Tuesday, September 12, 2000

Driver faces judge today in boy's death

Fort Thomas man could get 10 years in prison if guilty

By Susan Vela
The Cincinnati Enquirer

A memorial angel to Stephen Schroder, 10, is painted on Garrison Avenue, where he was hit.
(Patrick Reddy photo)
| ZOOM |
        NEWPORT — Philip Bridges faces a judge today in a traffic case that will change his life and resonate with drivers throughout the Tristate.

        The Fort Thomas man faces a charge of second-degree manslaughter in the June death of 10-year-old Stephen Schroder, who was struck and killed when he darted into a Fort Thomas residential street and into the path of Mr. Bridges' car.

        Mr. Bridges was going at least 40 mph in a 25 mph zone, police say. It was just after 6 p.m., and he was traveling a road commonly used as a shortcut between two busier thoroughfares, South Fort Thomas Avenue and River Road.

        If convicted, Mr. Bridges could spend five to 10 years in prison.

        Community activists and transportation experts say the problems of residential speeding is growing. As drivers seek alternate routes through neighborhoods to beat the traffic on well-traveled, but congested roads, residential streets are turning into racetracks.

        Nationwide, speeding contributed to 30 percent of the 41,471 fatal crashes that happened in 1998, the most recent year on record, according to the National Center for Statistics and Analysis. About 3,300 of the fatal wrecks involved speeding on streets that were supposed to be driven at 40 mph or less.

        And it's not just high speeds that kill, traffic experts say. They point out that while some drivers are careening down side streets, they are also talking on cell phones, changing radio stations and sipping hot cups of coffee.

        The accident in Fort Thomas “could occur to anybody,” said Robert Carran, a Covington attorney representing Mr. Bridges.

        In the past decade, drivers involved in fatal wrecks like Mr. Bridges' have been hit with tougher charges, such as manslaughter, he added.

        More neighborhoods across the Tristate are taking steps to prevent traffic accidents on residential streets.

        Since 1995, Cincinnati has built about 40 speedhumps — which are more gradual than speed bumps — in several neighborhoods. They also are in Covington and Boone County.

        Stephen's death sparked protest, which, in turn, caused Fort Thomas City Council to:

        • Install three speed humps on Garrison Avenue, where Stephen was killed.

        • Reduce the speed limit to 15 mph.

        Some Fort Thomas residents had been calling for those changes for years.

        Besides speed humps, communities have experimented with more signs and “traffic circles” as a means of “traffic calming.”

A few protests

        Not everyone agrees to the methods. Fire officials in some communities have warned that speed humps threaten their emergency response times, and some traffic experts say that signs generally are ignored.

               Richard Schupp, who oversees Cincinnati's 5-year-old “street calming” program, said that since 1995, the city has received about 200 requests to implement speed humps or traffic circles.

        Speed humps, which cost about $2,000 each, have been the most popular solution. About 40 have been placed in Hyde Park, Oakley, Avondale, East Price Hill, Mount Lookout, Mount Washington and other neighborhoods.

        “The speed humps, when properly installed, do reduce and control vehicle speeds,” he said.

        Kimberly Schroder calls them a joke.

        Even now, she said, drivers are still speeding down Garrison Avenue during rush hour. Recently, she heard loud booming sounds from her bedroom. It was a car, she said, hitting the humps and then touching bottom on the street.

        Her son's death has made her aware of how others drive.

        “It's just amazing what you see every day,” she said. “It's not just on the highways. It's on residential streets where children can play. Everybody's in such a hurry.”

Busy detour street

        Stephen Schroder liked to play outside, ride his Rollerblades and watch cartoons.                His family moved to Garrison Avenue four years ago. The houses were small, the lawns well kept and everyone seemed friendly. They thought it would be a quiet, old-fashioned neighborhood.

        Ms. Schroder said she quickly learned that wasn't true, especially during morning and evening rush hour, when many drivers used Garrison as a quick detour.

        She and Stephen often stood on their porch, yelling at cars to “slow down!” Ms. Schroder often cautioned him about rush-hour traffic before he headed out to play.

        Carla Crabtree was the Fort Thomas resident who urged council members to do something about Garrison Avenue. She will petition them this month to change the street's name to Stephen's Way.


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