Recent accident raises awareness

Lars Lonnroth, Managing editor of breaking news/multimedia content

Downers Grove North junior Elizabeth Dunlap was just outside her school Feb. 20 when a car came careening through a red light and hit her while she was crossing the street. The incident sent her to the hospital for days with what her family called “unrecoverable injuries.”

The death of Dunlap, a talented 17-year-old volleyball player, sent the Downers Grove community into mourning.

Dunlap was a member of the DGN volleyball team that played in the state tournament last year—for the first time in 30 years—according to My Suburban Life. She was also a member of a local travel team, which was where a number of LT students became her friends.

“My heart is heavy for her family,” NC Associate Principal Kevin Brown said. “It is an awful, awful thing, and we all pray that nothing [like this] ever happens to our students. But I understand accidents happen—they do—so that is why we always remind our students to be safe.”

While Dunlap’s death is a tragic case of a person dying too young, according to data from the Center for Disease Control (CDC), almost 5,400 pedestrians were killed by motor vehicles in 2015—which the CDC notes is equivalent to one pedestrian death per two hours.

Additionally, that same year, the CDC reported that 129,000 pedestrians were treated for “non-fatal crash-related injuries.” That danger underscores the importance for both pedestrians and drivers to be aware of their surroundings, Assistant Principal Kris Costopoulos said.

“[A car is] a 2,000 pound weapon,” Costopoulos said. “You’ve got to be careful where you’re going—you have to look at all times. As pedestrians and as bicyclists, we have our own responsibility to be alert as well, but when the two meet, the car’s going to win every time.”

While LT has had no fatal vehicle-on-pedestrians accidents in recent years, back in the early 2000s two LT community members were struck by motor vehicles and subsequently died.

In 2005, Amanda Butkovich ‘03 was struck by a vehicle at the intersection of Joliet and Willow Springs Road, prompting a memorial to be built at the intersection to memorialize her.

Additionally, in 2003, at the intersection of Willow Springs and 47th street, 13-year-old Park Junior High School student Emily Kandemir was killed on her way to a tennis clinic at SC when a truck making a turn-on-red failed to notice the student.

At the intersection, a memorial was also built to remember Kandemir. Additionally, in hopes of preventing other similar incidents, a no-turn-on-red sign was posted at the intersection, Costopoulos said.

“When something tragic happens, people want to make changes to see that it never happens again,” Brown said. “A child has been hurt or killed and we know that shouldn’t happen. It is a natural response to want to keep it from happening to someone else.”

There have been a number of signs implemented in recent years to help students who walk to LT get home safe. Additionally, a stoplight was built right outside of SC in order to provide students an easier time crossing Willow Springs Road.

A number of stop signs have been placed at all four intersection surrounding NC. Costopoulos said that the most helpful new stop sign is the one at Park and Cossitt, as it serves to slow down drivers and make sure students don’t get hit when going to the NC Vaughan building.

“The individual student who may be crossing may not be noticed as much as the hoard of kids going to gym,” Costopoulos said. “Sometimes students—especially after school—will try to show off and hotrod out of the parking lot. Well, you can’t hotrod too far when you have to stop right there… That’s been a big help.”

Brown said that, because the school does not have control of the surrounding streets, the increased signage was implemented by the towns of the Western Springs and LaGrange, where the two campuses are located.

But, at this point, Brown doesn’t know of any additional areas that is of significant danger to pedestrians.

“You could always say we could be more proactive on anything,” Brown said. “I don’t know if there is a specific proposal for us to address an area of student safety. We’re always interested in addressing issues of student safety as they come up.”

Student safety is an issue the administration emphasizes, Brown said. However, despite any precautions taken, the loss of a person from a vehicular crash—particularly a talented, young student like Dunlap—is still tragic.

“It’s such an instantaneous thing, such a horrible accident, and I can’t imagine what that community and school is feeling,” Brown said. “That’s just the worst—losing a student who should not be gone.”

According to the Chicago Tribune, the driver of the vehicle that killed Dunlap was under the influence of crack cocaine when the incident occurred. On March 15, he pleaded not guilty to two counts of reckless homicide and nine charges of aggravated DUI causing death.