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Schoolchildren may not be safe on safety crosswalks

Crossing guard John Newsome has a fatherly attitude about his job.

"These are my kids," he says protectively of the Hawthorne Elementary School children he shepherds safely across the intersection of 1700 South and 700 East.These days Newsome's job, and those of crossing guards at more than 100 locations across the city, is complicated by increased traffic from motorists forced off their normal driving routes by I-15 reconstruction.

In many cases, the I-15 proj- ect has turned residential streets into freewaylike thoroughfares, said Brad Baxter, manager of Salt Lake City's Business District Services Office, which oversees school crosswalks.

Baxter estimates traffic has increased by about 15 percent but adds that the increased safety risk to children, crossing guards and other pedestrians is immeasurable.

Wednesday's funeral for 14-year-old Robbie Knowlden is proof of that risk. Knowlden died Oct. 9, nearly two weeks after being hit by a car while crossing State in South Salt Lake. His friend Sharry Young, also 14, was killed at the scene. The children were struck in a crosswalk while crossing the street at night.

Another elementary school child was injured Thursday morning near North Temple and 1900 West while walking to school. Miguel Fajardo, 9, was flown to Primary Children's Medical Center as a precaution and was listed in good condition Thursday morning with a broken leg and maybe a broken nose.

Fajardo was en route to school with his two brothers, ages 8 and 7, said Salt Lake Police Lt. Arthur Healey. About 6:50 a.m., the boys stopped at 1900 West and North Temple, where they waited to cross from south to north.

An eastbound motorist was traveling through the intersection and told police he saw the boys on the corner. As the car passed through the intersection, the light turned yellow and the 9-year-old darted into the street, Healey said.

"The pedestrian was watching the traffic light," Healey said. "The other two boys were watching the traffic."

Police believe the car that hit Fajardo was traveling under the 40 mph speed limit. No citations were issued, and the driver's name was not available at press time.

"How many children have to die?" asks Jan Haug, a Salt Lake parent of three, who said she has seen a significant increase in the amount of traffic near her children's school this year. "Unless people begin to care enough for other people, they won't slow down."

But getting motorists to slow down and educating them about public safety is no easy task. And the sometimes daily changes in road closures or detours can prove frustrating for motorists and traffic officials, who try hard to predict just where the traffic might go.

"Today it might be 2100 East, but next week it might be Foothill Boulevard," Baxter said.

To keep up with changing traffic patterns, Baxter's department has been scheduling extra crossing guards and using the city traffic citation department for backup. Two weeks ago, a valley-wide safety summit was held in an effort to standardize crosswalk guard procedures.

"The idea is to standardize what motorists see, so they know what to expect," Baxter said.

Newsome, a five-year crossing guard veteran, is thinking of organizing a petition to take before judges that would ask for tougher penalties for those caught speeding in 20 mph school zones.

Mostly, Newsome wants motorists to think before they press down on the accelerator pedal.

"It might be your kid out there," he said. "But people don't think like that."