When Matt, Andrew and Mark Case were young, their mother Beverly was thankful for a crossing guard to help them cross Route 150 near the intersection of Fifth Street in St. Joseph.
It was a relief knowing her children would be safe walking to school from their home in the northern part of St. Joseph.
“It gave me such peace to know she was there,” Case said. “I didn’t want them crossing 150 alone.”
Now, Beverly is a crossing guard — and has been for 26 years — in the spot where her sons once crossed.
Beverly said she likes getting to know the children she will help get to school each day. She makes it a point to learn their names and say hello.
“I love it,” she said. “I love the kids. I don’t mind the cold weather. I am Canadian and I like being outside.”
What she doesn’t love is distracted drivers that put not only her life at risk, but those of the children she helps get to school daily.
On Friday, Beverly said she was almost hit by a driver while crossing a middle-school student.
Traffic was stopped from the north, east and south, Beverly said. She was crossing a child on a bicycle and was standing in the middle of Route 150 with her flags out.
“He wasn’t all the way across,” Beverly said. “And a van came in between us.”
Beverly said her first thought was for the child, whose safety she was responsible for.
“My God, did he get across?” Beverly said she remembered thinking. “I was shaking for an hour.”
The student did, but Beverly said the driver of the vehicle slowed down, pulled over and got out to check her car for damages and then drove off.
Her vehicle make and license number were reported to police.
The same thing happened Wednesday morning, according to Beverly, when a driver drove around her as she was stopping traffic.
“I am standing there waving my flags for her to slow down,” Beverly said. “She didn’t. I raised the flags trying to get her to slow down. Twice in five days this has happened.”
Beverly urged drivers to pay attention while driving in the morning and afternoons now that school is back in session in St. Joseph.
“I think the drivers were distracted,” she said. “If you are on your cell phone, get off. I have never been afraid while crossing, but I am now.”
The crossing on Route 150 has been there since a tragedy occurred in 1973.
St. Joseph historian Greg Knott said an accident happened on Route 150 on Feb. 15, 1973 claiming the life of 7-year-old old Randy Lee Smith, the son of Nancy and Dale Smith.
“He was in my first-grade class,” Knott said. “I recall going to the visitation for Randy. It was held at the Old Freese Funeral Home on Lincoln. It was closed casket, and I recall Randy’s picture sitting on top of the casket.”
Knott said the tragedy caused the village board and the schools to begin working together to hire crossing guards because St. Joseph was growing and there were numerous new houses on the north side of town.
“So a lot of young families lived in that area and crossing Fifth Street was the straight route to the grade school,” Knott said.
At Tuesday night’s St. Joseph village board meeting, Public Works Assistant Superintendent Luke Fisher raised the issue. Public Works staff filled in for Beverly on Monday, and Fisher said they noticed first-hand distracted drivers.
“People are not paying attention, and are on their phone,” he said. “We are working on it to try and stop this before someone gets hit or killed.”
Fisher said the village is talking to the Champaign County Sheriff’s Department and the Illinois Department of Transportation about more lighting and tickets being issued.
As of Wednesday afternoon, Fisher said the Champaign County Sheriff’s Office and the State Police will be patrolling the area and ticketing speeders, people who disregard the crossing guard and drivers on their phones.
Sara Eaton is the mother of the child that was almost struck by a car last week.
“To drivers not paying attention, you need to realize there are children crossing that road and their lives are more important than whatever is on your phone. Their lives are more important than you getting somewhere a few seconds faster,” she said. “As a mom, I am begging you to slow down and pay attention while you’re driving.”
Eaton said up until recently she felt safe having her child walk to school because he knows to pay attention to his surroundings and to cross with Beverly.
“I assumed, wrongly, that the drivers would also be paying attention to their surroundings,” she said. “However, this past week there have been multiple incidents, so now I am not as confident about him being safe on his way to and from school.”
St. Joseph Mayor Tami Fruhling-Voges said she wants drivers to pay attention.
“The safety of our children walking or riding their bikes to school should be a priority for everyone who drives a vehicle,” she said. “Route 150 goes through the center of our community and the volume of traffic is extremely heavy at all times of the day and night, especially during the mornings and late afternoon. Drivers who drive a vehicle on any of our village’s streets, especially Route 150, need to slow down, get off your phones and take your position as a driver very seriously.”
Fruhling-Voges said she hopes drivers will put away any distractions that would take their focus away from the safety of themselves or those around them.
“Most of all realize that if you cause injury or worse to someone because you were just being an irresponsible driver, you will have to live with that for the rest of your life,” she said. “Accidents can happen to even the best of drivers, but a driver who causes an accident because they were being irresponsible is just inexcusable.”
Julie Hendrickson, the Village Officer Manager, works to hire and schedule the crossing guards. She said she is sick over what has been happening.
“What is it going to take to get people off their phones and understand that these human beings are someone’s family members?” she said. “What if this was your mom, grandma, sister or you son or daughter, brother or sister, niece or nephew that was hit by a car?”
Hendrickson said everyone in town knows Route 150 and Fifth Street is where students cross to go to school.
“Let me make this perfectly clear: Route 150 is not a racetrack,” she said. “Everyone has family members that we love and cherish, and we don’t want to bury someone due to someone racing, driving too fast or pulling out from a side street to hit someone head on. I personally want to say shame on you to the two individuals that have almost hit these two individuals.”
Hendrickson said the village will also be reaching out to the Illinois State Police about patrolling the area.
Eaton said she hopes more steps are taken.
“I feel having crossing guards and crosswalks are vital to the safety of students needing to cross 150,” she said. “Not everyone is able to be bussed, so those who have to walk or ride a bike deserve to be safe doing so. I feel as though just having a crossing guard though at 150 isn’t enough. Clearly drivers aren’t paying attention.”