The mother of Eliza “Justine” Almuina, the 12-year-old who was killed after being struck by a vehicle in a marked crosswalk, is glad the city is taking action, but still plans to file a lawsuit.
It happened in March outside of Cleveland Middle School after school hours. Hours after the crash, Albuquerque Police called it a “tragic accident.”
They said Almuina and a friend were walking back from the Smith’s across the street when a driver of an SUV hit Almuina. APD said the man claimed he didn’t see them.
Days after her death city leaders called for immediate change. Mayor Tim Keller spoke with KRQE News 13 in March, saying he was very familiar with the intersection.
“This is a tragedy that should have never happened,” he said.
Then, in the weeks that followed the city put together a task force.
“What the task force is tasked with is inventorying all the crosswalks and seeing what improvements they do have and which ones don’t and which ones needs improvements,” Johnny Chandler said.
Chandler is the public information officer for the city’s Department of Municipal Development.
City councilors also acted fast passing an ordinance requiring that a specialized signal be installed at the Louisiana crosswalk. Chandler said the task force will look to see if other crosswalks could benefit from the specialized signal, known as a HAWK signal, or a High-intensity Activated Crosswalk.
“Each elementary and middle school has more than one crosswalk so it’s quite the monumental task to inventory every single crosswalk connected to them,” he said.
Joleen Youngers is the attorney representing Amuina’s mother. She said the family’s main priority is to know what happened, and they want to improve safety so this doesn’t happen to another child.
She said starting at the intersection in question is a good idea, but still begs a lot of answers.
“It’s certainly an indication that improvements were needed and could have been made beforehand,” Youngers said.
She sent two letters last week, one to the city and the other to Albuquerque Public Schools warning the two that the family is preparing to sue.
“What was the condition of the crosswalk? What was going on at the school? What did the school know or should have known about the presence of students in that crosswalk after hours?” she said.
While Youngers said the change is a step in the right direction, there are still a lot of unanswered questions.
“It’s unfortunate when it takes tragedy to get that change in motion,” Younger said.
APD said the investigation into the crash is still ongoing. The driver in the case was never charged. The city and APS both said they do not comment on pending litigation.