Public Comment

Advocating for Amends: The Unnecessary Death of Alana Williams

By Sam Herbert
Thursday October 22, 2009 - 09:37:00 AM

I heard on the evening news that Frick Middle School student Alana Williams was killed on the morning of Oct. 16 while crossing the street—in the crosswalk at a four-way stop—to school. Her hit-and-run assailant was witnessed by other pedestrians, so I hope he will be caught and held accountable in a court of law. As shocking as the untimely death of a child will always be, and as shocking as the callousness of someone who would speed through a stop sign and hit anyone, without stopping to give assistance, I am struck by how completely and inutterably unecessary was this loss. 

I don’t blame any given individual—except for the driver of the hit-and-run—for failings, but there was something each and every one of us could have done to prevent it, and we owe it to this child to make her death stand for rectifying a grievous lack in public safety. Had there been stop lights equipped with cameras along the way, I believe they would provide a substantial deterrent to running stop-lights/signs. Had someone run a sign nearby, or rolled through it, there would have been photos snapped that would identify the culprit immediately. When Berkeley was looking for traffic-calming devices a few years back, we were told that a single traffic light costs about $20,000. I know that’s a lot of money. I don’t know if that figure is accurate anymore. I know that, if one asked Alana’s mother if she could come up with the $20,000—any way, by any means—if she could have her daughter back, she would. Most of you are parents. If you knew—I mean really knew—that you could save your own child’s life by providing a traffic light where your own child crosses the street daily to get to school, would you do it? I would, and I don’t have much money. I would do whatever it takes. 

Principal Gourdine, please accept my condolences for the unnecessary death of little Alana Williams. Mayor Dellums, I know you will provide all the resources necessary for this principal, this school, this community to help them deal with their grief and loss. Principal Gourdine, I hope that you will have someone on duty immediately for the half hour before school begins in the morning, and the half hour during pickup and end of the day, to monitor traffic, beginning next Monday. A $10 SLOW/STOP hand-held sign and one of those ever-so-stylish orange plastic vests, and maybe a few orange traffic cones, are all you need to get started. If you can’t afford to hire a guard for those time periods, there must be someone—or -ones—in the school community who would take regular shifts. 

This a bad time to ask for money—for anything—from anyone. I would describe the need for a traffic light with camera as an emergency need. No one needs an EIR and a traffic flow/study plan to understand that a traffic light in this location is a necessity. If you need help to make it happen, I am volunteering. I will find the money, I will write an emergency grant application, I will canvass the neighborhood—and by Internet—to raise the necessary funds. It needs to happen. It needs to happen now. Many of you know far more sources and resources than I do, and I respectfully request that each of you contribute—any way, and in any form that is appropriate—to resolving this need. If a traffic light is not installed and working in time to prevent another death, then God help all of us.  

Many of you know me and know how to reach me. If some of you don’t, please contact me off-line with your phone number and/or e-mail address, and I will respond. Please help now.  


Sam Herbert is a Berkeley resident.