Prayers for Sister Daisy and pedestrians everywhere

RI DOT knew the crosswalk was dangerous, but didn't plan to go out for bid for a flashing signal until next summer

Posted 11/16/23

Look both ways and say a Hail Mary.

Crossing the street in the Ocean State can be tricky, at best — and deadly, at worst.

Last week, a teacher (and nun) was seriously injured while …

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Prayers for Sister Daisy and pedestrians everywhere

RI DOT knew the crosswalk was dangerous, but didn't plan to go out for bid for a flashing signal until next summer


Look both ways and say a Hail Mary.

Crossing the street in the Ocean State can be tricky, at best — and deadly, at worst.

Last week, a teacher (and nun) was seriously injured while crossing Atwood Avenue in Johnston, inside a crosswalk, outside St. Rocco Church and School.

The Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) has confirmed that a flashing “pedestrian crossing signal” for the dangerous state road crossing has been in the works since last year, and was expected to go out to bid next summer.

That’s too late for Sister Daisy, but her pain may lead to safer crossings for students, staff and parishioners in the future.


Deadly Data

“Each year Rhode Island observes about 40,000 crashes,” according to RIDOT spokesman Charles St. Martin III. “Of that, about 1 percent, are crashes involving pedestrians.”

And Rhode Island’s roads are deadlier than ever.

“We are seeing a significant increase in traffic fatalities,” St. Martin wrote Tuesday. “At this same point in time last year, we had 44 traffic fatalities. This year, that number stands at a staggering 67. That’s higher than we were for all of last year and the highest we’ve seen since 2017.”

Ocean State residents don’t fare much better on-foot.

“Of the 67 (road fatalities), 9 have involved pedestrians,” St. Martin said. “At this same point in 2022, we observed 7 pedestrian fatalities.”

Pedestrian Struck

Despite the vibrant crosswalk and pedestrian street sign, crossing Atwood Avenue outside St. Rocco Church can be dangerous. It’s one of many dangerous Ocean State road-crossings.

Last Tuesday, in the same Atwood Avenue crosswalk, Sister Daisy Kollamparampil was attempting to cross the street when a car stopped to let her pass.

“Sr. Daisy Kollamparampil is our Second Grade teacher,” said St. Rocco School Principal Regina M. Hand. “She is in her 10th year here. Her order is the Daughters of the Lady of the Garden.”

According to police, a vehicle traveling behind the stopped car collided with a law-abiding driver who stopped at the crosswalk, pushing the stopped SUV into Kollamparampil.

“(Tuesday) night around 6:40 p.m., members of the Johnston Police Department responded to a motor vehicle accident involving a struck pedestrian at 927 Atwood Ave.,” Johnston Police Chief Mark A. Vieira confirmed via email last Wednesday. “The pedestrian, a nun and teacher of St. Rocco’s Church/ School, was identified as Daisy Kollamparampil, age 55.”

St. Rocco’s main parking lot is across the busy state road (Route 5), requiring most guests of the school or church to cross the street at least twice each visit.

“Sister Daisy was crossing Atwood Avenue in the crosswalk located in front of the church,” according to Vieira. “A Nissan Rogue traveling north on Atwood Avenue stopped to allow Sister Daisy to cross the street. At that time, the stopped Nissan was rear-ended by a Dodge Durango subsequently pushing the Nissan forward which struck Sister Daisy.”

Kollamparampil suffered “serious injuries, however they were non-life-threatening and she was transported to RI Hospital by members of the Johnston Fire Department,” according to Vieira. “Impaired operation was not a factor and criminal charges were not filed as a result of the accident. The operator of the Durango was cited with multiple motor vehicle violations.”

Safer Crossings Possible?

Johnston Police are looking for ways to bolster safety at the St. Rocco crosswalk.

“Officers will be monitoring the area of this crosswalk, especially during times of heavy pedestrian traffic,” according to Vieira. “In addition, we are submitting a request to the State Traffic Commission to conduct a pedestrian safety review of the crosswalk. The installation of a pedestrian activated crosswalk signal equipped with a flashing beacon could enhance the visibility of the crosswalk and aid in alerting motorists.”

Around 8:50 a.m. Friday, prior to St. Rocco’s Veterans Day prayer service, traffic refused to stop for pedestrians waiting to cross. Several cars continued through the crosswalk until the traffic light finally stopped them.

This reporter waved to vehicles as they passed. Windows up on a cold morning, they exchanged one-fingered salutes and angry silent shouts from their driver’s seats. Four consecutive drivers paid no mind to the bright painted lines or the sign in the center of the road. Somehow, pedestrians seem to have lost their right of way on the roads of Rhode Island.

