While the man made it safely across, the incident illustrated the dangers faced in crossing the busy state highway, and is the reason they were spending time getting the signs in place.
“A lot of us really care for this person and really want to help spread awareness so that this type of accident doesn’t happen again,” said Calli Regish, 13, referring to the injured boy, who is still hospitalized.
“We know this person well and want to support them,” added Nora Dowd, 13.
The initial effort to improve pedestrian safety comes a few weeks after a white cargo van struck the 13-year-old Hopkins Academy student on the morning of Oct. 11 while he was crossing Route 9 in a crosswalk near the Cumberland Farms gas station. The cargo van, and its driver, have yet to be identified.
“As a parent group, we’re focused on finding positive ways for students to support their friend and make change in a positive manner,” Casagrande said.
Of the 20 signs, 15 were placed on Route 9, with the others going near the Hadley Elementary School on River Drive.
Each is designed to stand out from the traditional black and yellow signs, such as one with blue letters reading “school ahead” on a yellow background, similar to the school colors. Others depict cartoon children crossing a street, and say “slow down, students ahead” and “slow pedestrian traffic.”
Casagrande said challenges on the corridor include the fact that there are no flashing yellow lights to alert drivers that they are entering a school zone, and no crossing guards, even though students do occasionally have to get from one side to the other.
She wanted students to be a part of the action so they could do something for their classmate and friend.
“Our main focus, in general, is raising awareness that we all need to take care of our children,” Casagrande said.
Meredith Vissas of Hadley said many drivers don’t seem to be paying attention when they are on Route 9. “It’s such a commuter road for people, and they zone out without that school zone sign,” Vissas said.
Casagrande said the advocacy also includes having state Rep. Dan Carey and state Sen. Jo Comerford speak with the state’s Department of Transportation.
Town Administrator Carolyn Brennan said she has talked to Comerford, who has advised that when local and state police finish their investigation, that will help local officials understand the factors that caused the accident.
The Northwestern district attorney’s office is continuing to seek information from anyone in the vicinity of the hit-and-run accident when it took place, as well as anyone along Bridge Street in Northampton and along Interstate 91 south into Connecticut.
A passenger-side mirror was recovered at the scene of the crash, and tips received so far have shown that the van continued heading west on Route 9 to the roundabout at Damon Road in Northampton, after which it likely headed south on I-91.
Police believe the van is a Ford Econoline cargo van of the extended length variety, dating from 1997 to 2004. Investigators also asked anyone working in the field of auto parts supply or auto body repairs to be on the lookout for anyone seeking to purchase parts or make repairs to a similar cargo van.
Members of two University of Massachusetts fraternities, Zeta Beta Tau and Tau Kappa Epsilon, came out to help the Hopkins students and parents. They have been concerned that their fellow college students have been injured while crossing on the campus, Casagrande said.
Alson on hand was Hopkins student Ephie Vissas, 13, who said her friend is still recuperating. “We all really miss him and it’s sad,” she said.
While she has never been afraid of crossing the street, Vissas said her family reminds her to make sure vehicles stop and no other cars are trying to go past.
Even when functioning properly, the existing signal in the crosswalk may be too high off the road, Casagrande said.
“We would like to see it made into a standing stop,” Casagrande said.
The topic of Route 9 safety came up at the Planning Board, where Chairman James Maksimoski said the lights to stop vehicles at the crossing are strung high across the road. “It’s not exactly the most visible thing in the world, that’s just my two cents,” Maksimoski said.
“That is a tough spot to cross,” Boyle said. “I wouldn’t want my son crossing there.”