Family says children are target with reduced crossing guards

By Greg Gelpi

A Forest Park family personally experienced the effects of the Clayton County budget crunch.

An 8-year-old boy was almost hit by a Georgia Power truck as it turned the corner near the boy's school, Hendrix Drive Elementary, an upset mother said.

"If we had a crossing guard that would never have happened," Kathy Meza, the boy's mother said. "It was too close for comfort."

She watched as Juan crossed in a crosswalk, she said, adding that the truck was speeding and didn't use a turn signal when it cut in front of her son. Mario and his twin brother Juan were nowhere near the street, according to Carol Boatright, a spokesperson from Georgia Power, after speaking with Heath Holcombe, the driver of the truck.

He did nothing reckless to endanger anyone, she said, adding that all safe driving practices were followed to her knowledge.

"Obviously, we want them and tell them to follow all safety laws," Boatright said. "He believes he did use a turn signal."

Meza watched as Holcombe turned right from Hendrix Drive and parked on the left side of Springwood Drive.

The Forest Park Police Department responded to the scene, but didn't file any charges.

"We can't write a ticket if an officer doesn't witness it or if there isn't an accident," Forest Park Police Capt. Chris Mattson said. "This is the first complaint I know of since school started."

The Clayton County Board of Commissioners reduced the number of school crossing guards from 53 to 34 for this fiscal year's budget, which left many schools with fewer guards and some without any guards. While last year 28 schools had guards, this school year only 18 schools had crossing guards. The reduction saved the county more than $110,000.

"I guess that is the only thing that will get our crossing guards back is for a child to get killed," Meza said. "I could have gone out there with a baseball bat and beat that man."

The budget cut shifted the responsibility of funding crossing guard to municipalities. Forest Park is only one area affected by the budget cut. Jonesboro, Lake City, Morrow and Riverdale are also affected.

A few parents have even resorted to volunteering as crossing guards, Meza said.