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Hackensack Daily Voice serves Hackensack, Maywood, Rochelle Park & South Hackensack

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DV Pilot police & fire

Fort Lee pedestrian safety plan wrong, victim’s family says

Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot File Photo

A VICTIM’S FAMILY WRITES: My uncle, Gerard “Jerry” DeAngelis, a 10-year resident of the Malcolm Towers in Fort Lee, was hit by a car on January 12, 2013 while crossing Anderson Avenue on his way to mass at the Church of the Madonna.

Jerry ( above ) died from his injuries at Hackensack Medical Center several hours later.

The woman driving the car that hit him told investigators she never saw him, and the evidence at the scene corroborates her account. The only witnesses to the accident were traveling 3-4 car lengths behind the driver and saw him clearly before he was struck.

In fact, the witnesses stated that they observed him walking “from the west curb line towards the east curb line, crossing the skip line, and walking into the left lane and the path of the vehicle,” as reported in the NJ Police Crash Investigation Report completed by investigators from the Fort Lee Police Department.

The accident report also indicates that the driver failed to yield the right of way to Jerry and she was later issued a summons for careless driving.

The report leaves many unanswered questions, however, as to the cause of the accident, not least of which is why the driver failed to see him. The report indicates the driver’s physical status was “apparently normal” but does not indicate whether the driver was distracted or speeding at the time of the accident.

We believe it is incumbent upon the prosecutor representing “The People” to determine the true cause of this accident.  We believe a reasonable person reviewing the evidence presented in the Crash Investigation Report will conclude that the driver was distracted. We are seeking an honest and transparent account of what happened that day and so far we have been disappointed.

We saw the recent news that Fort Lee is launching yet another pedestrian safety campaign aimed at reducing the number of accidents involving pedestrians. We applaud your recognition of the problem and concern for Fort Lee’s residents, but feel your proposed solutions are inadequate, misguided, and ineffective.

The new “Be Seen, Be Safe” campaign follows a previous campaign launched in March 2012 by former Police Chief Thomas Ripoli. At the time, Chief Ripoli stated that he was “instructing his officers in the coming weeks to focus not only on the motorists, but also on the pedestrians for enforcement of traffic laws, more specifically J-Walking.”

He stated that pedestrians should resist using their cell phones while crossing the street, yet failed to admonish motorists for doing the same.

Now, twelve months after the last campaign, the town is embarking on another effort which appears to be similarly focused on pedestrians and how they can make themselves safer. Why is another campaign necessary so soon after the last one and why is there no mention of the large number of distracted drivers, which according to Fort Lee residents is a major contributor to the high volume of accidents on the town’s streets?

Statistics show that Fort Lee averages more than one pedestrian accident per week with the incidence rate relatively steady over the past few years. Twelve pedestrians have been struck in the first two months of 2013, on pace to surpass last year’s annual figure of 68 pedestrians hit.

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RELATED STORY: With the numbers of Fort Lee pedestrians struck by vehicles mounting, Fort Lee police today launched an official town-wide enforcement campaign targeting drivers who don’t yield and those who don’t cross the street where they should. READ MORE….

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We all agree that pedestrians need to do their part and are often to blame in these accidents, but focusing your campaign almost exclusively on the pedestrians, while ignoring the issue of distracted and reckless driving, is both short-sighted and naïve.

We are not interested in publicity stunts and public relations campaigns. As Jerry’s family, our motivation is to see fewer families suffer the way we have.

We believe your campaign needs to be better researched and more comprehensive. We suggest you look at a number of methods to improve pedestrian safety, but most importantly, Fort Lee needs a significantly stepped up police presence.

Many residents express frustration that the town’s streets are unsafe and point to the lack of law enforcement presence and effective action as a major cause. The consensus seems to be that drivers in Fort Lee violate traffic laws with impunity. Research shows that a greater police presence will be the most effective means for gaining voluntary compliance with traffic laws – far more effective than handing out ice scrapers and florescent umbrellas.

Clearly, education initiatives are important but all safety campaigns must be accompanied by strict law enforcement measures and an acknowledgment of the increasing numbers of distracted drivers contributing to these accidents. T

he fact that the National Safety Council has designated April as National Distracted Driving Awareness Month certainly warrants more attention to this issue. Distracted driving is a huge problem everywhere and your campaign needs to address this growing epidemic head on.

According to a federal study, in 2010 nearly one in five car accidents in which someone was injured involved distracted driving (based on a report issued by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration).

An effective pedestrian safety campaign should begin with a realistic assessment of the root causes of these accidents. A zero tolerance policy for motorists who put themselves, other motorists, and pedestrians at risk would go a long way toward reducing the number of accidents in Fort Lee.

Are you and the police chief of Fort Lee aware of the research being conducted at the federal and state level regarding distracted driving and what these agencies advocate be done by various parties including law enforcement and the public – both motorists and pedestrians?

In 2011, the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) released “Distracted Driving: What Research Shows and What States Can Do.” This report summarizes what distracted driving is, how often drivers are distracted, how distraction impacts driver performance and what countermeasures may be most effective, as well as what states can do to reduce incidences of distracted driving. We suggest you consider incorporating some of their suggestions in your safety campaign.

We await your reply.


Mark DeAngelis for
The DeAngelis Family

(The letter above was sent today to Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich)

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