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ISU students make their case for urgency on pedestrian safety improvements

Candace Martell (left) and Hope Rasmussen (center) are advocating for better pedestrian safety measures to be taken in Normal after their roommate and friend Danielle Fairchild (right) was killed in a vehicle versus pedestrian collision during the fall 2021 semester.
Courtesy
Candace Martell, left, and Hope Rasmussen, center, are advocating for better pedestrian safety measures to be taken in Normal after their roommate and friend, Danielle Fairchild, right, was killed when she was struck and killed by a vehicle during the fall 2021 semester.

On the evening of Nov. 29, 2021, Illinois State University graduate student Danielle Fairchild was on her way to class when she was struck by a car. Fairchild’s roommates, Candace Martell and Hope Rasmussen, were with her.

Rasmussen said she and Martell witnessed a car speed up and hit Fairchild right in front of them on the crosswalk.

“It hit Danielle right in front of me. I saw everything. She flew in the air about 15 feet. The car didn’t stop. It just kept going. So, I ran right to her, and then I started holding her, and it was obvious she wasn’t doing well. She was mumbling and trying to get up,” Rasmussen said.

Fairchild was immediately taken to the hospital that Monday night, and she passed away the next day surrounded by her roommates and family.

“This was probably the hardest, the worst day, because they told us that she was brain dead on the ventilator. We had to spend that whole day talking to her and saying our last words to her,” Rasmussen said.

Martell said to this day, she cherishes the final moments that she and Rasmussen had with Fairchild before the accident when the three were on their way to class together after Thanksgiving break, something the three of them normally would not do.

“We had a lot that we were catching up on and a lot that we were talking about in the car ride together. I remember telling them just how much I missed them over the Thanksgiving break because that’s how much of a bond that we all shared,” Martell said.

“The hospital was the worst day of my life, and it was just very challenging to watch her parents go through all of that trauma, and I think it’s good to know that they are very receptive to what we’re doing and what we’re trying to petition for.”
Candace Martell, Danielle Fairchild's roommate

Just like Rasmussen, Martell said witnessing the accident and having to say goodbye to Fairchild was a traumatic experience.

“The hospital was the worst day of my life, and it was just very challenging to watch her parents go through all of that trauma, and I think it’s good to know that they are very receptive to what we’re doing and what we’re trying to petition for,” Martell said.

After the accident and Fairchild’s passing, Martell and Rasmussen said no changes made made them to feel safe at the crosswalk.

Rasmussen said her friend is more than a pedestrian death statistic.

“We’re students there that were witnessing our roommate pass away right in front of our eyes, crossing this cross walk,” Rasmussen said.

Lobbying for change

Rasmussen said she wants the Town of Normal to act with urgency because even almost five months later, crossing that crosswalk means reliving the experience almost daily.

“It was really hard to do at first, just even crossing that or taking a step out. It’s gotten better, but I still find myself, like I have to run. I have to run because there’s cars coming. So, I just want them to acknowledge that there needs to be a change and it should be done as soon as possible because we are still living in a tragedy every single day back and forth from class,” Rasmussen said.

Martell said the trauma weighs on her, too.

“It’s brought on constant trauma, and it replays. I don’t know for the other students, but I did have another student reach out to me who was also there at the accident. Though they didn’t know Danielle, they said that it’s hard for them to leave their apartment. They are struck with trauma because of what happened,” Martell said.

Martell continued, “A lot of us had to seek therapy and counseling because of it, and it’s just a very post-traumatic stress situation, and it’s not something that one should ever have to experience in a town full of younger people. You would think they would have more precautions.”

Martell and Rasmussen, along with another friend of Fairchild, Kelley Herman, started a safety petition to push for changes at the location where Fairchild was killed — at College and Kingsley — including a solar-powered pedestrian crossing signal. More than 1.300 people have signed the online petition.

Herman said she wanted to do her part in spreading the message and creating change.

After loosing classmate and friend Danielle Fairchild in a vehicle versus pedestrian collision on a crosswalk outside of Turner Hall, Kelley Herman had the idea of creating a safety petition advocating for a solar powered flashing pedestrian crossing light and other short-term safety measures on campus. Herman partnered with Fairchild's former roommates to spread the message that pedestrian safety needs to be a higher priority.
After loosing classmate and friend Danielle Fairchild in a vehicle versus pedestrian collision on a crosswalk outside of Turner Hall, Kelley Herman (above) had the idea of creating a safety petition advocating for a solar powered flashing pedestrian crossing light and other short-term safety measures on campus. Herman partnered with Fairchild's former roommates to spread the message that pedestrian safety needs to be a higher priority.

“This isn’t an issue that started last semester. That crosswalk hasn’t been safe for a long time. So, I think it’s overdue that we get change for it. Even if it isn’t the specific change of the flashing pedestrian light that was in the petition. We just wanted to show that there was support in the community for a change in general,” Herman said.

The petition is focused on short-term changes that will allow students to feel safer when crossing areas like the College and Kingsley intersection on campus.

Freshman political science major Jimmy Holmes spoke at the town council meeting on April 4 saying the crosswalk near College and Kingsley is not the only spot that needs immediate attention.

