Officials review traffic safety after girl hit by pickup truck

Students at Oakleaf High School seen crossing road regularly not in crosswalk

CLAY COUNTY, Fla. – A 14-year-old Clay County girl is still in the hospital after she was hit by a pickup truck while walking to school Friday, and now officials are doing what they can to make sure similar accidents don't happen again.

Shnaida Mentor's mom said her daughter broke her rib and lost a kidney from the impact of a pickup truck.

Investigators said the Oakleaf High School freshman was using the overpass on Plantation Oaks Boulevard to get to school when she tried to cross the road between vehicles and was hit.

Clay County deputies said the truck was within the speed limit, but Mentor was thrown 27 feet.

On Wednesday, county leaders met during a regularly scheduled traffic safety meeting and discussed ways to make walking to the school safer.

Lt. Ron Hodges, who's in charge of the traffic section for the Clay County Sheriff's Office, wants a sign reminding drivers that, by state law, they're required to stop for pedestrians accompanied by a crosswalk.

Hodges would like the sign to be on the corner of the Thousand Oaks Drive and Plantation Oaks Boulevard, which would make it much more convenient for students to cross and get to school safely.

Right now, the closest crosswalk for the many students who walk to school from the east is past the school, which means many students don't use it and cross wherever they want.

"That whole situation out there is one of the poorest designs I've ever seen," Hodges said.

Hodges sat with representatives from other agencies in Clay County, including the Florida Highway Patrol, Green Cove Springs Police Department and Clay County Schools transportation department.

As part of their monthly meeting, they discussed Friday's accident and ways to make walking to school safer. Oakleaf is one of four schools on a two-lane road with heavy traffic and hordes of parents trying to drop their kids off, often letting them out in the middle of the busy road.

"In the afternoons, my captain said, 'You need to go to the junior high and watch that,'" Hodges said. "He said, 'It's like ants leaving an ant bed.' He said, 'They just cross anywhere they can.'"

Hodges and other deputies have beefed up patrol and are constantly stopping parents and student violators to educate them.

"I stopped one this morning who crossed on the overpass and I asked him, I said, 'Do you not know about Friday?'" Hodges said. "'Yeah, I know about it. But I know what I'm doing.' I said, 'Do you trust the people in these vehicles to know what they're doing?' 'Well, yeah.' I said, 'So you have faith that they're going to stop when you run out in front of them?' 'Well, I don't know.' I said, 'That's the problem, you don't know.'"

County leaders came up with several suggestions for the area, including an extra crossing guard, passing out pamphlets on pedestrian safety and encouraging the schools and homeowners associations to do the same, using the schools' call-back phone system to remind parents of Friday's accident and safe solutions, and Hodges idea for signage and a more convenient crosswalk.

"In the bigger picture, it's low cost in comparison to having to put additional personnel out there or lighting, those kind of things, because that takes a lot more time and a lot more resources as far as funding," Hodges said. "These meetings are really good for networking. If I have a problem, I can call the county, I can call the state."

Public Works will go to Oakleaf High in the next couple weeks and conduct a roadway safety audit. Officials will study the behavior of traffic, watch the lights change and talk to people in the area to find out the best game plan they can come up with to make it a safer place for students to go to school.

Then they'll present those results at next month's traffic safety meeting.