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Pols Call for Safety Measures, Enforcement Near Where Boy Was Killed

By Jeff Mays | March 4, 2013 3:11pm | Updated on March 4, 2013 4:27pm

HARLEM — Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer called for tougher traffic enforcement and signage Monday after a 6-year-old boy was killed by a tractor trailer on his way to school in East Harlem last week.

Amar Diarrassouba was struck by the massive truck Thursday morning as he walked to school with his older brother. 

Standing in front of P.S. 155 William Pacca, where Amar was a student, Stringer said three of the five incidents where young pedestrians under the age of 15 have been killed in Manhattan from 2009 to 2011 occurred within seven blocks of the school.

He added that East Harlem also has only two of Manhattan's 145 "pedestrian interval signals," which give people a chance to begin crossing the street before giving cars the green light to turn.

"We don't want any more studies," said Stringer, who was joined by local elected officials, including Assemblymen Robert Rodriguez and City Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito. "We want action."

He said the Department of Transportation should work to make the zone safer for pedestrians.

"It's time for the DOT to take action," Stringer added.

The DOT disputed many of Stringer's accusations. DOT spokesman Seth Solomonow said in a statement that there have been no fatalities on East 117th Street and First Avenue in the last decade.

In the last two years, Solomonow says there was only child pedestrian fatality in all of Manhattan. DOT officials also claim that staff from their safety education office had reached out to P.S. 155 before the incident to develop safety strategies for school children.

"From last year’s safety redesign of Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard to school safety projects, to simplifying the entrance to Harlem River Park, Harlem has seen some of the most extensive and innovative safety changes ever brought to New York City’s streets," Solomonow said in a statement.

"This ceaseless commitment will continue this year with a community-supported bus lane, pedestrian refuge islands and a protected bike path on First Avenue straight through East Harlem, and we will continue to push for speed cameras to make our streets and our schoolchildren even safer," he said.

Amar was walking a few steps ahead of his 10-year-old brother just before 8 a.m. that day when the tractor trailer made a right turn from East 117th Street onto First Avenue, slamming into the boy. Witnesses said the boy was left bleeding on the ground as his older brother stood over him crying.

The driver continued on, unaware he had struck the boy, until he was flagged down by passersby. He remained at the scene and was issued traffic citations for failure to yield.

Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly last week said crossing guard Flavia Roman, 55, was not at her post at the intersection when the accident occurred, despite telling her the police precinct she was there at 7:30 a.m.

Roman was suspended without pay and faces disciplinary charges, but will likely not face criminal charges, Kelly said.

She was well known and well-regarded in the neighborhood and had no disciplinary history, he added.

"She has a very good history. She has been on the job for 10 years and she worked on that post, in essence, for 10 years," Kelly said of Roman last week. "She was very well received by the community."

No one answered the door at Roman's door apartment Monday.

Amar was described as a smart boy who attended weekend classes at the al-Aqsa mosque on Eighth Avenue, near West 116th Street, relatives said. The imam there said Amar loved to read the Koran.

Diarrassouba's father said he did not blame the crossing guard for his son's death.

"I don't blame her," Sidiki Diarrassouba said at the family's apartment of Roman last week. "She knew my kid. She loved my kid."

Stringer, meanwhile, said the truck should not have been on turning onto First Avenue from the narrow East 117th Street because it is not a truck route.

"What's outrageous to us is maybe this accident could have been prevented if the truck driver was not on this street," Stringer said.

With the death of two expectant parents and their baby in Williamsburg this weekend, Stringer said the DOT should put together a "citywide response."

Mark-Viverito said the DOT might want to consult with the police to determine if more than one crossing guard is needed on busy intersections like those along First Avenue.

Rodriguez said all stakeholders, especially the city, has to chip in to prevent another tragedy.

"We have to do more," he said. "As a community we are asking for the city to do more."