Holmes said he has witnessed people almost get hit when crossing College Avenue to go from the Hewitt-Manchester dorms to nearby campus buildings.

“You’ll see cars that just don’t slow down at all. The people have to run across the street because they’re about to get hit by a car. It’s just a product of a poorly designed intersection, in my opinion,” Holmes said.

Holmes said witnessing this and having been a student when Fairchild was killed makes campus feel more unsafe.

While many people do jaywalk in the area and walk on the crosswalk when the light says cars have the right of way, Holmes said the main focus is not the problem of jaywalking.

“The issue is that the intersection is designed in such a way that when you’re crossing the street, you can’t see the cars. You can’t see them if they were to blow the red light. You wouldn’t be able to see them because you just have to trust that they are going to stop, and so the intersection is inherently favorable to cars and not the pedestrians,” Holmes said.

Like Martell, Rasmussen and Herman, Holmes also is advocating for short-term changes to temporarily address the danger.

Holmes suggested the town also consider lengthening the amount of time people have on the crosswalk during business days, for example.

“My issue is mostly with that intersection and pedestrian safety, but you do have a lot of roads that just go through campus in general, which is kind of abnormal for a university to have roads through the center of campus and divide areas and stuff like that. You can’t get rid of it, so it’s kind of a product of the design of campus,” Holmes said.

Ryan Otto is the director of public works and engineering for Town of Normal. He said since November, addressing how to handle pedestrian, bicycle and vehicle safety has become more urgent.

“Concerns range from bicycles traveling the wrong way down streets and pedestrians and car interactions. There’s really a lot of different concerns that have been expressed, and the town treats safety as a priority, and we want to make sure we are addressing things that can be addressed as well as getting tools and information out to people,” Otto said.

Otto said the town is aware of the petition asking for the flashing pedestrian crosswalk sign on College and Kingsley Avenue, adding the entire area needs work.

“My issue is mostly with that intersection and pedestrian safety, but you do have a lot of roads that just go through campus in general, which is kind of abnormal for a university to have roads through the center of campus and divide areas and stuff like that. You can’t get rid of it, so it’s kind of a product of the design of campus.”
Jimmy Holmes, freshman political science student

“Some of the complicating factors of that particular intersection is there are curves, there’s a bus stop. The intersection itself is not truly what we call a mid-block crossing where there’s no other intersections, and then the proximity to Main Street,” Otto said.

Otto said the Town of Normal is partnering with ISU to look at intersection safety and education on a campus-wide level.

“We feel like it’s something that is appropriate to look at not just the treatments we use at our crossings but also what kind of education could we do for both drivers and pedestrians to try to make everyone aware of the safety and make it a priority for everybody,” Otto said.

Former old sodium high pressure lights that produced a yellowish color were replaced this spring on College and Kingsley avenue near the crosswalk where Fairchild was hit.

But Martell, Rasmussen and Herman said this was not enough, and the new lights only help to an extent during nighttime.

Rasmussen said when speaking with the Town of Normal, they were focused on completing a traffic study to determine what is needed based off statistics. But what she wants to see the town and ISU prioritize are short-term changes, such as a speedometer or blinking light for example.

Herman said putting in a new traffic light or an underpass — some examples of long-term changes being discussed by the Town of Normal — requires time and money, and that is not the current focus.

“They were saying they need statistics to get it, which I understand, but also as a student who is crossing the crosswalk now in addition to the study being done and the long-term changes going into motion, we need a shorter-term change that’s going to help us now,” Herman said.

(From left) Candace Martell, Danielle Fairchild and Hope Rasmussen were all roommates until Fairchild's death in December 2021. Her friends said to this day, they want to remember Fairchild in a positive light and raise awareness of the need for stronger pedestrian safety measures near ISU's campus.
Courtesy
(From left) Candace Martell, Danielle Fairchild and Hope Rasmussen were all roommates until Fairchild's death in 2021. Her friends said to this day, they want to remember Fairchild in a positive light and raise awareness of the need for stronger pedestrian safety measures near ISU's campus.

Another message Fairchild’s friends want to share with everyone is to report any possible dangers people see while using crosswalks and traveling near heavy-traffic roads to the Town of Normal and ISU.

“Even if it feels like it’s not a huge deal to report, if they even felt in the slightest unsafe, please find someone to report that to. I think the awareness of who to report to is very open ended, and people don’t know. So, without that, they were saying at the meeting it’s hard to form something long term if they don’t have the data,” Martell said.

The goal for Martell, Rasmussen and Herman is not only to prevent more accidents from happening, but to remember their friend Danielle Fairchild in a positive light.

“Through a tragedy, there can still be light. There can still be hope, and we are going to make a change from this, so that Danielle’s memory is a legacy instead of something that ends,” Rasmussen said.

Rasmussen and Martell described Fairchild as a "soul-sister" and a "motivated and determined person."

“She really wanted to inspire people and change lives. Especially through nutrition, through culinary art therapy. She was an amazing friend. She was always there for Candace and I whenever we needed her. (She) was an amazing person,” Rasmussen said.

Jordan Mead is a reporting intern at WGLT. She joined the station in 2021.
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