Getting Answers: spike in recent deadly crashes

Getting Answers: spike in recent deadly crashes
Updated: Aug. 11, 2022 at 6:15 PM EDT
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SPRINGFIELD, MA (WGGB/WSHM) - 2021 was the most dangerous year to be on Massachusetts roads in more than a decade and this year is proving to be just as deadly with a recent uptick in western Massachusetts.

“That’s my princess, Destiny. I, I’m sorry, she’s always on my mind,” said Sagrario Caceres.

Seven years have passed, but Caceres can’t talk about her little girl without tearing up. Destiny Gonzalez was in second grade when she was hit by a car after leaving Springfield’s central library and crossing State Street. It’s a road that has seen seven pedestrian deaths since 2015. Four people were killed last year alone, including a 16-year-old who was hit by a bus near Dwight Street and a librarian who was hit while crossing in front of the library, just like Gonzalez was.

“That hurt me. That made me tremendously sad and also angry,” Caceres noted.

“There were a lot of calls for change. I was part of that conversation. This is really dangerous. We need to change this,” added Charles Marohn, civil engineer with Strong Towns.

Marohn said those calls were finally answered in June when the Springfield DPW put up temporary cones and barricades to study whether narrowing State Street would slow drivers down while designs for a new pedestrian crossing are explored. Part of what makes the road so dangerous is that the crosswalk from the library to the parking lot is a ways-away, so instead of walking all the way to the intersection, many take the more direct route from the middle of the block.

The DPW said the temporary redesign will be in place until September 9 and results will be used to make the road safer next year.

“For Destiny and for me, it’s too late, but it can prevent other deaths,” Caceres said.

“I think the next step is to do this on many, many more streets that we can clearly see are also as dangerous as State Street,” Marohn noted.

Bad street design can play a role, but MassDOT said the top causes of fatal crashes are speeding and failing to stop.

“2021 in Massachusetts was a deadly year for operators of vehicles, passengers, motorcycles and also pedestrians,” said Massachusetts Registrar of Motor Vehicles Colleen Ogilvie.

Last year, 420 people were killed in crashes in the state. It was the highest death toll in over a decade. Already this year, there have been 234 deaths in the state, including 34 deaths in the Pioneer Valley. Twenty of those were drivers and passengers, including the mother and son who died in a crash on Memorial Drive in Chicopee on July 29. Nine deaths were pedestrians, including the man and woman hit by a car in Easthampton on August 2 and nine deaths were motorcyclists.

“Whether people were getting back on the road and they forgot how to drive or they were distracted with general life, but it was a particularly dangerous year that certainly has all of us in transportation and state government concerned and worried about,” Ogilvie added.

Experts said fewer people driving over the pandemic would typically mean fewer crashes, but that wasn’t the case.

“Prior to the pandemic, congestion, the fact that you couldn’t drive as fast as the road allowed you to drive meant the streets were safe most of the time,” Marohn said.

Less congestion caused drivers to take more risks, something Caceres sees all too often on State Street.

“I feel the most dangerous thing is people driving so fast,” Caceres noted.

She’s pleading with drivers to recognize that traffic fatalities are more than just a number.

“It is like a ripple effect. It doesn’t just hurt the primary victim. That person has family, a father, a mother, family, siblings, has friends,” Caceres explained.

Gonzalez would be 15 years old now. Her mom’s heartache continues as she searches for signs from her little girl, like when her necklace flips over.

“I believe it’s her, so I do kiss it and turn it around. That is how we communicate now,” Caceres said.

The State Street project is expected to cost about $650,000. The Springfield Police Department told us that they’ll continue with their active traffic enforcement initiatives along State Street and across the city.