening.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Select Board and town manager Monday committed to developing a plan to address safety of trick-or-treaters following a single-car collision that sent one child to the emergency room this Halloween
The board responded to letters signed by more than two dozen residents and the comments of five residents who attended Monday's meeting, including the father of the child who was struck this Oct. 31.
"The police that evening did an incredible job," Chris Johnson told the board. "The emergency crew that came was incredibly professional. … As my wife and I arrived at the scene, we had a sense of confidence and a sense of community. We're grateful for everyone's reaction.
"We feel lucky in a lot of ways with this accident, which is ironic because it is avoidable."
Johnson's son was not seriously injured in the incident, but many in town feel that a life-threatening accident is possible or even inevitable if nothing changes about the way the town celebrates Halloween.
"The conversations that evening among parents ... again and again was, 'Of course. This was going to happen eventually,' " Brad Svrluga told the board. "I remember hearing multiple times about experiences others have had … in seeing one version or another of a near miss where a kid darts out of nowhere.
"When you think about what Halloween is, it's a night when kids in large numbers are out in the streets, many dressed in dark costumes, and everyone is amped up on sugar in a highly socialized, energized environment. We'd be insane to assume those kids can be held responsible for behaving as we'd hope they would. It would be irresponsible for us as adults to assume they'll look both ways on one of the busiest streets in our community."
That would be Cole Avenue, a main thoroughfare through town and pass through from Main Street (Route 2) and North Hoosac Street, a well used east-west connector from U.S. Route 7 to North Adams.
Cole Avenue also, over the years, has become a hub of activity for trick-or-treaters, who flock from all over town to the densely populated neighborhoods around Cole Avenue and the nearby Williamstown Elementary School. In 2019, the area was even busier than usual after Williamstown, unlike many communities Northern Berkshire County, kept its trick-or-treat hours in place on Oct. 31 rather than moving them to the weekend in advance of heavy rains expected to fall on the evening of Halloween.
The recent concentration of candy-seekers in the vicinity of Cole Avenue -- even in a regular year -- is part of the problem, according to the town's longtime town clerk, who addressed the Select Board from the floor on Monday.
"I think there are two problems here, and I don't think the town needs to create the solution," Mary Kennedy said. "One is people are all going to Cole Avenue who don't live on Cole Avenue. Back in the day, Lindley Terrace was just was busy. If people trick-or-treated in their own neighborhoods, it would spread it out.
"The other thing is people are parking on Cole Avenue. Don't park on Cole Avenue. Park at the elementary school and walk your kids over."
No one at Monday's meeting suggested closing any roads to vehicular traffic during trick-or-treating, but at least one person who wrote the board broached the subject.
More typical was a letter signed by 14 "neighbors of Moorland Street," who said, "the time has come for Williamstown to implement additional traffic control and safety measures on Halloween."
The residents who addressed the board in person stressed that they did not know the solution, only that the problem needed to be addressed.
"I personally feel as though we all have a responsibility to look out for each other in the community," Candice Constantine said. "Here we have an opportunity to do something about a situation that has proven to be unsafe.
"The people who might be affected [by traffic control measures] know it's coming and have time to prepare for whatever the plan may be."
Constantine was one of 15 members of the staff and board of directors of the Williamstown Youth Center who signed a letter asking the town to take action. Another member of that board to sign the letter: Select Board member Jane Patton, who did not weigh in on the topic on Monday evening.
Select Board member Andrew Hogeland, however, appeared to speak for the board when he said that, as a parent, he too has known the fear of seeing children dodge cars on Halloween night.
"I want to make it clear that you have a sympathetic audience here," he said after all in attendance had a chance to speak their piece. "You're also correct that if we had been more alert, we would have known something was going to happen someday.
"I don't think there's any disagreement over the need to do something better. … The something is a question."
Town Manager Jason Hoch said he would consult with the Police Department about what steps the town may take, and he appeared to welcome Svrluga's suggestion that part of the solution could include a "parent-led safety crew" to help kids safely cross streets during trick-or-treating.
"The town manager and Chief [Kyle] Johnson will consider all the input," Chairman Jeffrey Thomas said. "At a future meeting, Jason will come back to us with their ideas for Halloween in the future.
"Thankfully, we have 11 months to figure things out."
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