Local Perspective: Death of a Sophomore

In Canada we call it Grade 10; in the States it’s either 10th Grade or Sophomore year in High School. Spending so much time in both countries, I got used to both: although my personal preference is still more local, from my youth (Grade 10). I remember it well. But a week ago, after the death of a student on the way to school for her first day in Grade 10, hit by a dump truck: I had to watch my High School and my neighbourhood become the background for the news and discussion regarding the safety of children on their way to school.

The pictures at right show the makeshift memorial to Violet Jia Liang, fourteen years old, killed at the intersection of Lamberton and Sentinel. The accident was just 400 m from the school where she was about to start grade 10, across the street from Elia Middle School: where Violet had graduated last year (National Post, 2013). Students at C.W. Jefferys S.S. wore purple to honour Miss Liang after the accident (Newstalk 1010, 2013)

I used to walk by this spot on my own way to school, now thirty years ago. At the time the students names were more like Debbie and Chris, Gord and Jaime. It’s always been an immigrant neighbourhood; most of us were first-generation Canadians. I couldn’t help this week but wonder how different my high school would have been, and how my life would have changed, if any of those friends had been killed on the way to their first day of classes. Things would have been very different.

I was a bit surprised by the quick coverage of the story in the news, and how little seems to have come out of it. Could this be because we’re a little tired of such stories: being inundated constantly by them these days. I’m hoping it’s not because this was in one of the “priority neighbourhoods” of the city, where things are a little rougher: where gangs are rumoured to be as much a problem as trucks in school zones. I wonder if there might have been more coverage if it had been one of the Councillor’s kids who’d been hit by a truck, or the accident had happened across the street from a private school. I wonder.

Councillor Anthony Perruzza said he plans to propose a motion to prohibit heavy truck traffic near schools when students arrive in the mornings and leave in the afternoons.” (Globe and Mail, 2013) A great idea. Those “school zone” signs have to be worth something. Unfortunately, the Ontario Safety League has said: “It wouldn’t work, it’s too complicated.” (Newstalk 1010, 2013) And I shake my head. Perhaps you could have said that… thirty years ago. But I work with Geographic problems all the time; one of my specialities is “routing”. It’s not “too complicated” to route trucks to avoid school zones for 90 minutes before and after school. It just requires some commitment.

I mean: this was across the street from a Middle school. Jefferys is up the street; Lamberton public school is in another direction. Walking to school should not be such a risky business. Associating such danger with a primary education sounds absolutely third-world.

There have been several children killed in Toronto over the last few months. Back in March, five-year-old Kayleigh Callaghan-Belanger, was struck and killed by a garbage truck while walking home from school. (And there wasn’t a lot of school between March and September.) I’m hoping we don’t have to loose too many more children before we decide to regulate traffic.

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