SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

February 13, 2013

Lowell Street light urged

Peabody: Meeting called to discuss safety after fatal accident outside church

By Alan Burke
Staff writer

---- — More than three dozen residents gathered at Peabody City Hall last night to consider what actions ought to be taken following last month’s fatal accident outside St. Adelaide Church in West Peabody.

Theodore Buttner, 87, of Somerville, who regularly attended the church with his family, was struck by a car as he crossed the street on the afternoon of Jan. 27. No charges have been leveled against the driver who hit him, Richard Franco, 84, of Peabody.

A state police investigation is still pending, according to Peabody police Capt. John DeRosa.

“We are heartbroken to have lost someone so gentle, a loving man who always had his arms extended to others,” Patricia Caton, Buttner’s daughter, told the gathering. “He was full of life. And in good health.”

She thanked all those who tried to save her father’s life.

The meeting was called informally by a group of city councilors. It revolved around finding a way to make the crosswalk in front of the church on Lowell Street safer.

The Rev. David Lewis said he would produce a petition signed by a thousand people asking for a pedestrian light. He described Masses discharging as many as 400 parishioners at a time, with many heading for a second parking lot across the street.

“Something has to happen soon,” parishioner Tim Barry said. “Before we have another tragedy.” He also stressed enforcement. “People need to know if you’re going to drive down that road at a high speed, you’re going to get a ticket.”

But there also seemed agreement that any attempt at making the road safer would run into the problem of bad drivers.

DeRosa noted that the speed limit for the street varies from 25 to 35 mph. He conceded later that drivers habitually exceed the limit.

“That stretch of Lowell Street is very straight,” parishioner Angela Federico said, “and people do fly.”

“People are very impatient,” Ward Councilor Barry Sinewitz said.

If a light is installed, he worried, pedestrians will push the button and then ignore it, rushing across the street at the first break in the traffic.

“We have to be more concerned with distracted drivers,” resident Colleen Derrivan said, referencing the texting craze. “All our kids are addicted to it.”

She recalled seeing an elderly driver passing as he held a cellphone over the steering wheel and attempted to punch in a phone number.

Crossing at St. Adelaide’s, she said, “I myself have been nearly hit three times.” Finally, she pointed out that Buttner was hit as he crossed the road all by himself.

Former City Councilor Edward Quinn reviewed trying to get a pedestrian light installed during his tenure in the mid-1990s. This followed an accident where two people were hurt. But the effort to put in a light was stymied by the state, Quinn said.

Mayor Ted Bettencourt, a parishioner himself, replied, “I’m pretty confident that there’s some action we can take. We don’t have to wait for state approval. ... Something is going to happen here. I know Councilor Sinewitz is all over this.”

What should be done exactly, he said after the meeting, is yet to be determined.

Sinewitz told the group that he plans to place the problem before a City Council subcommittee at tomorrow’s meeting. “I think at this point it is going to take a little time. I know you don’t want to hear that.”

DeRosa pointed out that signage in the area has already been increased, police are more actively patrolling it, particularly during the times that people attend Mass. He said a trailer that cautions drivers electronically when their speed becomes excessive could be put there when the weather improves.

“It runs on solar power,” he said.

Also attending the meeting were Councilors Mike Garabedian, Tom Gould, Arthur Athas, Anne Manning-Martin and Barry Osborne.