When Erin Suszynski was fatally injured crossing the street near the playground she loved, her parents set up a charity to pay for crosswalks at every playground that needs them – starting with the site of the 2012 tragedy on Maple Road in Amherst.
Three years later, there is still no crosswalk or signal at Maple and Culpepper roads. Instead, Erin’s legacy has languished in government bureaucracy.
But that all changed Monday.
Fed up, Mary and Jerry Suszynski, joined by about three dozen neighbors and supporters, took their fight to Town Hall, where they publicly lashed out at officials and pressured them to take action.
“When is something going to be done about this?” Mary Suszynski said to the Town Board during its meeting Monday night. “We’re tired of sitting around and watching the board do nothing.”
“Barry, you live on that corner,” she said to Supervisor Barry A. Weinstein. “Will you do something about this?”
Erin, 13, was with two friends June 9, 2012, as they tried to cross five lanes of traffic on Maple near the playground at Maple East Elementary School. A Jeep struck Erin and one of her classmates, who survived. Erin, who suffered injuries to her brain stem and pelvis, lingered at Women & Children’s Hospital for several days before her parents said goodbye and took her off a ventilator.
In her memory, the Suszynskis set up “Erin’s Crossings” to raise money for playground crosswalks in Amherst and elsewhere. So far, roughly $100,000 has been raised to provide a crossing that’s safe.
Still, no crossing.
One by one Monday, supporters of Erin’s Crossings stood and spoke up at the meeting. It’s time for the town to honor Erin, they said. It’s time for the town to give her family closure, they said. One of those pleading for the crossing was Briana Francois, who was struck along with Erin on that day in 2012. “Every day as a council, you have a duty to keep this community safe,” she told the board.
Why has it taken so long? In contrast, some pointed to the quick action by the City of Buffalo after a 3-year-old boy was fatally struck by a car Saturday at Delaware Park.
Amherst performed a traffic study at the site where Erin was struck and received consent from Erie County, which owns Maple, officials explained. The project never got off the ground because there wasn’t funding for it, officials said. Total cost is estimated at $120,000.
In the end, Councilman Mark A. Manna sponsored a resolution requesting that the town start the process for a crossing and signal – all at town expense. “It’s a dense residential neighborhood across the street from a playground – a natural magnet for these kids,” Manna said. “Kids are going to cross the street. How long are we going to wait for another tragedy?”
The board unanimously approved the resolution. The town has a budget of nearly $120 million, and it should be able to find $120,000, said Councilman Guy R. Marlette. The town moved way too slowly on this, Marlette acknowledged. “I think the obstacle is the lack of activity by this board,” he said.
Supporters of Erin’s Crossings applauded. They cried and hugged. Jerry Suszynski said he will remain a little skeptical until he actually sees a crossing.
“We don’t want this to happen to another family,” Mary Suszynski said.