Make road safety a priority, mom of Toronto preschooler hit by car urges city officials

·5 min read
Parents and caregivers walk their children to school near the intersection of Hendrick and Benson Avenues, where a driver struck and injured a young boy on Nov. 8, 2021. (Martin Trainor/CBC - image credit)
Parents and caregivers walk their children to school near the intersection of Hendrick and Benson Avenues, where a driver struck and injured a young boy on Nov. 8, 2021. (Martin Trainor/CBC - image credit)

The mother of a three-year-old boy struck and injured by a driver last week in Toronto's Wychwood neighbourhood says city officials and motorists driving near schools must put the safety of children first.

Amanda Bokamyer, mother of Waylon Dennison, 3, says children have a right to cross streets safely to and from school in Toronto.

On Monday, Nov. 8 at 3:30 p.m., Waylon was hit while walking in between his caregiver and two taller children, one of which was his sister. They were in the crosswalk at the intersection of Hendrick and Benson Avenues, south of St. Clair Avenue West and Oakwood Avenue.

"Toronto is becoming unsafer for our kids," Bokamyer said. "It shouldn't take one child to get harmed, it shouldn't take a tragedy to happen for us to mobilize. I think that there are real community concerns that need to be addressed at the councillor level."

According to Bokamyer, Waylon's caregiver had told him it was clear for him, his sister and another child to walk across the street from the southwest to the southeast corner. His caregiver was on the road behind him, instructing a number of children to proceed.

Bokamyer said she thinks the driver did not see her son and tried to nudge in between the taller children and the caregiver who was inches away from the car, close enough to touch it.

Moments before the collision, the caregiver screamed for Waylon to stop. The driver slammed on her brakes and hit Waylon. He fell backward, hit his head and suffered a minor concussion, scrapes and bruises. Toronto paramedics took him to hospital, where he was treated and released. The driver remained on scene.

"I was crippled and paralyzed with fear," said Bokamyer of receiving the phone call saying her son had been hurt.

"It is a phone call that no mom should ever have to take, especially knowing that my son did all the right things," she said.

"He crossed when he was asked to cross. And he walked and he was in a crosswalk. Even if you do everything right, there are drivers out there who are in a hurry. It's time for us to take a breath as a community. We should all be looking after the little ones."

Bokamyer said the city needs to make the intersection safer immediately. She said that could mean hiring a crossing guard or not allowing traffic in the intersection during drop off and pick up times at school.

Hendrick Avenue, south of Benson Avenue, turns into a short dead end street that leads into the back yard of McMurrich Junior Public School where children line up for class. A number of vehicles use the street to drop off and pick up children, but it isn't wide enough for vehicles to make a U-turn. Cars have to back up.

She said the intersection, "an ongoing challenge in the community," is an example of how even residential roads are dangerous for children and road safety should be a priority in Toronto.

"This needs to start at a grassroots level and those people who are in power need to start listening to us as community members," Bokamyer said.

Martin Trainor/CBC
Martin Trainor/CBC

Parents call on city to make intersection free of traffic

Livy Jacobs, another parent, said the residential intersection is frequently jammed with cars that block the line of sight by illegally pulling over or parking to drop their children off for school. She said because the line of sight is limited, parents and caregivers are on high alert when they cross with their children to and from school.

"We use this intersection regularly to take our kids to school. There's a lot of traffic and it's concerning when the line of sight for kids to cross the street is obstructed by cars," Jacobs said.

Monika Jankowiak, a mother of three children who lives at the intersection, said that before the collision she and a neighbour had begun creating flyers to leave on car windshields and to put up around the neighbourhood. The flyers are an attempt to educate drivers and urge them not to park or pull over illegally in the area. She suggested the city consider making the area free of traffic.

"It's made me nervous over the years. There's a lot of chaos. There's cars pulling into this dead end street and then backing out. But more dangerously even, there's cars literally parked at the corner of the intersection where the kids then don't have any sight lines to know if it's safe to cross the street," she said.

"The question is just: what is the answer? We're in a city. We can't create very safe drop off zones. We just simply don't have the space."

Jankowiak said the solution is to make it impossible for drivers to enter the area, then to try to create active transportation, including "walking school buses," where children walk in groups to and from school. The city should encourage safer modes of transportation, she said, such as walking and cycling, to reduce the traffic, she said.

Cristian Gomes/CBC
Cristian Gomes/CBC

Councillor says city to look into crossing guards

Coun. Josh Matlow, who represents Ward 12, Toronto-St. Paul's, said his office has been notified about community concerns and he has arranged a meeting with the school principal, school council, concerned parents and city transportation services staff about possible improvements to the intersection. He said he would also look into the possibility of crossing guards for the intersection.

"We need to understand what happened exactly that led to a small child being hit by a car," said Matlow. "As a father myself, that's unacceptable. We should be doing everything possible to prevent that from ever happening."

According to Toronto police, the community response unit for 13 Division has contacted the school about the collision. Police said in an email that officers from traffic services, along with the community liaison officer, went to the school on Nov. 12 and have assessed the traffic situation, which was "noticeably lighter" that day.

"Our officers have provided advice and strategies to the school to assist with the traffic issues related to pickup and drop-off of the students," police said.

"We continue to provide any support and assistance to the school, students, and residents, to make the area a safe place for everyone."

Cristian Gomes/CBC
Cristian Gomes/CBC
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