Major Car Accidents Around Oberlin Cause Distress

By Megan Grabill | mgrabill@oberlin.edu | February 23, 2018 @ 4:52 pm

On February 8th, 2018, Kyle J. Gutierrez was struck and killed by an unidentified vehicle on North Main Street, in the heart of Oberlin’s campus. For many students, this was just the latest report, official or unofficial, of an altercation with a car in Oberlin. Despite the town’s size and relative isolation, students have run-ins with cars surprisingly often.

Sophie Macaulay ‘21 was struck by a car turning onto Woodland from West Lorain as she crossed the street with her friend Emory McCool ‘21. Luckily, both pedestrians were unharmed, but she recalled feeling frustrated at the driver’s response to the accident. “We were on the ground on the concrete and she rolled down the window and was like, “Are you guys okay?”, and then [she] zipped off, so we didn’t get her plate or anything. It’s so funny because I thought she was asking if we were injured and she took that as an okay to leave.” Macaulay and McCool reported the accident to both the Oberlin Police and Safety and Security, but without the license plate number, the driver has proven hard to find. “They said they would check security cameras, but a couple days later we called and they were still looking into it and we never heard back from them.” Macaulay remembers.

Another student, Natalie Hawthorne ‘19, also reported feeling dissatisfied with how her accident was handled. She collided with a car during move-in week last year as she biked towards South Hall. “I didn’t call the police or anything, because I didn’t really know if that’s what you’re supposed to do. But then he was a professor and [he] asked me to pay $500 to fix the damage on his car from my bike hitting his car. But we were both breaking traffic rules, so it was a complicated thing, and I just felt kinda taken advantage of by a person who knew more about what to do in that kind of situation.”

Mike Martinsen, director of Safety and Security, had some interesting insight on why Oberlin presents some unique challenges for a town of its size. “Our campus is separated by roadways… several of them are state routes”. This presents two challenges: first, the speed limit is higher than the speed limits on other roads, making it more difficult for motorists to react to pedestrian and bike traffic. Second, it makes it much more difficult for Oberlin to install “official crosswalks”; that is, crosswalks where motorists are legally obligated to stop. Without an official crosswalk, many cars will keep on driving, regardless of foot traffic.

Of course, students aren’t the only people living in Oberlin. Permanent residents of the town frequently contend with both pedestrian and vehicular traffic. I reached out to Maureen Simen, the America Reads coordinator at Oberlin and a resident of the town for seven years, to get her perspective. In town, she said, both townspeople and students alike tend to jaywalk. On campus, students tend to take more risks, but she was quick not to assign blame to any one party and to emphasize the importance of understanding alternate perspectives. “We all make excuses for why we do these things or allow them in others. Worse though is when forget that we do the same things we judge others for because we all suffer from ‘perspective amnesia’. When we’re in the car, we’re judging the pedestrians; when we’re pedestrians, we’re judging the drivers,” she said.

And finally, what should a student do in the event of an accident? Martinsen believes that the first priority should be the student’s health. “If you’ve ever been involved in a car accident, you might know that you might feel okay because of the adrenaline… very often the next day, you’re in pain… so definitely report it to the police, and seek medical attention, and let someone know what happened to you so they can watch you as well,” he said, adding that it’s important to get the license plate, make, and model of the vehicle, especially if it looks like the driver is about to leave the scene.

Both Martinsen and Simen were also careful to reiterate the importance of practicing traffic safety, with Martinsen emphasizing the importance of being aware of your own visibility and minimizing distractions from cell phones or headphones. Simen’s advice was similar: “Please wear a helmet. Put lights or reflectors on your bikes. Get good boots so you can stay on the sidewalks in winter. There will always be people who are going to see students’ behavior as worse than that of those who live in town. Change or awareness should come from a sense of self-care”.

Contract contributing writer Megan Grabill at mgrabill@oberlin.edu.

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