By Shannon Jenkins
After the chief of Henry County Police narrowly avoided hitting a school crossing guard one dark, rainy morning, he decided it was time to update the neon orange vests.
"I'm putting it in my budget," Chief Russell Abernathy said. "I know money's tight, but I am concerned about the safety of our officers and school guards."
Abernathy said he plans to budget for about 175 new vests to equip all police officers and county school crossing guards. The vests cost about $65 each.
"We're looking at a new type of traffic vest; it's a different color with higher visibility," he said. "It's not just a safety vest, it's high-visibility breakaway and it has reflectors."
The new color has been described as a fluorescent yellow-green. Although Dottie Cordobes, an art teacher at Pleasant Grove Elementary, said the orange vests are eye-catching, "it would probably be good for the public to see a new color" because they're so accustomed to the orange.
"If it's an intense, bright color it should be very eye-catching," said Cordobes, who worked in graphic design for 25 years prior to teaching. "That's why they use yellows and reds for road signs."
As for as the current vest color, Abernathy said he couldn't recall any serious injuries or accidents with officers due to poor visibility, but he had an incident where an officer was grazed by a motorist who didn't see him.
"The gentleman said he didn't see the officer standing there, and he clipped him with the car," Abernathy said.
Recently, the chief himself had an experience when he didn't see a school guard until he was almost upon him.
"It was (Ga. Highway) 155 at 7:15 in the morning and a light rain and there were other lights there, and I just couldn't see them," he said. "The vests get old and they dull out and ... you just cant see them."
Anna Bost, a crossing guard for five years, said she experienced a similar incident in November 2003.
"A car brushed my pants," she said. "They got really close."
Bost, who is stationed outside of Pate's Creek Elementary on Jodeco Road, said she's had about five close calls in five years.
"This school is happening in the morning," she said. "The traffic is bad."
Some county officers have taken their own steps to heighten the visibility of the vests they have now, Abernathy said.
"Some crossing guards and officers have improvised themselves by adding reflectors," he said.
Bost, who stands just over 5 feet tall, said she uses glow-sticks while on duty from 7:20 to 8 a.m.
"At 7:30 in the morning, no one can see you," she said. "My regulars drive with caution but some (motorists) fly by at 50 mph."
Loretta Swofford, who has served as a crossing guard for 17 years at Clayton and Henry county schools, said she's never had a problem with her orange vest, although she wore a blue and green vest while in Clayton County.
However, Swofford, who is stationed at Eagle's Landing Middle School on Tunis Road, said switching to a brighter color was a good idea.
"Some drivers say they don't see you, but you know they do," she said with a laugh.
Jeffrey Whitaker, a crossing guard near Wesley Lakes Elementary and Henry County High School, currently wears a yellow vest and said he hasn't had any incidents with drivers not seeing him since he started six months ago.