RICHMOND, Va. -- October is Bicyclist and Pedestrian Awareness Month in Virginia. It's a time that is especially difficult for one Richmond mother.
Khrystal Bethea's 16-year-old daughter, Aajah Rosemond, was killed in a pedestrian crash in October 2020.
A police report from the incident details a crash between two cars at the intersection of Jahnke and German School Roads on Richmond's Southside in October 2020. One car crashed into Rosemond as she walked along Jahnke Road.
Rosemond's mother says her daughter was headed to a store nearby at the time and the impact of the crash broke her neck and she died at the scene.
One year later, Bethea still grieves and copes with the loss. Once a month, she says she tries to come back to the intersection where her daughter died, homemade signs in hand, to share her story with anyone who will listen. She asks drivers to slow down, be more cautious and look out for pedestrians.
"The feeling of the loss, it stings, so I just don't want this to happen again," Bethea said.
Bethea is now on a mission to effect change in her daughter's memory and she's getting help from Richmond City Councilman Michael Jones. Jones and Bethea hope to see speed limits reduced across the city. Jones says there are 12 roads in the city where the speed limit exceeds 35 miles per hour:
- Huguenot Rd – 45mph between Riverside Dr and Chesterfield line
- Jeff Davis Highway – 40mph between Chesterfield line and Hopkins Rd
- Carnation St – 40mph between German School Rd and Midlothian Tnpk
- Warwick Rd corridor – 40mph between Belt Blvd and German School Rd
- Commerce Rd – 45mph between Walmsley Blvd and Bellemeade Rd
- Forest Hill Ave – 40mph between Chesterfield line and Sheila Lane
- Broad Rock Blvd / Ironbridge Rd – 45mph between Chesterfield line and Plainfield Rd
- Broad Rock Blvd – 40mph between Plainfield Rd and Belt Blvd
- Belt Blvd – 40mph between Warwick Rd and Broad Rock Blvd.
- Walmsley Blvd – 40mph between CSX RR crossing and Hopkins Rd
- 9th St (Manchester Bridge) – 40mph
- Cowardin Ave (Lee Bridge) – 40mph
- Chippenham Parkway – 45mph between Chesterfield County and Henrico County
Nine of these roads are on the city's Southside where the fewest accommodations are made for pedestrian traffic.
"We want to make sure there is no street in the city of Richmond that you can go over 35 miles an hour," Jones said. "Addressing speed in the city, we're truly impacting speed on the Southside since that's where the higher rates of speed are allowed."
In addition to her daughter, Bethea is also advocating for others in her community who walk to get around the neighborhood.
"They don't have an airbag or metal blanket around them for cushion so people should slow down. These are our loved ones you're hitting. It hurts," said Bethea.
According to data from the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles, there were 105 accidents involving pedestrians in 2020 across Richmond, nine with fatalities. 42 of those crashes happened on the Southside, along with six of the nine fatalities. Bethea's daughter is among them.
The city of Richmond has taken steps to improve pedestrian safety on this city's Southside as a part of the Mayor's Safe and Healthy Streets Challenge and Vision Zero initiative.
In 2018, a city project re-timed 71 traffic signals in South Richmond to improve traffic flow and increase pedestrian safety. In 2019, speed limits were reduced from 35mph to 25mph on three Southside roads. However, Jones believes there's more work to be done and he admits bringing speed limits down may be an uphill battle.
"Well, I think it going to be difficult. I'll concede that traffic engineering studies are going to support speeds over 45, speeds over 40, speeds over 35, but is that the safest things to do if we're walking the streets?" Jones said.
Jones tells CBS6 he hopes to introduce an ordinance to the Richmond City Council in November and hopefully see speed reduction enacted across the city in early 2022.
In addition to changes at the local level, Bethea hopes to see a change in state law as well. When a fatal accident occurs involving a pedestrian, she'd like to see the driver's license suspended during the investigation and harsher punishment.
Court records show the driver who caused the accident that killed her daughter was convicted of reckless driving and failure to yield and paid a $200 fine. Bethea accepted the driver's apology but feels the penalty wasn't enough and would like to see more accountability in these types of crashes.
The area where the crash happened is in Virginia Delegate Betsy Carr's district. Carr has been in touch with the family and says since Aajah's death others have reached out to her with safety concerns. Carr says she's exploring refining the law, possibly upping the charge in this type of crash to negligent homicide.
"It's different if a car hits a tree or a telephone pole versus a car accidentally hitting a pedestrian and that person being killed so we're working on some legislation," Carr said. "I think there is enough awareness statewide of this issue that we need to take care of because it's come up in other localities and so forth. So, I think that there's going to be support for this."
In the meantime, Bethea is keeping her daughter's memory alive, marking the one-year anniversary of her death with what she calls a driver awareness event where the community will walk Aajah's last walk.
"We're just gonna relive her last steps," Bethea said.
The walk will happen Sunday beginning at St. John Woods Apartments at 4 p.m. Members of the community will walk to the corner of Jahnke and German School Roads where Aajah died. Bethea says the driver awareness event will last until 7 p.m.