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Crosswalks, signs planned for Spring Hill neighborhood where boy was hit on way to school

SPRING HILL — Derek Kruis has months of recovery time ahead of him, but his unfortunate run-in with a van on Landover Boulevard will likely leave a lasting impact in the neighborhood.

Plans are in the works to add traffic safety features along the stretch of Landover where the 14-year-old eighth-grader was hit on the morning of Feb. 2 while making his way to Explorer K-8 School.

The Hernando school district is hoping for crosswalks and signs at Landover and Tillery Road, said Barry Crowley, the district's coordinator of safety and security. Crowley met last week with a county engineering staffer and a Sheriff's Office representative to discuss ideas.

The district would also like to see crosswalks and signs at the next cross street to the north, Sandlor Street, and to the south, Chalmer Street, Crowley said. The signs remind motorists that they are required by law to stop for pedestrians waiting to cross.

Because Landover is a county road, however, it's up to the county to devise a plan for the improvements. That plan should be ready in the next few weeks, according to an email to Crowley sent by Gerald O'Dell, the county's traffic engineering coordinator

Messages left for O'Dell and county engineer Brian Malmberg were not returned Tuesday.

The school district has offered to cover the roughly $450 cost of the signs to expedite their installation, with hopes that flashing lights can be added later, Crowley said.

"We wanted to put something in right now, even if it's temporary," he said.

A county study after the accident found that students cross Landover at several places to get to Explorer, Crowley said. Ideally, students would cross at Northcliffe Boulevard, where there is a crossing guard, but many won't do that because it's so far out of the way for them.

The district could pay for a crossing guard at Tillery and Landover, where the speed limit is 30 mph, but it's likely many students would still cross at places because there is no sidewalk on the east side of Landover, Crowley said.

"They don't want to walk on the wet grass to get there," he said. "We can keep throwing crossing guards out there, but it's not going to solve the problem."

The district also is hopeful that the same improvements will be made at Tillery and Jason Street, a block west of Landover and just outside the school's east entrance. That gate was opened to traffic this school year to alleviate snarled traffic at the main entrance on Northcliffe, caused in large part by the elimination of bus service for Hernando students who live within 2 miles of school.

The accident involving Kruis sparked renewed criticism of the School Board's decision last summer to cut courtesy bus service. Kruis, who lives about a mile east of Explorer, used to ride a bus.

The Florida Highway Patrol concluded that the driver who hit Kruis was not at fault, but the incident prompted county and district officials to consider how the area might be made safer.

"That's a lot better than what they have there, which is absolutely nothing," Darrell Canada, Kruis' stepfather, said Tuesday when a Tampa Bay Times reporter told him about the possibility of crosswalks and signs.

A segment of sidewalk, planned long before this month's accident, is already under construction on the west side of Jason, from Tillery north to Landover.

But sidewalks and crosswalks don't help much if students don't use them, and make risky decisions, officials say.

"A lot of kids walk to that school, but they need the education," said Steve Diez, a county planner who also serves as bicycle-pedestrian coordinator.

The district's grant-funded Safe Routes to Schools program, under way at Explorer, Floyd K-8, and Brooksville, Deltona and Westside elementary schools, includes an education component to teach students how to be safe pedestrians.

Kruis got a firsthand lesson.

He started to dart across Landover, realized oncoming traffic was too close, and was hit by the van after he turned to run back to the east shoulder, Canada said.

The van's rear tire rolled over the boy's left leg, breaking it in about five places. He returned home from the hospital last week and is feeling well enough to do schoolwork.

"There's nobody else to blame," Canada said. "It's on him, and he knows it."

Still, Canada said he is glad an incident that could have been much worse will likely result in safety enhancements.

"It got a lot of people's attention," he said.

Tony Marrero can be reach at (352) 848-1431 or tmarrero@tampabay.com.

Crosswalks, signs planned for Spring Hill neighborhood where boy was hit on way to school 02/14/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 14, 2012 8:10pm]
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