Student hit by car, College responds to safety concerns

The College has been re-evaluating its need for improved outdoor lighting and traffic safety, following an incident last month in which a student was hit by a car on school property.

Since the opening of the Davis Science Center in July, more students than ever cross Mayflower Hill each day at its four crosswalks between the Diamond Building and Davis, none of which are equipped with traffic signals. Foot traffic across Mayflower Hill initially picked up after the construction of Diamond in 2007 and expanded even more after the addition of Davis, inevitably increasing the risk of a collision.

At 7:19 p.m. on Sept. 10, Lynna Lei ’16 was crossing Mayflower Hill outside of Davis when she was struck in the crosswalk by a car driving toward the tennis courts. The driver was Dean of Students Joe Atkins, according to Waterville city police reports. Post-accident analysis determined that Atkins was not driving above the speed limit.

According to the report filed Sept. 11, Lei crossed in a marked crosswalk at the intersection of Mayflower Hill and Bixler Drive. No road, weather or vehicle conditions contributed to the accident, nor was Atkins distracted. The airbag in the vehicle was not deployed, though the impact put minor damage—a dent, according to Lei—on the front of the Subaru. Results of alcohol and drug tests were unavailable at the time of print.

Before stepping into the crosswalk, Lei saw the vehicle approaching, but “it was at a distance,” she said. “I didn’t expect to be able to pass in front [without it slowing down], but it was far away enough to slow down.”
Lei thought that the driver—unidentifiable to her at the time—would see her with ample time to safely stop, so she began crossing. It was dusk and the nearby street lamp poorly lit the crosswalk below, according to Lei. She did not look once more to see if the car had actually began to slow down.

“I only knew the car was there when it hit me,” Lei said. “I feel like it would have been more traumatic if I had seen it coming.…Maybe it’s better I didn’t,” she added.

The vehicle struck Lei from the left side after she had taken only a couple steps into the crosswalk, according to both police reports and Lei’s recounting.

After being knocked to the ground, “it was all a blur,” Lei said.

Danielle Levine ’15 and Clay Rowland ’18 both witnessed the accident from further down the road. According to the report from Colby Security, Levine was walking on the left side of Mayflower Hill toward Davis (against traffic) when she saw Atkins’ car hit Lei in the crosswalk. She immediately called 911, then called campus Security. Levine declined comment on the incident.

Walking back from football practice on the opposite side of Mayflower Hill, Rowland “looked up and saw [the] impact,” he said, after which he immediately ran up to Lei and put his jacket over her where she lay on the road.

“Dean Atkins was very shaken up…in shock,” Rowland said.

According to Rowland, Atkins had been “driving very slow and cautiously.…The lighting was awful. I think [that] was the main factor,” he said, describing the way the dusk cast the shadow of Davis over the road.

“Dean Atkins wasn’t doing anything wrong. He was driving better and more carefully than most people,” Rowland added. “It was just a freak accident.”

Atkins declined comment per his insurance adjustor’s recommendation.

Lei sustained pelvic fractures on her left side, and after initial ambulance transport to Thayer, she was transported to a hospital in Portland, where she recovered for two weeks. She has now returned to campus, temporarily in a wheelchair to avoid bearing weight on the injured area, which will heal on its own, she said. In about three weeks, she will begin physical therapy to return to walking.

A day after the accident, the campus community was briefly informed of the incident by an email from Dean of Students Jim Terhune. However, the email did not disclose many details, creating discussion among students—and, in some cases, the accidental exchange of false information—about what had occurred and who was involved.

“We wanted to provide enough info…but then again we always have to respect privacy,” Terhune said. “Normally we don’t disclose identities. Period.”

One rumor that surfaced is that Lei was possibly texting at the time of the accident. “I don’t know where that came from,” she said, speculating that it was perhaps a conclusion the police came to when her phone was found on the road at the scene of the accident. She was in fact carrying two phones, one her own and the other the phone for her student job with Media Resources, which she was on call for at the time of the accident.

Since Lei was on the clock when the collision occurred, she is insured as a College employee and all medical bills are covered. She is also receiving workman’s compensation.

Lei noted that she was not wearing dark clothing when the accident occurred, as the Security report read.

“People talk and it’s really hard to know….there’s all sorts of speculation [and] I don’t want to buy into that,” Terhune said, having heard the texting rumor as well. “It could be interpreted as pointing blame,” and a student getting hurt is “what concerns us the most,” he added.

The Waterville Police department was unable to confirm at the time of print whether or not the accident remains an open investigation. However, Terhune elaborated on the word “accident,” the term the police and the College have used thus far to describe the collision. The incident is considered an accident if the police determine that neither Atkins nor Lei caused the collision through negligence, Terhune explained. In other words, it is an accident if neither party violated a law and no citations were issued.

“The one thing we know is that the driver was going the speed limit, and that’s an extremely fortunate thing,” Terhune said. “It could have been far worse. I’m terribly sorry she was hurt, but I’m happy it wasn’t worse.”

In the aftermath of the accident, the College plans to follow through with already-existing plans to improve campus lighting and install “traffic calming measures” on Mayflower Hill, Terhune said.

In response to previous student concerns about walking through poorly lit areas of campus at night, the College plans to add lighting to Runnals Drive, Bixler Drive, the tunnels under the science buildings on Miller quad and potentially along the pathways of Miller quad itself.

“Lighting is something we’re constantly looking at and constantly adding to,” Terhune said. “I think this is an area that is changing and there’s a lot of focus on trying to enhance [it].”

In addition, the College plans to install a lighted sidewalk on Mayflower Hill from Bixler Drive to the Athletic Center to create a safer footpath to the College’s athletic facilities. “There’s big difference depending on which way you go,” Terhune said, noting the more commonly used—and administration-preferred—pathway adjacent to Roberts Hall.

However, since many students still choose to walk along Mayflower Hill to access the Athletic Center, Terhune advocates for a sidewalk along that route, currently unpaved and poorly lit. The sidewalk will be installed before winter, Terhune said.

As for the traffic on Mayflower Hill, the College is currently considering both short-term and long-term solutions. Short-term considerations include “raised tables,” gentle speed bumps, “shortly before you [approach] Davis or Diamond” on Mayflower Hill, Terhune said. The College is also considering temporary speed bumps while safety consultants study the best long-term solution.

“In a place like Maine, speed bumps create other problems,” such as interference with snow plows in the winter, Terhune said of the complexity of finding a solution.

This year with Davis, “you’ve got a whole new crew going across the street,” Terhune added. “We’ve got a whole new traffic pattern and we’re paying attention to that.”

With the help of lighting consultants, the College plans to install new and brighter lights at the crosswalks on Mayflower Hill, correcting the currently varied lighting conditions at each crosswalk. Terhune believes that the Davis crosswalk, where the accident took place, is not as well lit as the others up the road. The College is also considering markers on the crosswalks to catch pedestrians’ attention, such as brightly colored stripes or motion-sensed lighting. “Something that gets your attention so that you’re making sure you’re looking both ways,” Terhune said.

Though the car accident on Mayflower Hill happened more than a month ago, Terhune hopes that the campus community will continue considering the lessons from the incident. “Probably the biggest reminder is for all of us—all the time—to use caution when we’re crossing the street or driving,” he said.

“There are so many people walking and coming and going. It’s easy to get distracted.” Terhune said. “One of the things we all lose sight of when we’re walking is that it’s maybe harder to see us for people who are driving.”

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