ALLEN COUNTY, (Ind.) — Slow down. Proceed with caution. Don’t stop unless someone is in the pedestrian crossing.
More than three weeks after a woman was fatally struck while crossing Carroll Road on north Fort Wayne’s Pufferbelly Trail, trail users and authorities are still working to remind drivers what to do at trail crossings. The push continues in October, which is Pedestrian Safety Month.
It was Sept. 16 when a Toyota Camry headed west on Carroll Road drove around a blue truck that was stopped in the roadway at the Pufferbelly Trail crossing and hit 63-year-old Leisa Elser-Patrick of Fort Wayne, killing her.
After the accident, a campaign launched, to educate drivers and trail users alike to make the crossings safer. It also sparked much conversation on WANE15’s Facebook page, with drivers confused with the flashing signal of the crosswalk.
The crossing protocol is still confusing drivers, it turns out.
Friday, WANE 15 spoke to bike riders and pedestrians on the trail, to see if they are being more cautious. While out there, the crew witnessed a biker rider nearly hit after a white minivan waived her into traffic. She proceeded to cross the street, and the traffic from the other side kept moving. She fell off her bike but was able to get out of the crossing before being hit.
Despite the close call, the pedestrians and bike riders told WANE 15’s Briana Brownlee that they are being more cautious while out on the trail.
“Super, super, [cautious],” said Pat Hester, a frequent walker on the trail. “That (fatal crash) was a shock to this area, to know that somebody lost their life was disturbing. I think that the confusion was we thought when the drivers stopped for us they were being very nice and that they were supposed to stop. Then we had to read the signs and realize that the driver was not supposed to stop.”
Hester said the accident changed her behavior. She said she doesn’t go to the edge of the street anymore because she doesn’t want drivers to think to stop. She also doesn’t walk after dusk, especially since so many pedestrians have been killed in Allen County lately.
Her husband, John Hester, said the crash brought awareness to drivers, bike riders, and walkers.
“Bikes used to sprint across this thing, not looking,” John Hester said. “It’s just an awareness. Unfortunately, someone lost their life with that happening. Keep your head on a swivel and you have to be careful.”
Steve Sternberger is a bike rider who bikes the Pufferbelly Trail often. He said he now stops further back from the street before crossing.
He said he’s found that it’s less confusing for cars not to see him.
“They are careless in the fact that they think they are supposed to stop, and they aren’t supposed to,” Sternberger said. “If they look at the light, it says ‘slow down’ and ‘be aware.’ When they stop, it creates a lot of confusion. Especially with traffic going the other way and traffic coming behind them. I still see a lot of that and it’s frustrating because we will wave them on and they’ll just sit there.”
Dana and her grandson, Caspian, were both out for a bike ride Friday. She said she is more cautious and aware now after the situation that happened at the trail.
“I don’t only watch the car that’s stopping, but the ones behind them, too, now because of the accident,” Dana said. “Because a person could get hit, and you don’t want to hurt yourself or loved ones.”
All of the people out on the trails stressed that they are grateful for and happy with the trails in Allen County. They just beg the drivers to proceed with caution and not stop.
So far this year in Allen County, there have been six fatal pedestrian crashes. Last year, there were none. In 2019 there were five, 2018 there were four and in 2017 there were five.
Across Indiana, 96 pedestrians have been killed this year, according to the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute. That’s a 9 percent increase from last year. Marion, Allen, and Lake County are seeing the highest number, with all three accounting for half of the fatalities.