Wednesday, Nov. 21, 2007

Road crash victims remembered

A somber anniversary for Kensington and Garrett Park communities honoring memory of pedestrian fatality victims

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Laurie DeWitt⁄The Gazette
Temple Emanuel synagogue members gathered for a vigil for victims of pedestrian fatalities as part of Saturday’s World Day of Remembrance for Road Crash Victims and Their Families. The Kensington synagogue hosted the vigil in part to honor the memory of Karen Sphrintz-Grossman, a teacher at the synagogue’s religious school, who was struck and killed by a car one year ago while crossing Connecticut Avenue to attend a temple service in March.
Somber anniversaries were remembered in Garrett Park and Kensington, as two vigils honored the memory of victims of pedestrian fatalities in the past year.

On Nov. 13, Garrett Park residents and Tilden Middle School students gathered on Strathmore Avenue to remember Luke Carter-Schelp, a 12-year-old boy who was struck and killed by a minivan on Strathmore Avenue one year ago.

And on Sunday night, about 60 people came out to Temple Emanuel in Kensington to memorialize Karen Sphrintz-Grossman, who was struck and killed by a car while crossing Connecticut Avenue in March.

‘‘Life, and death rather, can come at you pretty hard,” said her husband, Shean Grossman. ‘‘We can’t bring Karen back, but we can avoid this in the future.”

Red heart safety lights flashed on lanyards worn by people behind Temple Emanuel on Sunday, which was World Day of Remembrance For Road Crash Victims and Their Families, an international memorial for those injured or killed in roadway accidents. The safety lights were distributed by volunteers from nearby churches.

Sphrintz-Grossman of Potomac died from injuries sustained after she was struck by a car, while crossing Connecticut Avenue at Dresden Street. She was a teacher at the Temple Emanuel religious school.

Residents familiar with the road say the incident highlights a longtime concern that people drive too fast on Connecticut Avenue.

‘‘She had a real love of life,” said Jessica Bernstein of Bethesda as she and her family huddled together during the chilly evening vigil. ‘‘She was a great teacher and always willing to help the kids and parents.”

Bernstein’s husband, Daniel Webster, said the traffic crashes are a growing problem in the county.

‘‘It seems the traffic is going very fast, far beyond the speed limit,” he said. ‘‘You have no time to respond to anything and we need to slow the traffic ... or get better lighting.”

County Executive Isiah Leggett attended Sunday’s vigil and said that more than 1.2 million people in the country are killed in roadway collisions each year.

According to Montgomery County police, 12 pedestrians have been struck and killed by cars this year, which is less than the 18 pedestrian fatalities in 2006. There were 419 car collisions involving other motorists and pedestrians in the county last year.

Leggett said it is one thing to look at the statistics of crashes and collisions, but ‘‘it is critically important that we remember the victims and their families,” he said.

The vigil was sponsored by Montgomery County and the Association for Safe International Road Travel, an organization dedicated to increasing traffic safety awareness and lobbying lawmakers to increase traffic safety.

The group was founded by Rochelle Sobel of Potomac, who lost her 25-year-old son Aron in a 1995 bus crash in Turkey that claimed 21 other lives.

She said that residents can lobby lawmakers to budget for better streetlights, crosswalks and sidewalks. She encouraged community groups to start safety awareness campaigns, vehicle manufacturers to make safer — not faster — cars and for young people to be aware that cars can become deadly weapons.

‘‘We must continue to work together each and every day ... so that at the end of the day, everyone’s loved ones return safely home,” she said.

Sunday’s vigil also took place on the one-year anniversary of Carter-Schelp’s funeral.

His father, Paul Schelp, said that the vigils had the potential to keep people focused on being safe, alert drivers.

He said road safety has increased noticeably with friends and family around Garrett Park, especially on Strathmore Avenue.

In March, the State Highway Administration installed a full traffic light at Kenilworth and Strathmore avenues, near the intersection where Carter-Schelp was struck. The intersection previously had flashing warning lights instead of the normal red-yellow-green traffic light.

‘‘I think there’s a much higher level of consciousness about safety, maybe hyper-consciousness, for really the whole community,” Schelp said. ‘‘Parents are on guard, the lights obviously are there [on Strathmore Avenue] and make that street a little safer.”

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Laurie DeWitt⁄The Gazette

Warren G. Stone, rabbi at Temple Emanuel in Kensington, delivers opening remarks at a vigil for World Day of Remembrance for Road Crash Victims and Their Families. Karen Sphrintz-Grossman, a synagogue member and teacher at its religious school, was struck and killed by a car while crossing Connecticut Avenue in front of the temple last year.

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