Johnston Mayor Joseph M. Polisena Jr. confirmed the JPD is on the case of securing public safety for pedestrians crossing Atwood Avenue to attend school and church.

“Chief Vieira is submitting a request to RIDOT for a study of pedestrian safety of the area with the specific intent of installing flashing signage for crossing pedestrians,” Polisena wrote via email last week. “He is also increasing police presence during times of high volume pedestrian traffic. We are hopeful RIDOT will immediately put it on the State Traffic Commission agenda for review and approval with a speedy installation thereafter. If it was a Town road I would have forgone the study and just ordered the signal already.”

State Pledges Acceleration

St. Martin responded to a request for comment and data on Tuesday morning.

“We are pleased to see Johnston Police increase traffic enforcement in this area,” St. Martin wrote.

RIDOT may be able to grease the wheel. They’ve long been aware of issues along Atwood Avenue.

“A flashing pedestrian crossing signal at that location was designed last year and part of a project going out to bid next summer — work that was underway prior to any requests by the town for a signal, and, unfortunately, prior to this tragic accident,” according to St. Martin. “RIDOT will work with its contractor to accelerate its installation.”

Despite stronger signaling, pedestrians are in danger if drivers are distracted.

“In this crash, a driver reacted to the controls in place and stopped for the pedestrian,” St. Martin explained. “Another driver unfortunately did not, and hit the car that stopped, pushing it into the crosswalk and hitting Sister Daisy. The presence of a flashing pedestrian signal would likely have not made a difference; the cause here appears to be inattentiveness on the part prior of the driver that caused the accident.”

RI’s Risky Roads

Rhode Island’s roads are notably less safe, according to recent data analysis by RIDOT and groups like the Governor’s Highway Safety Administration (GHSA).

Although, statistically, as far as pedestrian fatalities (as of 2021) Rhode Island had the nation’s second-best survival rate for foot-travelers.

For the latest year in which federal data was available, Rhode Island ranked No. 50 (second lowest of 50 states and the District of Columbia) in the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) 2021 Ranking of State Pedestrian Fatality Rates. The Ocean State’s seven 7 pedestrian fatalities in 2021 translated into a rate of 0.64 pedestrian fatalities for every 100,000 people.

However, according to a recent report by the GHSA, in 2022, nationwide, pedestrian fatalities have reached their highest level since 1981.

“During the past 11 years, federal data show that U.S. pedestrian fatalities increased from 4,302 in 2010 to an estimated 7,624 in 2021,” according to the report (Pedestrian Traffic Fatalities by State2022 Preliminary Data). “These fatalities represent nearly 18% of all traffic deaths in 2021, the highest annual proportion during this more than decade-long period.”

The GHSA has been tracking alarming trends in traffic fatalities.

“Between 2020 and 2021, pedestrian deaths increased 16%, while other traffic fatalities increased 10%,” according to the organization. “More alarmingly, since 2010, pedestrian deaths have gone up a shocking 77%, compared to a 25% increase in all other traffic fatalities.”

From 2019-2022, according to the GHSA report, Rhode Island reported 8 pedestrian fatalities in 2019 and 7 in both 2021 and 2022 (and 9 so far in 2023, according to RIDOT). But the number spiked to 17 fatalities in 2020.

Millions Spent on Improvements

Rhode Island’s traffic officials are aware of the trends.

“Statewide RIDOT reviews all crash data to determine where improvements are needed, and this included pedestrian safety initiatives,” according to St. Martin. “In the past 5 years, RIDOT has reviewed every crosswalk in the state without crossing signals to determine what improvements should be made. During the last five years, the Department spent about $8.5 million on improvements for pedestrians and in the next 10 years, we will spend another $26 million.”

On Friday, Nov. 10, following the annual Veterans Day prayer service at St. Rocco Church and School (and three days after Sister Daisy’s accident) a group of pedestrians walked into the Atwood Avenue crosswalk, an older man followed by two women and a small child.

A black SUV had already stopped, just outside the crosswalk, behind traffic backed up from the red light. The driver had two options — wait patiently or speed around traffic while pedestrians were in the crosswalk.

He made a decision. He was obviously in a hurry. His bumper came within about six feet of the closest pedestrian, who was already more than halfway across the closest lane of traffic (the incident was captured on video). Police were given the video and stills showing the driver and the vehicle’s registration plate.

On Tuesday morning, Johnston Police confirmed they would be issuing the driver a citation for failing to yield to pedestrians in the crosswalk based on the video evidence.


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