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Death of pedestrian prompts Wheatfield boy, 13, to perform traffic study

If you need a traffic study, you could call the state Department of Transportation or a high-priced engineering firm.

Or you could simply call Joshua Walter.

Joshua, a 13-year-old Wheatfield resident, recently told the Town Board that his research proves a signboard flashing radar speed readouts would reduce traffic speeds on Krueger Road, where a teenage pedestrian was struck and killed in November 2014.

The Walter family lives around the corner from where Ryan Fischer, 16, was struck from behind and killed by a vehicle.

Joshua said there’s a memorial at the scene, which he passes frequently.

“I always can’t take my eyes off this memorial,” he said.

His report says when he heard of Ryan’s death, he was “stunned” to learn that it happened on the same roadside he often uses to walk and ride his bicycle.

Although Joshua didn’t know Ryan or his family, that’s what inspired him to carry out his speed study as a project for his school’s science fair, where he tied for first place.

The eighth-grader at Holy Ghost Lutheran School carried out his research on Krueger Road with the help of the Niagara County Sheriff’s Office. His father, Todd Walter, had a contact there through his T-ball coach, Deputy Franklin J. Peplowski Jr. The upshot was that Deputy James D. Lucas received permission to bring one of the county’s radar signs to the nearby St. Johnsburg Fire Company hall on Jan. 25.

Joshua said he also used a radar gun his father owns for comparison purposes, tracking the speed of passing cars without the readout board’s presence.

His study involved tracking speeds of westbound traffic on Krueger Road at two different times on two different weekdays, from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m. and from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. In both time slots, he used the radar sign on only one of the days.

Joshua recorded the speeds of 216 vehicles during his four hours of surveillance, tracking compliance with the 30 mph speed limit.

He found that drivers who saw their speed posted on the radar board were eight times more likely to obey the speed limit than those who weren’t exposed to the readout, and the average speed for those who saw the readout was 31 mph, as opposed to 38 mph without it.

That means most of the drivers still were traveling over the posted speed limit, radar board or not.

“I was disappointed in the results,” Joshua reported. “People, even in the neighborhood and on the same road in which a teenage boy was struck and killed a year earlier, still chose to speed.”

He told the Town Board that buying a radar board would be wise. As it happens, the Town Board voted the same night to spend $8,550 to buy a radar sign, although the purchase was in the works before Joshua made his report during the public comment period.

The next night, the Niagara County Legislature voted to fund half the cost of the radar board through its share of Seneca Niagara Casino revenue, although that resolution from Legislator Kathryn L. Lance, R-Wheatfield, had also been introduced before Joshua’s report was released.

Town Supervisor Robert B. Cliffe said the town has not yet received a response to its state grant request for money to construct a sidewalk along Krueger Road. Ryan was killed while walking in the traffic lane, because there was a deep ditch and practically no shoulder. The town has since installed a culvert pipe and filled in the ditch.

The man charged with Ryan’s death, Anthony J. DiFilippo, 40, of Wheatfield, continues to plead not guilty and is scheduled for trial April 18 in State Supreme Court on a felony count of leaving the scene of a fatality, as well as evidence tampering, texting while driving and failure to exercise due care for a pedestrian. Also, the victim’s mother, Lisa Fischer, has filed a wrongful death and negligence suit against DiFilippo.