By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
While Suffolk officials debate proposed improvements, the African-American newspaper Point of Viewis shining a bright and steady light on the dangers of Straight Pathand the community of Wyandanch is growing impatient. There's even talk of shutting down the street at rush hour next summer if things don't get better.
Bacon stops short of calling for a full-fledged protest, but he insists that the situation on Straight Path is an issue of fairness. How can he teach children they're equal, he asks, when their families are getting run over like dogs in the street? "I'm dealing with kids who are saying, 'Why isn't Mommy or Daddy coming home?' Or someone who's just getting their life together, and then they're no longer around."
DEATH BY DELAY
Even when the money for sidewalks and bike lanes is on the table, there's no guarantee a town will spend it.
Two years ago, Brookhaven's Citizens Bicycle Advisory Board, led by Connie Kepert and Russell Ainbinder, won a federal grant of $750,000 to designate cycling routes that would complement a path belonging to the county. Though the necessary shoulders already exist, the town's signs and striping haven't yet gone in because homeowners along certain roads think they will slow automobiles.
While the bike board looks for alternate routes, cyclists compete with pounding traffic, and sometimes they lose. In November, Kenneth Ahlgren, 74, was killed by a car in Brookhaven as he pedaled across William Floyd Parkway, not two miles from a proposed town bike route. Children and grandparents "are the people we're sacrificing to make the traffic go faster," Kepert says. "Nobody wants to hear that, but that's what we're doing."
But the message may finally be getting through, even in places like the auto-centric state Department of Transportation. Spokeswoman Eileen Peters says planners there are beginning to take into account the effect that highways like the Southern State have on communities. "The big gap is while our state roads were getting safer," Peters says, "there were all these local roads where no funding was available."
Now the department intends to spend some $3 million islandwide on local roads. It also plans to design 400 miles of bike routes over the next 10 years.
Those investments may save lives, but they'll do little to reverse the decades-long, deadly course of policy that built roads like Sunrise Highway and Route 25. A bike lane here and crosswalk there won't stop the bodies from piling up.
"The way we designed our roadways is really what's causing all these pedestrian accidents," Kepert says. "Hopefully, we can turn it around. I just hope we turn it around before they destroy my community."
among the dead...
Julio Manzanares, 34, New York Avenue, Huntington
Mauricio Soto, 34, Jericho Turnpike, Huntington
Donald Walker, 38, Straight Path, Wyandanch
Dorothy Finley-Armstrong, 50, Straight Path, Wyandanch
Calvin Finney, 37, Straight Path, Wyandanch
Huesie Walker, 56, Straight Path, Wyandanch
Deboral Lenane, 33, Northern Boulevard, Lake Success
Ernest Alicea, 15, Fulton Street, Brentwood
Stephen Ferro, 15, Centre Avenue, Bellmore
Vivian Correa, 22, Hempstead Turnpike, Levittown
Michael Fortunato, 11, Hempstead Turnpike, Levittown
Robert Lemoine, 60, Hempstead Turnpike, Elmont
Mark Kibak, 47, Hempstead Turnpike, Levittown
Raju Sethi, 31, Hempstead Turnpike, Bethpage
Enrique Laupper, 76, North Corona Avenue, North Valley Stream
Michael Fogel, 16, Route 231, North Babylon
Edward McLaughlin, 45, Neighborhood Road, Mastic Beach
Lillian Greenfader, 73, Jerusalem Avenue, Massapequa
Erin Quinn, 21, Fifth Avenue, Bay Shore
Mary Bennett, 13, Sunrise Highway, Bay Shore
Will Zimmardi, 17, Sunrise Highway, Bay Shore
Jose Fernandez, 29, Sunrise Highway, Freeport
Frederick Behan, 40, Sunrise Highway, Bay Shore
Robert Fiore, 40, Route 109, Farmingdale
Roma Carman, 34, County Road 83, Farmingville
Jerry Castleberry, 57, Route 112, Patchogue
Miguel Yanez, 32, Fulton Avenue, Hempstead
Tiffane Walker, 17, Montauk Highway, Southampton
Christopher Jacobson, 18, Montauk Highway, Bayport Jozef Szurko, 51, North Sea Road, Southampton
Ethel Croninger, 70, Route 110, North Amityville
Kevin Cafferty, 23, Grand Avenue, Baldwin
Katie Walston, 49, Osborn Avenue, Riverhead
THE GRIEF OF ONE VICTIM'S FAMILY
Michael Fogel's mother still wonders why she felt no hint of the danger that awaited her son when he left their North Babylon home that morning, bicycling to his summer job. "I'll see you later, Mom," she remembers him saying.
But Anna Fogel would never see the boy again, at least not alive. As he rode through the crosswalk near the divide of Route 231 and Deer Park Avenue, he was struck by morning commuter Kelly O'Brien, then 20. The autopsy showed that Michael, 16, broke his neck and died instantly.
Two years after burying her son, Anna Fogel says the pain has only increased. She doesn't have much advice for people who lose family or friends on Long Island streets. "Half the time, I don't know what to say, because there's nothing to say," she says. "The hole gets bigger as time goes on. It doesn't get smaller. Because things happen that you say, 'He would have enjoyed doing this.' "
Michael's family describes him as a stout kid with a gentle manner, an eclectic mix of friends and a tenacious spirit. Despite serious learning disabilities, Michael did well in school and was independent-minded. He was a white student who chose black teachers for mentors, joined a PTA chapter as its sole youth member and made plans to attend Hofstra University. His artwork and photographs of him building houses with Habitat for Humanity hang on a wall above the kitchen table in the Fogels' modest home. The week he was killed, Michael was preparing to leave for a month-long stint of constructing homes for the poor in Appalachia.