Northport parents are calling on school and town officials to examine what traffic improvements can be made to Laurel Hill Road after a teen was struck by a car outside Northport High School last Tuesday.
Miles Lerner, a 14-year-old preparing to begin his freshman year, was struck by a 2005 Honda sedan while crossing Laurel Hill Road Sept. 4 on his way to cross-country practice. While Northport-East Northport school district residents called the accident “upsetting” and “disturbing,” they weren’t surprised.
“If my complaints over the past few years had been heeded, it probably would have prevented this accident,” Jeantet Fields, a Laurel Hill Road homeowner said during a board of education meeting Sept. 6.
“If my complaints over the past few years had been heeded, it probably would have prevented this accident.”
— Jeantet Fields
Fields said he provided Suffolk County police officers with a video recording of the Sept. 4 accident captured by his home surveillance cameras that shows Lerner being struck and launched into the air “like a rag doll.”
“It was very disturbing” he said. “It’s one of those things you cannot unsee.”
The four-year Northport resident has admitted to being a bit of a squeaky wheel on the issue of traffic safety along Laurel Hill and Elwood roads. Fields said it’s a multifaceted issue resulting from insufficient parking, drivers not obeying the 20-mph school zone speed limit and traffic frequently backing up at the high school during drop-off and dismissal. He said buses and cars back up at the traffic light on Elwood Road, waiting to make the left onto Laurel Hill Road, and then again while trying to make left turns into the high school’s parking lots. Some drivers resort to using the shoulder of the road to pass on the right.
“I’ve gotten the middle finger salute for trying to pull out of my driveway,” Fields said.
Northport resident Michael Hawkins, whose son is also a member of the cross-country team, said traffic was worse than normal the morning of Sept. 4 as the district was hosting a superintendent’s conference day at the high school.
“I believe the district is partially to blame for the security guards who were standing at the entryway to every parking lot, asking every person who went into the parking lot for ID,” he said. “What happened is it backed up traffic for blocks and blocks and blocks around the high school.”
Hawkins asked Northport’s board of education and school officials to consider this a “teachable moment” and ensure steps are taken to increase parking spots and resolve traffic concerns.
Fields said he believes a more active approach to revamping traffic flow on the roads surrounding Northport High School is needed. The father said he observed a truck passing over the double yellow line, to the left of a stopped school bus, while at the end of his driveway to picking up his 6-year-old daughter. Upon reviewing the security footage, Fields compiled a video documenting about 25 drivers utilizing the westbound shoulder of Laurel Hill Road to illegally drive past stopped buses and cars in a roughly 30-minute time frame Sept. 6.
The Northport homeowner said he has shared the video with Suffolk County Police Department’s 2nd Precinct Community Oriented Police Enforcement and offered to share it with Town of Huntington and school official in the hope of encouraging action.
There was a speed radar sign posted at the end of Fields’ driveway Sept. 6 to make passing motorists aware of their speed. He said he believes an unmarked patrol car was keeping watch near the end of his driveway the following morning.
“People were slowing down for the first time,” he said. “It was a short-term behavioral change, and there’s a need for long-term change.”
Huntington Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) had received several phone calls from concerned Northport-East Northport residents by Sept. 7, according to town spokeswoman Lauren Lembo.
“I’ve spoken with Superintendent [Robert] Banzer and their safety team has reached out to Steve McGloin [town Director of Transportation and Public Safety] to see if there are any improvements on Laurel Hill Road to be made,” Lupinacci said in a statement. “Superintendent Banzer is reaching out to the county in regard to Elwood Road.”
Fields said he plans to start an online petition to ask town and county officials to conduct a traffic study of the intersection on how it can be improved.
“My goal right now — honestly and a bit selfishly — is to change the behavior of motorists on this street before my daughter has to cross the street to go to high school,” he said. “I have seven years. If I could, I’d do it in less.”