April 21, 2019

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Woman, daughter struck by vehicle 'fighting for their lives'

They escaped troubled Eritrea and were tackling the challenges of being refugees, before the streets of Winnipeg nearly killed them.

On Monday, a young mother and her daughter — who had moved into the Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization of Manitoba's transitional housing complex on Isabel Street in February — were struck by a vehicle at the crosswalk located at Isabel and Alexander Avenue.

"The mom and daughter are in critical condition and fighting for their lives," Dorota Blumczynska, IRCOM executive director, said Tuesday. "They're very new to Canada."

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They escaped troubled Eritrea and were tackling the challenges of being refugees, before the streets of Winnipeg nearly killed them.

On Monday, a young mother and her daughter — who had moved into the Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization of Manitoba's transitional housing complex on Isabel Street in February — were struck by a vehicle at the crosswalk located at Isabel and Alexander Avenue.

"The mom and daughter are in critical condition and fighting for their lives," Dorota Blumczynska, IRCOM executive director, said Tuesday. "They're very new to Canada."

Can crosswalks be made safer?

In February 2018, Surafiel Musse Tesfamariam, a Grade 3 student at École Varennes, died in hospital after he was struck crossing St. Anne's Road near Varennes Avenue. He was on his way to school with his mother.

In February 2018, Surafiel Musse Tesfamariam, a Grade 3 student at École Varennes, died in hospital after he was struck crossing St. Anne's Road near Varennes Avenue. He was on his way to school with his mother.

In May 2018, Winnipeg city councillors on the public works committee unanimously approved an administration plan for the installation of eye-level warning lights and possibly strobe-like flashing LED lights at the crosswalk before the start of the 2018-19 school year. Transportation manager David Patman said tree branches that might obscure the existing flashing amber lights at the crossing will be pruned to improve driver vision.

On Monday, a woman and her child were struck by a vehicle at a crosswalk on Isabel Street.

On Tuesday, area residents and community leaders weighed in on what could be done to make Isabel Street safer for pedestrians.

Adding bright, eye-level flashing warning lights in advance of the crosswalk may alert motorists to pedestrians, said Shane Connolly, who used the crosswalk near Dufferin School with his three children at lunchtime Tuesday.

"Right now, sometimes, they don't even stop," he said of vehicles that blow past flashing crosswalk lights.

On Tuesday, Connolly and his children traversed Isabel escorted by an adult crossing guard, who is on duty before and after school and at lunchtime. It is believed the guard wasn't yet on duty when the mother and daughter were struck Monday around noon.

"There is a lot of speeding around here," said Connolly.

Adding speed bumps or reducing the 50 km/h speed limit on that stretch of Isabel Street could make it safer for pedestrians, said Yonas Zewude, whose Walia's Convenience Store is across the street from the Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization of Manitoba building and Dufferin School.

Injuries and near-misses at the crosswalks are not uncommon, said Zewude, who hopes Monday's incident will prompt stronger safety measures. "If they don't do anything, more will come."

Coun. Ross Eadie said he's in favour of installing photo-radar-like cameras at crosswalks to make drivers obey the rules of the road and better protect pedestrians. In 2014, the councillor for Mynarski, who is blind, asked the police board to study the feasibility of installing cameras at crosswalks after nearly being hit several times.

The crosswalk cameras were not approved, but Eadie isn't giving up. He's advocating for Vision Zero, the international campaign aimed at convincing elected officials at all levels to adopt leading-edge road-safety innovations — dubbed Toward Zero in Winnipeg.

"It requires enforcement and education," said Eadie, who said pedestrians also need to know and follow the rules.

On Tuesday, a man waiting for his grandkids at lunchtime outside Dufferin School said they always wait for all the vehicles to stop at the crosswalk before stepping off the sidewalk. He said Isabel Street should be a 30 km/h zone in front of the school, as is Alexander Avenue beside it, because so many children need to cross the busy, four-lane thoroughfare.

In 2017, traffic lights were proposed for the intersection of Isabel Street and Ross Avenue, said Vivian Santos, the city councillor for the area (Point Douglas), who was former councillor Mike Pagtakhan's assistant at the time.

Santos said a traffic study was conducted, and it was determined there was not enough traffic to warrant it. She said the city may need to review its policy. "These conversations need to take place."

— Carol Sanders

The collision happened before noon by the crosswalk close to Dufferin School.

"They were going to pick up her (child's) brother," said Blumczynska, who added the woman's husband is with his wife and child at hospital and "devastated and distraught."

Several children and adults were on scene at the time, Blumczynska said, declining to comment further until the police investigation is concluded, likely within three weeks. The injured woman and child have not yet been publicly identified.

The northbound lanes of Isabel Street leading to the Slaw Rebchuk Bridge were closed to traffic Monday afternoon. Winnipeg police later put out a call for witnesses to come forward.

Police investigate the closed crosswalk at Isabel and Alexander after a vehicle hit a pedestrian in Winnipeg Monday.

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Police investigate the closed crosswalk at Isabel and Alexander after a vehicle hit a pedestrian in Winnipeg Monday.

On Tuesday, police were not releasing details about the collision nor if the vehicle's driver was facing any charges.

Blumczynska said, as far as she knows, the mother and child were using the crosswalk correctly.

As part of IRCOM's new tenant orientation, traffic safety is discussed, said the executive director of the non-profit organization that offers housing and resettlement support to newcomers at its two transitional housing complexes on Isabel and Ellen streets.

Parent Shane Connolly with his kids (from left) Colten, Xzandra, and Wyatt by Dufferin School Tuesday has to cross busy Isabel Street with them, even though there is a crossing guard on duty. Connolly said that flashing warning lights ahead of the pedestrian crosswalk might make it safer.

CAROL SANDERS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Parent Shane Connolly with his kids (from left) Colten, Xzandra, and Wyatt by Dufferin School Tuesday has to cross busy Isabel Street with them, even though there is a crossing guard on duty. Connolly said that flashing warning lights ahead of the pedestrian crosswalk might make it safer.

"We do talk about safety and local navigation and movement around the neighbourhood and neighbourhood resources," she said.

There are two crosswalks within several hundred metres of IRCOM (one each at Ross and Alexander avenues).

For many newcomers who've experienced running for their lives and living in conflict zones, arriving in Canada where they feel protected may allow them to let their guard down a bit, Blumczynska said.

"There's often a sense of overwhelming relief and a sense of safety," she said, adding she doesn't know if that was the case for the mom and daughter hit at the crosswalk Monday. "Before we jump to any conclusions, we need to understand the situation far better. We do recognize that Isabel is a very quick thoroughfare and it's a densely populated area."

The focus should be on the family whose members are clinging to life, Blumczynska said, adding they're asking for privacy and prayers.

The injured woman's husband (also the father of the little girl) is getting help through a traumatic time, she said

"He has his community with him, some extended family, as well as a faith leader, and they are working with a WRHA health interpreter to understand everything that is happening."

At Dufferin School, resource staff are being made available for students and staff if they require further support, the Winnipeg School Division said in a prepared statement, "and as always we have ongoing conversations regarding traffic and street safety with our students."

"As a general reminder, we ask drivers to slow down and be mindful of all pedestrians, in school zones or otherwise."

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

Carol Sanders

Carol Sanders
Reporter

Carol Sanders’ reporting on newcomers to Canada has made international headlines, earned national recognition but most importantly it’s shared the local stories of the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home.

Read full biography

History

Updated on Tuesday, March 19, 2019 at 7:07 PM CDT: Updates fact box.

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