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New traffic signal is cause for celebration

It's not every day a new traffic light is welcomed with a celebration.

But the signal now regulating traffic at a crosswalk on the 2300 block of South Park Avenue has special significance.

More than a year ago, Sarah Gregory lost her left leg there when an intoxicated motorist slammed into her as she returned from lunch to her job at Sorrento Cheese Co.

"The support of Sorrento and the community for both me and my recovery, and getting a light here on South Park Avenue, is an incredibly positive thing to come out of this tragedy," Gregory said Wednesday at the official activation of the light. "My daughter and husband have been immensely supportive, and they keep pushing me to get better every day."

When the accident occurred, her daughter, Annaliese, was five months' old. Witnesses to the crash said Gregory repeatedly cried out, "My baby, my baby, my baby."

All the Amherst woman could think about, she said, was her infant child and her husband. That was on Sept. 17, 2009. Now the financial analyst for Sorrento is back to work and mobile with a prosthetic limb.

The new light is on a special timer that allows pedestrians ample time to walk from one side of the street to the other, said Bob Planter, manager of safety and environmental affairs for Lactalis, which owns Sorrento.

With motorists often speeding at 40 or more miles per hour along that stretch of the two-lane avenue, steps needed to be taken to protect not only Sorrento workers but residents in nearby homes, Planter and other company officials said. The speed limit is 30 mph.

As for Gregory, 32, she says life has not been easy since she lost her leg but that she is grateful for what she has.

"I'm OK. I could be better, but I'm thankful. I choose to move forward," she said.

The traffic light, Sorrento officials said, represents a triumph of cooperation among federal, state, county and city governments working with private industry.

Before the accident, there were plans to revitalize that section of South Park Avenue with trees, a crosswalk with a special surface to prevent slipping and a light to slow down fast-moving traffic that often had many of Sorrento's 500 workers dodging motor vehicles as they crossed South Park between the company's two facilities on either side of the avenue.

But the work, funded with federal stimulus dollars, was not expected to be completed until as late as the spring of 2012. That changed after Gregory was pinned against a minivan by the car traveling south.

State Sen. Timothy M. Kennedy, D-Buffalo, an Erie County legislator at the time; Mayor Byron W. Brown; and other city officials began working with Sorrento and contractors to speed up completion.

To mark the importance of the finished project, Frederick Bouisset, chief executive officer of Lactalis American Group, joined Kennedy and other officials at the ceremony.

"We are grateful to Senator Kennedy, who was instrumental in obtaining the funding necessary for this very important security measure," said Bouisset, who also thanked the mayor and the city.

"Pedestrian safety needs to be a priority on South Park Avenue and throughout Western New York," Kennedy said.

The motorist who struck Gregory was sentenced to jail, fined and ordered to perform community service.

e-mail: lmichel@buffnews.com

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