John Lacki, 64, planned to mail two small packages Wednesday afternoon at about 4. He’s lived in Conimicut for 33 years and knows how congested the village center can be, especially at the post …
John Lacki, 64, planned to mail two small packages Wednesday afternoon at about 4. He’s lived in Conimicut for 33 years and knows how congested the village center can be, especially at the post office at this time of year.
Lacki made sure to use the crosswalk at the intersection of Maplewood and West Shore Road. As he told the story Saturday afternoon from his hospital bed, Lacki looked both ways before entering the crosswalk. It was still light, although it was overcast and raining. The way looked clear. There was a car approaching in the westbound lane of traffic but it was far away, he said.
In the next seconds, the vehicle hit Lacki. His head hit the windshield, which smashed, and then his body was thrown over the top of the car before he landed on his legs on the pavement. The impact broke both legs. Lacki never lost consciousness.
“What the heck, is this for real?” Lacki remembers thinking. And then he thought of the car and its driver, “He was humming. He wasn’t paying attention.”
Traffic came to a halt on West Shore Road. Lacki was lying near the middle of the road. He was in severe pain. Two men were first at the scene. They told him not to move. He was thinking he had to get out of the street, but he could see one leg was twisted back and the bone was exposed. A “wonderfully kind woman” brought a blanket and pulled it around him. Others dialed 911. Lacki doesn’t remember the driver of the vehicle, later identified as 18-year-old Joseph Woods of Bellman Avenue, ever leaving his car. Woods was alone in the car.
Lacki remembers the violent shaking in the minutes he lay on the pavement before rescue personnel arrived and rushed him to Rhode Island Hospital.
The accident confirms what many Conimicut residents say is a dangerous situation that the city and state has failed to address. Speeding traffic and the constricted passage on West Shore Road when vehicles are parked on both sides of the road have been of concern for the Conimicut Village Association for years. The speed limit in the village center is 25mph.
In Saturday’s newsletter to members, CVA President Ginny Barham writes, “CVA has been trying unsuccessfully to get traffic control measures in place at that location for over two years. Let’s hope that the city will now take action to rectify the unsafe condition in the center of our village.”
She said in an interview that it was her understanding the city was going to erect a flexible pedestrian caution sign in the middle of the road, as has been done in Pawtuxet, earlier this year. Painting of the crosswalk has been cited as an issue over the years, which is the state’s responsibility. However, it’s the city, not the state, that gets the complaints.
The painting of the crosswalk does not appear to be a factor in this accident. The walk is clearly visible, and, being a local resident, the assumption is that Woods could not only see it but knew it was there.
Sgt. Earl Read said yesterday that police are continuing to work on reconstruction of the accident and that witnesses have given accounts.
Speed and the lack of attention to pedestrians, whether trying to get in or out of their cars or crossing the street, appear to be major complaints of those trying to do business in the village.
“It’s a dangerous area,” says Leslie Derrig, whose home is on Conimicut Point. She’s seen some cars doing 50mph – twice the speed limit – and she’s tried to slow down traffic in order to get kids out of her car to attend Sunday services at Woodbury Union Church.
“I’m constantly holding up my hand,” she said. “They just give me the finger.”
She thinks cameras to record the license plates of vehicles that speed and fail to stop for people in the crosswalk would help.
A survey of those using the crosswalk Saturday morning produced some more suggestions. Robert Jarvis thought additional lighting in the area of the post office would be beneficial, as well as raised reflectors in the crosswalk. Vincent Gambardella thought a post office parking lot would reduce the need for street parking and the prospect of people getting in and out of their cars into speeding traffic.
“You just have to be careful stepping out between parked cars,” he said.
Other suggestions offered by those waiting to post packages and letters Saturday morning included the installation of reflector poles in the center of West Shore Road at the crosswalk, a crosswalk light and a raised crosswalk that would also act as a speed bump.
The Department of Transportation conducted a survey of the area following the accident, and in response to questions about this story issued the following statement: “We reviewed crash data for the last 5 years at the intersection of West Shore & Maplewood. There have been no pedestrian crashes. We also went out to inspect the area today and found that all lights are operational and all signage [advance warning as well as at the crosswalk] intact.”
David Picozzi, acting director of the Department of Public Works, said the city installed a pedestrian crossing sign in the road but “it was destroyed in a week.” He said if the city paints the crosswalk or installs traffic-slowing measures in the road, then it becomes liable. When it is a state road, he said it is the state’s responsibility to address improved safety measures.
“The Conimicut situation is very difficult,” Mayor Scott Avedisian said. “The neighborhood association would like us to paint the crosswalk another color. However, David Picozzi has spoken with DOT on a number of occasions since it is a state road. They have not been in favor of painting the crosswalk blue, as that is a color that is generally associated with disability parking spaces.”
Avedisian concludes, “The neighborhood group seems to have gotten one answer from DOT and we have gotten another.”
No charges had been filed against Woods as of Monday. Read said he expects civil traffic violations would be issued next week.
In a release issued following the accident, police said it is believed Woods didn’t have his headlights on. Lacki doesn’t remember the lights being on.
“The investigation is ongoing, but criminal charges are not likely and it does not appear alcohol was involved,” reads the department release. Police requested any person with information or who may have witnessed the accident to contact the Warwick Police Department Traffic Division at 401-468-4200. Read said calls could also be made to him at 401-468-4293.
Lacki has undergone surgery on his right leg and is slated for surgery on his left leg Friday. He has no idea how long his recovery will take, but he knows it will be a long time before he can resume his regime of running 2.5 miles a day. He’s been told that being physically fit may have saved him from additional injuries and should expedite his recovery.
On Saturday, his focus was limited to being able to perform the necessities of life while being virtually immobilized and the prospect of getting around with two broken legs.
Thinking of the accident and that stretch of West Shore Road, he’s hopeful measures can be taken to improve pedestrian safety.