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Sisters walking to Middleton High struck, injured by car

TAMPA — Two sisters were injured Tuesday morning, one critically, when they were hit by a car as they jaywalked in the dark across Hillsborough Avenue on the way to Middleton High School, authorities said.

Police said the teens, 14-year-old Victoria Velasquez-Cabrera and 15-year-old Norma Velasquez-Cabrera, were crossing the 2500 block of Hillsborough Avenue just north of the school about 7:15 a.m.

With the start of daylight saving time this month, sunrise was still about 20 minutes away. The driver, Deja Johnson, 17, told investigators she did not see the girls in the morning twilight. A police spokeswoman said it is not likely the student, who was on her way to Hillsborough High School, would face charges.

Both injured girls were taken to Tampa General Hospital. Tuesday afternoon, Norma was in critical condition and Victoria was considered stable, police said.

The scene of Tuesday's crash is not far from where a 15-year-old girl was killed in October 2011 as she, too, walked to Middleton High outside a crosswalk in darkness. Shenika Davis had almost crossed the street when she was hit by a pickup.

There are two marked crosswalks — at N 22nd Street and N 30th Street — less than a quarter-mile from where the girls were struck Tuesday as they tried to cross the busy, six-lane highway, where the speed limit is 45 mph.

At Tuesday's Hillsborough County School Board meeting, member Doretha Edgecomb called for a public awareness campaign about pedestrian safety.

"This is the second incident that has occurred in almost the same location. It almost happened to me on Monday, so I feel very close to the situation. I was (driving) on Hillsborough Avenue when a lady ran out in front of me," she said.

Edgecomb suggested enlisting the help of businesses in the area including Bank of America, Suncoast Credit Union, McDonald's and Burger King.

Superintendent MaryEllen Elia said she would follow up. Such efforts have been successful in the past, she said, but "you have to be constantly going because students move through the high schools and then you have new students."

Member Susan Valdes said it might make sense to find how many students live nearby and walk, with the possibility of using state funds to bus students across hazardous conditions within 2 miles of the school.

After Davis' death in 2011, a safety engineer for the Florida Department of Transportation said the state looked into putting in a new crosswalk there, but traffic patterns and pedestrian numbers didn't justify one. A flashing sign warning drivers on Hillsborough of pedestrians was installed instead.

State DOT spokeswoman Kris Carson said Tuesday that engineers were again pulling crash data in that area.

"We'll take a look at the corridor and see if there's anything we can do to make that area safer," Carson said.

Edgecomb noted, however, that pedestrians in that area often try to cross midroad even with the crosswalks.

"We've got the ones we have, and people don't use them," she said. "What you've got to do as a walker is be responsible and use them."

City Council member Frank Reddick, who has complained in the past about pedestrian safety near busy East Tampa roads, said he hopes the school district or the DOT could do something more than public awareness.

"This is not the first time," he said. "I think they need to go back and revisit this, and make this area more pedestrian-friendly."

Lionel Ballard has lived in the area for years and has long thought the combination of pedestrian traffic and a highway near Middleton is dangerous.

The 61-year-old TECO Energy Corp. employee said he has complained to the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit agency, but when asked if a new crosswalk is needed said he wasn't sure.

"It would be tough to put another light there, because you'd be stopping the flow of traffic down Hillsborough," he said. "I don't know what the answer is. It's just a tough spot right there."

Times staff writer Marlene Sokol and news researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Will Hobson can be reached at (813) 226-3400 or whobson@tampabay.com.

Sisters walking to Middleton High struck, injured by car 03/18/14 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 18, 2014 9:50pm]
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