Mother of injured student calls for road safety improvements

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 21, 2004

LeeAnn Gerst believes her daughter might not be in a coma today if some government official had just listened.

Nansemond River High School student Christina Maupin was severely injured in an accident last Wednesday as she pulled out of the school lot onto the busy Nansemond Parkway, and collided with a flat-bed truck.

&uot;My daughter could have died and right now she is clinging to life, all because no one wanted to listen to the people,&uot; said Gerst. &uot;Local government officials need to start listening.&uot;

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But now, the Virginia Department of Transportation will install signs banning through truck traffic on Nansemond Parkway this week. Gerst recalled that there had been numerous petitions for traffic signals and improved safety initiatives for drivers on this stretch of roadway.

In the aftermath of the accident, there has been public criticism of the delayed improvements to Nansemond Parkway.

Meanwhile, &uot;We’re trying to move on this pretty quickly,&uot; said MacFarland Neblett, resident engineer in VDOT’s Suffolk office. &uot;This has been a rather sensitive issue with the city.&uot;

Nine months after the city’s request, the Commonwealth Transportation Board last Thursday approved the ban on trucks on Nansemond Parkway, between Wilroy Road and the Suffolk/Chesapeake city line, unless they have stops along that stretch of road.

The board’s action came just hours after 16-years-old Maupin, a cheerleader at Nansemond River High School, pulled out in front of a truck on her way home from cheering practice Wednesday night. Today, Maupin remains in critical condition in Sentara Norfolk General Hospital’s burn/trauma unit.

Typically, Neblett said, it takes VDOT about 30 days to have signs erected once the CTB approves a measure. But since Maupin’s accident, the agency is fast-tracking the project.

The accident has also triggered a second look at whether a traffic signal is needed outside the high school. Two years ago, VDOT determined that the traffic did not warrant a light at the entrance.

&uot;That’s being studied as we speak,&uot; Neblett said. &uot;The traffic engineering people are reviewing criteria – traffic count, traffic flow, running movements and peak hour traffic – and have been advised to make an assessment as quickly as possible.

&uot;I’m expecting an answer within a couple of weeks.&uot;

Tom McLemore, principal at Nansemond River, is hopeful the study will produce some sort of signal.

&uot;I would like to see anything that would help children and employees leave here safely at the end of the day,&uot; said McLemore.

Currently, a teacher trained by the Suffolk Police Department stops traffic on Nansemond Parkway long enough for buses to pull out safely.

Gerst, who flew in from Iowa, believes this accident particularly reiterates the need for a signal at the school.

&uot;Ever since the city began talking about putting that school there, parents were up in arms because Nansemond Parkway has always been trucker’s alley,&uot; said Gerst. &uot;I remember lots of petitions being circulated.&uot;

But despite what could have been done to prevent the accident in Gerst’s mind, her attention is focused her daughter’s recovery. She is particularly thankful for the support the family has received.

&uot;The family appreciates the outpouring of love and prayers received since Christina’s accident. With each 24 hours, her chances are getting better,&uot; she said. &uot;Right now, we’re playing a waiting game to see how much brain damage she has suffered.&uot;