Originally created 08/30/96

Drivers ignoring school crossings Web-posted August 29, 1996



Richmond County's school crossing guards can produce a near-accident almost on command.

"Watch this," says Marie Noble, a crossing guard for eight years.

Ms. Noble steps into the middle of Tobacco Road Thursday afternoon, stopping traffic in both directions so a school bus can turn left onto Hiers Boulevard. As soon as the bus begins its turn, a metallic blue pickup truck behind it skirts around and shoots through the intersection. Ms. Noble's whistle screeches as the truck passes less than two feet from her.

"See?" she says once safely back on her curb. "They'll stop and when I turn my head to look this way to see if it's clear, they'll go on through."

Ask a crossing guard how well drivers obey the traffic laws through school zones and the likely answer is "See?"

"As long as a policeman comes by, they're fine. But as soon as the policeman is gone, they're back (to speeding)," says Vallie Gray, a crossing guard for 16 years at T. Harry Garrett Elementary School.

Right as she says this, a car whizzes past the school on Eisenhower Drive, clearly going above the 25 mph limit. "See that...," Ms. Gray points. Immediately, three more cars zip past, going at least 45 mph. "See...see...see," she points at each. "You don't have to stand here very long."

While not a new trend, the fact that Augusta drivers speed through school zones as if being chased - or treat crossing guards as if invisible - creates near-daily doses of dodging cars and near-panic for guards, even when they're not shepherding children across streets, they say.

"I said stop!" crossing guard Anna Kirksey hollers at a cream-colored compact car trying to turn right onto Boy Scout Road despite her hand-held stop sign. Another car inches over the white crosswalk line toward Ms. Kirksey, who slaps the hood and orders the driver to back up.

"You see what I'm saying?" Ms. Kirksey says once back on the Ingleside Drive curb. "I'm so scared out here."

Precedent gives her a good reason for that fear.

In January, crossing guard Sarah Whitaker was struck by a car turning onto Ingleside from Boy Scout Road - the very spot Ms. Kirksey now guards. Ms. Whitaker pushed a 9-year-old boy out of the car's path before it hit her.

"This is the worst area I ever had," Ms. Kirksey says, gesturing toward her intersection. She once crossed children at Tobacco Road and Morgan Road - two of Augusta's busiest intersections - so her criticism of the Boy Scout at Ingleside intersection is severe.

The guards cannot ticket misbehaving motorists, but are allowed to give license tag numbers to Richmond County Sheriff's Department deputies, who can issue fines from $50 to $375.

But first they have to be able to see the tags flying past.

Impossible for Dora Prince, a crossing guard for four years, as she tried to slow a tractor-trailer traveling at least 45 mph in a 20 mph zone on 15th Street in front of Levi White Elementary School.

"Slow that truck down!" she bellows, as does a Levi White teacher across the street. The driver gives a half-wave with his arm and applies his brakes.

"He couldn't have stopped if he wanted to, if some child was out here," Ms. Prince says.