Family, county officials speak out about pedestrian deaths in the county

Friends and family held a candlelight vigil for 18-year-old Robert Brand who was struck and killed while crossing Tara Boulevard and North Avenue in May. (Special Photo)

JONESBORO — A local mother is reeling from the sudden loss of her 18-year-old son who was struck and killed while he was crossing Tara Boulevard.

Robert Brand of Forest Park was killed around 4:30 a.m. May 1 by a woman driving a 2015 Dodge Durango at the intersection of Tara Boulevard and North Avenue. Brand later died in the hospital.

The driver told police she “struck something,” while she was traveling north and her traffic light was green, the accident report states.

She told police she activated her hazard lights and tried to pull into a nearby business, but her SUV would not move. When she got out to investigate, she made the grizzly discovery she had struck and dragged the young man.

The Clayton County Police Department’s Specialized Traffic Accident Reconstruction team’s investigation concluded Brand was not using a crosswalk and was walking several feet away from the crosswalk.

Brand’s mother, Vanessa Smith of Forest Park and her daughter Whitney Bradshaw of Stockbridge, spoke to Clayton News about the incident.

Smith said her son was walking from a friend’s house to the QuikTrip located at the intersection of the accident.

“I never thought I’d wake up one day and have the police come and tell me this,” Smith said. “He was the reason that I woke up and went to work every day.”

Smith and Bradshaw said the accident left them with a lot of questions.

“I’m not happy about anything — that lady hit my child and dragged him up the street,” Smith said. “He was a good kid — everybody loved him.”

Smith said she didn’t see how the driver didn’t see her son. Brand was 6 feet, 2 inches tall and around 150 pounds, and he was wearing a red shirt.

“We just don’t understand how he didn’t see her and she didn’t see him,” Bradshaw said.

Smith asked police why they didn’t do a drug or alcohol test of the driver or check if she was on her cellphone.

“They kept saying there wasn’t any probable cause,” Smith said.

Bradshaw said she wished they would’ve done more.

“We just don’t want this to happen to any more families,” she said.

The Clayton County Police Department has responded to at least 200 pedestrian vehicle accidents since 2015, Capt. Angelo Daniel said.

At least 15 of those accidents in Clayton County were fatal, according to the Georgia Department of Transportation. In the past 18 months, there were around 2,930 pedestrian accidents in the state of Georgia, according to the Georgia Department of Transportation.

In many cases, the accidents result in serious injury and death for the pedestrian.

Clayton County Police Department officials said they are addressing the safety issue in several different ways.

“What we are trying to do is be proactive,” said Clayton County Police Chief Michael Register.

The first is bringing awareness through social media, and the second is through issuing traffic citations to pedestrians who jaywalk and those who commit red light infractions.

“It’s for their own good,” Register said.

Register said the department’s STAR team looks at the totality of the situation and all the evidence at the scene to make a decision of who is at fault.

A lot of incidents occur because all parties involved are distracted because of their cellphones, pedestrians are not using crosswalks or the lack of reflective attire at night, Register said.

“We need moms, dads, teachers and everyone to discuss these dangers,” Register said.

Furthermore, Register did not advise pedestrians to take routes that don’t have sidewalks.

“Use the bus or any other transportation,” he said. “If there are no sidewalks, then stay as far away as possible from the traffic.”

Clayton County Chairman Jeffrey Turner said he is concerned with the number of deaths in the county.

Turner said he asked the Department of Transportation a couple of months ago to look at the lighting situation on Tara Boulevard after residents apparently brought the issue to his attention.

“It’s dark on various parts of the road and gets darker near the justice center,” Turner said.

Additionally, Turner emphasized the importance of educating people on how to safely cross streets.

“If we lose one pedestrian that is plenty – we definitely need to see what more we can do,” he said.

In the first five months of 2016, at least four pedestrians have died while crossing divided highways in Clayton County.

There were two pedestrian deaths in January. In one instance, a man was struck and killed at 1:30 p.m. Jan. 16 while crossing Ga. Highway 85 near its Commerce Boulevard intersection. Just a few days earlier, a pedestrian was hit and killed at the intersection of Tara Boulevard and Poston Road during rush hour.

In April, another pedestrian was struck by a vehicle on Tara Boulevard just north of Ga. Highway 138. He later died in the hospital around midnight.

Jonesboro Mayor Joy Day said there have been several projects in the city in the last few years that have added sidewalks on Fayetteville Road and North Avenue.

“We are making our city more friendly for walkers,” Day said.

Day said pedestrians walking on the north-end of Tara Boulevard has been a safety concern.

“It’s been a concern with cars going at high speeds, and there isn’t a good spot for pedestrians to walk,” she said. “We need more places for citizens to walk on Flint River Road — we need some work done there — outside of the city.”

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