JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Close family members of a 15-year-old girl who was fatally struck by a car on her way to school Monday said they will remember her sweet, caring, cheerful personality.
Elizabeth Ross was crossing Alden Road near I-295 when a white Kia hit her around 7 a.m., police said. She was not at an intersection or in a crosswalk, according to police.
Elizabeth’s cousin, Aaliyah Rogers, who was walking to school with her, saw the accident, which happened in front of Elizabeth’s home in the Sandalwood area.
Aaliyah said they had been headed to Sandalwood High School just a block away and that she crossed the street first. Elizabeth followed, but didn’t make it across, Aaliyah said.
She said she lost her best friend, whom she affectionately called “Lizzie,” and she just wants to believe it's all a bad dream.
“It's not real. It's just a bad joke, and I'm going to wake up from a nightmare,” Aaliyah said. “She is so sweet. She is, like, the most caring person that you would know.”
Jacksonville police said Elizabeth was taken to UF Health with life-threatening injuries. She died at the hospital.
Duval County Public Schools released a statement after the crash:
The entire community of Sandalwood High School and Duval County Public Schools is deeply saddened by the unexpected passing of one of its students. To support the well-being of students and faculty, specially-trained school psychologists and social workers will be onsite today at Sandalwood High School and will provide continued support as needed."
Grief counselors were available to friends and classmates of Elizabeth at Sandalwood High School Tuesday.
Elizabeth’s family has created a GoFundMe page to help pay for her funeral.
Police said they are speaking with the driver, who is cooperating. Speed does not appear to be a factor and the driver did not show any signs of being impaired, police said.
Community gathers to remember 'beautiful' girl
Family and friends have begun laying bouquets of flowers and candles close to where the accident happened.
People of all ages gathered Monday night around the memorial, holding candles and consoling each other.
"She's such a beautiful little girl. It's just devastating. There's no reason for it at all that I can see. Just, I don't know, maybe God had better plans for her in heaven," said James Burch, who attended the vigil.
Many who attended the vigil said they still can't believe Elizabeth is gone.
"I've known this girl since she was a little girl. It's very sad," said Elaine Burch. "It's hard to look at her picture because just last night she was staring at me, smiling, because I was messing with her like I always do."
Students say road is scary to cross; neighbors express safety concerns
Police said they haven't had many complaints about the road, but one student said it's frightening to cross every day.
"This isn’t a street that we’ve had a lot of issues on," Lt. M.J. Beckmann said. "I’ve been in the area for over 25 years and while, as in any road in Jacksonville, we do have tendencies for people to speed, this isn’t a road that we’ve had a lot of complaints about speeding on. We haven’t had very many crashes that I can think of at all."
Jalen Stamper, a senior at Sandalwood High School, witnessed the crash Monday morning as he was walking down the same street to go to school.
"Cars, they kind of speed through. They barely let me cross the street sometimes. It's crazy. It really is scary, because parents are in such a hurry in the mornings to get to work and get out of traffic that our lives are at risk crossing the street, just trying to get to school," Stamper said. "Sometimes even if a car is slowing down, you still have to be careful, because they could speed up just so you don't cross the street and hold them up. That could have been me. That's the scary thing about it.”
One father who lives in the neighborhood said traffic can be awful in the area, especially right before and after school.
"People are speeding, going around each other, cutting each other off, especially right down here at the intersection, and then where it kind of forks off at the end of the high school," Scott Campbell said.
Farrah St. Amand, who recently moved in across the street from the Ross family, said it's not just speeding that is a concern along Alden Road.
"There's no lights, you know, on this road and or that road. And there's nobody out there guiding the kids to go to school," St. Amand said. "She was really, really sweet and really, really respectful. And I am so sorry for her friends and family who have to endure this."
Stamper also suggested having an officer or crossing guard to slow cars for students.
“It only takes a second for a kid to look away and someone’s not paying attention and accidents happen like this all the time,” neighbor Jihane Sehoul said.
Pedestrian safety, statistics and tips
News4Jax crime and safety analyst Gil Smith said a possible contributing factor could have been darkness on the road.
"Looking down the street as the traffic comes toward me, I could see how many could misjudge the distance of a car because the cars do appear to be further away than they actually are," Smith said. "So that may have been a contributing factor because of the darkness."
Smith said men tend to be hit in pedestrian accidents more than women. The next group would be teenagers to young adults.
"Especially in this area, it's right down the street from the high school, so you do have a lot of apartment complexes in this area and you do have a lot of teenagers that are walking to school," Smith said. "They're going to be hit most often, and also teenagers tend to not have other forms of transportation or bicycles. Don't have their first car yet, so that's why that statistic is high."
Smith said the next group would include elderly because they might not have as fast a reaction time if they see a car coming toward them.
"Allow traffic to clear and not go out in between cars and make sure you have a safe distance. Just make sure traffic has completely cleared before you cross the street," Smith advised.
Smith said it was unfortunate that there were no lights in the area, along with no intersections or crosswalks for someone to safely cross the street.
"This time in the morning, I would suggest that kids wear brighter clothing where they can be seen by cars, also. It would brighten them up," Smith said. "I really don't see people doing that a lot. Not just kids going to school, but people that are out walking."
Although Alden Road does not have speed bumps, Smith said there are speed bumps back in the neighborhoods to slow traffic down. He said there have been traffic problems in the past.
The Jacksonville Sheriff's Office is still investigating and gathering all of the details about the crash. Any other witnesses are asked to contact the Sheriff's Office at 904-630-0500 if they have further information.