Bridgeport wants to put brakes on unsafe driving

Diamond Battle, 6, attends event one month after being run down

Asst. Police Chief James Nardozzi details police efforts to make the streets safer while Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch looks on Monday, July 8. (John Kovach Photo)

Asst. Police Chief James Nardozzi details police efforts to make the streets safer while Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch looks on Monday, July 8. (John Kovach Photo)

The evidence of the harm that a vehicle can do was clear in the face of Diamond Battle on Monday, July 8.

Evidence that could lead to the prosecution of the hit-and-run driver who did it to her would be available if the state would allow red light cameras, Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch said.

Battle and Finch were at the corner of Washington and Highland avenues to bring attention to a traffic calming initiative city officials said would promote safer streets through enforcement, education and efforts to make Bridgeport more pedestrian and bicyclist friendly.

Diamond Battle, 6, in a wheelchair after being run down by a hit-and-run driver, looks on as her mother Yvette Lyons, talks of the need for drivers to realize they share the road with pedestrians. (John Kovach Photo)

Diamond Battle, 6, in a wheelchair after being run down by a hit-and-run driver, looks on as her mother Yvette Lyons, talks of the need for drivers to realize they share the road with pedestrians. (John Kovach Photo)

Diamond, 6, was sitting a wheelchair being pushed by her mother, Yvette Lyons. She was discharged from the hospital on July 4, more than a month after she and her aunt were struck by a hit-and-run driver at the same intersection, Washington and Highland avenues. But the injuries, treatment and long intubation left her struggling to enjoy the holiday, Lyons said.

“I thank God that she is living, but her life has been put to a halt,” Lyons said.

Diamond is going through therapy and making progress, her family and city officials said.

No arrest has been made.

“It’s not too late to take ownership,” said Lyons, asking how a driver could not realize they struck someone.

“We need your help. We all have a responsibility,” Finch said of the city’s efforts to prevent similar injuries. “Police will do their part. Motorists must do their part. We’re asking our residents to help. Teach children to look both ways before crossing the street. It sounds so simple but it saves lives.

“I don’t want to have to see any other children like Diamond Battle end up in the hospital,” the mayor added.

A few weeks before Diamond was struck, 2-year-old Corey Gordon was injured by a motorist who did not stop.

“We have people traveling our neighborhoods 40, 50 miles per hour,” said City Councilman Richard Bonney (D-135).

The head of the city’s traffic division met recently with state Department of Transportation officials to discuss available grants for increased enforcement for DUI patrols and “Click it or Ticket” checkpoints.

“This is not an enforcement blitz,” Asst. Police Chief James Nardozzi said. “This is a commitment and something we will sustain. I’m confident we can have a lasting effect. People need to know that driving recklessly through the city won’t be tolerated. There have to be consequences.”

Increased civility, Nardozzi said, would go a long way toward addressing the problems.

While The Bridgeport News and state TV stations gathered for the press conference, police stopped two vehicles after drivers committed violations in front of at least four marked police cars, and two motorists yelled at each other at the stop light.

The traffic calming enforcement project is part of a wider Complete Streets initiative, a comprehensive plan to make the city less auto dependent, safer and greener. A number of these projects already are completed, under way or in the design phases.

The city has built the Black Rock Bike Path, and a South End Bike Trail is in the final steps of design. The Pequonnock Bike Trail will be under construction by the end of the summer. A major traffic calming project is scheduled to start on Lincoln Boulevard, one of the city’s widest roadways.

The city is committed to introducing traffic-calming measures and sustainable “green” features in street paving and reconstruction projects, according to a press release.

Finch announced a new way to report traffic issues like speeding. Residents can use the city’s BConnected app on their mobile device or at bridgeportct.gov/bconnected. Click on the “Police” drop box. The information will be forwarded to the traffic division and used for enforcement purposes. The app is free.

Moving forward, the city’s traffic division will ramp up enforcement citywide. In addition, school resource officers have been instructed to conduct motor vehicle enforcement around city schools, parks and other places where children congregate.  With school out for the summer, motorists need to be mindful of children at play.

In addition, the department’s patrol unit officers have been asked to emphasize motor vehicle enforcement when not responding to calls for service.

Finch, on Monday, called for the state to pass the legislation needed for cities and towns to install red light cameras, which he said would have helped bring the driver who struck Diamond to justice.

The mayor dismissed civil liberties arguments used against such cameras.

“You don’t have a right to privacy in a public right of way,” Finch said.

According to a 2011 study, Bridgeport has the second highest number of motor vehicle accidents in the state, after New Haven.

After Monday’s press conference, a 7-year-old girl was struck on Highland Avenue by a car passing the city bus she had exited. She was taken to the hospital for an examination, according to police, adding that the injuries did not appear serious.

Around 4 p.m. Monday in New Haven, three girls were struck by an SUV on Ella Grasso Boulevard.

“We need to work together to ensure this doesn’t happen again,” Finch said of Diamond’s ordeal. “I’m so glad that she is doing better. To see her in the hospital struggling to survive… she’s the same age as my son.”

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