Weeks after a six-year-old boy was killed and his mother critically injured while walking to synagogue in Highland Park, members of the Orthodox community received a promise that safety improvements will be made at the site.
The borough will work with state officials to find a solution to what both it and residents agreed was a dangerous situation along a stretch of Raritan Avenue.
At the Feb. 2 borough council meeting, Mayor Gayle Brill Mittler told a group representing the community that local officials will be meeting with representatives of the state Department of Transportation later this month to discuss safety measures.
Because Raritan Avenue is part of Route 27, a state road, any action requires DOT approval.
Mittler’s priorities include banning left turns from the strip malls and businesses in that area, and installing flashing lights or other safety measures at the crosswalks.
She also directed the council public safety committee to add improving the site to its list of 2016 goals and priorities.
Chaim Kraus was walking with his mother, Ruchie, and a friend to Agudath Israel of Edison/Highland Park on Shabbat afternoon, Jan. 16, when a car driven by Shang Zhen Huang, 21, of Piscataway jumped the curb near the intersection of Raritan Avenue and Columbia Street and struck them.
Ruchie, 37, was seriously hurt in the accident and underwent surgery at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick. The other child was unhurt.
At the council hearing, residents who know the family said Ruchie Kraus suffered multiple internal injuries and will take months to recover.
On Jan. 26, Huang pled not guilty in Middlesex County Superior Court to aggravated assault and death by auto charges. According to nj.com, he is a Chinese national attending Rutgers University on a student visa and, as of the arraignment date, he was still being held on $200,000 bail.
The article also quoted assistant prosecutor Bina Desai as saying Huang “came out of a parking lot and put the pedal down so hard to cut off traffic on Raritan Avenue that in less than five seconds he was up to 37 miles an hour.”
Community members, who spoke for close to 90 minutes at the council meeting, pointed out that the area around Columbia Street and Route 27 has long been a source of concern. It is the only section of road in the borough’s “triangle area” where the speed limit is 40 rather than 25 mph. It is surrounded by the synagogue, Glatt 27 kosher supermarket, Yeshiva Shaarei Tzion’s preschool, Reena Bais Yaakov High School for Girls, and a Montessori school.
Shaarei Tzion preschool director Minah Kamin said that when the staff looks out the windows between 8 and 9 a.m., “We see all those children and shudder.
“There are probably 100 children that get to that spot,” she said, including mothers walking with youngsters and pushing strollers. “The teachers are afraid to take the children out for a walk.”
Others pointed out that community members, including the dead boy’s father, Yisroel Kraus, had come before the council in June 2014 asking that something be done about the dangerous intersection.
Benjamin Schiffman said one of the problems is the lack of buffer between the street and sidewalk. “One trip and you’re in the road or a car swerves out of the way and it goes right up on the curb,” he said.
Schiffman brought with him a copy of the borough’s 2003 master plan that he said identified the area as the most hazardous in town and made suggestions to rectify the problem. “This was 2003,” he said. “Why hasn’t this been looked into?”
Rabbi Reuven Drucker of Agudath Israel, who officiated at Chaim’s funeral, compared the drastic measures needed to sending bottled water to Flint, Mich., when toxic levels of lead were discovered in the water supply. “We need the bottled water now,” said Drucker.
Mittler told Drucker, “You have my word” that the community would be included in all aspects of the process.
“Everything that happens in my community I take seriously,” she said. “I am a mother too and everything personally affects me.”