The DNAinfo archives brought to you by WNYC.
Read the press release here.

Classmate of Park Slope Boy Killed by Van Pleads with Drivers to Slow Down

By Leslie Albrecht | October 17, 2013 8:51am
 The death of Sammy Cohen-Eckstein on Prospect Park West has prompted calls for a red light camera and increased enforcement of speeding.
Death of 12-Year-Old Prompts Call for Red Light Camera
View Full Caption

PARK SLOPE — When 13-year-old Alison Collard de Beaufort found out that one of her classmates had been hit by a car and killed last week, she spent the day in tears along with many of her fellow students at M.S. 51.

"Everybody was in shock," Collard de Beaufort said. "We didn't do anything for the whole day. There was a lot of crying and hugging."

Her classmate Sammy Cohen-Eckstein, 12, died Oct. 8 after he was hit by van on Prospect Park West and Third Street. The tragedy horrified family-centric Park Slope. Some pointed fingers in online comments, blaming bike lanes, the driver of the van, the police and even Cohen-Eckstein himself.

But Collard de Beaufort took concrete action.

The eighth-grader, who had a class with Sammy and lives two doors down from the Cohen-Ecksteins on Prospect Park West, decided that drivers on the busy straightaway needed a stark reminder that Park Slope is teeming with kids.

To make her point, she went to Ikea, bought 40 teddy bears, and spent the next two days tying them to lampposts and street signs along Prospect Park West. Now they line the busy boulevard, looking down on drivers whizzing past.

Collard de Beaufort is hoping people who see the stuffed animals will think of children, and press their foot on the brake as they cruise down the street, which kids routinely cross on their way to and from Prospect Park.

"I don't want anybody else getting hurt," Collard de Beaufort said. "I don't want to lose any more friends."

The teenager wasn't the only one moved to take action in the wake of the tragedy.

Valerie Zilbersher, a Park Slope mom who witnessed the accident, sat down the next morning to write a plea to Community Board 6 and City Councilman Brad Lander. She asked for a host of changes, including stop signs in bike lanes and a slow zone at the park entrances at Third Street and Ninth Street.

Zilbersher said the accident also left her extremely worried about how the proposed expansion of New York Methodist Hospital will affect neighborhood traffic. She wants an independent traffic study to measure how the enlarged facility will impact the flow of cars.

Though police said Sammy chased a soccer ball into street, others said he tripped and fell on his soccer cleats. Zilbersher said from her vantage point, it seemed that Sammy didn't slip, and was confident he had enough time to grab the ball — she faults the intersection.

"He did not just willy-nilly run into the street," Zilbersher said. "I'm convinced he thought he had the light. There are inherent problems with that intersection and it wasn’t his fault. There are things that could be done to avoid this happening again."

She observed the intersection after the accident and noticed there's no pause between when the light turns green on Prospect Park West and red for Third Street, and no countdown clock showing pedestrians how much time they have left to cross. Had there been, Zilbersher thinks Cohen-Eckstein might have survived.

Local politicians are also weighing in. State Assemblyman Jim Brennan has called on the Department of Transportation to install a red light camera at the intersection and add more time to signals there.

A DOT spokesman said the agency hasn't yet received Brennan's letter, but will review his request. While police did not say speed was a factor in the accident, spokesman Nicholas Mosquera noted that speed is the No. 1 cause of traffic fatalities, and that DOT is "working around the clock" to cut speeding by installing speed cameras and creating neighborhood slow zones.

Though Brennan called the intersection "notorious" for being "treacherous for pedestrians," DOT data show there have been no pedestrian injuries there in the last five years.

Now there's a handmade memorial to Cohen-Eckstein at the spot. On Wednesday afternoon, a stream of parents stopped there, pointed at the pile of bouquets and handwritten R.I.P. messages, and warned their children to stay close.

"This is a really tight-knit community," Collard de Beaufort said. "Even if you didn't know him, you felt like you lost a friend, a child, a sibling."