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Chesterfield family urges drivers to pay attention after their son is nearly hit

Chesterfield Intersection PSC Koehler 2.jpg
Posted at 12:52 PM, Jun 27, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-27 12:52:40-04

CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. — A Midlothian family is speaking out hoping to protect their son and their neighbors from what they say is a dangerous intersection in their neighborhood.

At the crossing of Genito Road and Brandermill Parkway, the pedestrian walk sign tells people it's safe to cross at the same time the stop light turns green for cars turning right.

“A lot of people have said that it is a dangerous intersection," explained Debbie Koehler, who moved to Brandermill two years ago. "People see green go, and they don't pay attention that there's somebody standing there."

It’s something Koehler said is causing issues for those who love walking and running in Brandermill, including her 14-year-old son Samuel.

"He has been almost hit multiple times," she noted.

Samuel, who prefers the nickname "Shades," was born with a rare visual impairment called Achromatopsia. He can't see well in bright light and is legally blind.

He relies on the crosswalk, which talks to him, to tell him when it's safe to cross.

"It has a steady beat and when it starts to beat super fast, it's telling you to go," Shades explained.

The Koehles don’t let Shades run by himself because of the fact drivers often don’t stop at the intersection. In fact, just a few weeks ago when he was on a run with his sister, the crosswalk told them it was safe to go, but a car didn't stop.

"She had to pull him back from the intersection because someone ran and almost hit him," said Koehler. "And I was actually really angry.”

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Debbie Koehler

The Koehlers knew they needed to do something, so they took to social media creating a video to reach drivers and remind them pedestrians have the right-of-way. Within a few hours of the video being posted to Instagram, it received thousands of views.

"I went to swim practice and came back and was like, 'holy crap, it has 10,000 views,'" said Shades. "I thought this is gonna be good because maybe people will notice."

The video now has nearly 20,000 views, and the Koehlers also reached out to the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) to see if anything could be done.

"They called me back the next morning, and they were like, we're going to come out there and check and make sure everything is working properly," Koehler noted. "And it wasn't, so they fixed a few things with the crosswalk."

VDOT told the Koehlers and CBS 6 they’re working to make the intersection safer, such as relocating the existing pedestrian crossing sign to the backside of the curb ramp for better visibility.

They're also installing a "right turn yield to pedestrians" sign on the traffic signal pole for the northbound Brandermill Parkway approach to the signal and implementing a leading pedestrian interval (LPI), which starts the pedestrian signal phase three to five seconds before the start of the green light for drivers.

“I'm just grateful," Koehler expressed. "I was in tears when he talked to me because he just sounded very concerned and listened and wanted to problem solve."

As Shades continues his weekly runs, he hopes he soon won’t have to worry about drivers along one part of his route. But he and his family also want people across the country to slow down and watch out behind the wheel.

"It'll make the world a lot safer," said Koehler. "People just pay attention.”

VDOT said the signs they plan to install at the intersection are not standard signs they keep on hand, so it could take a few weeks to get them up and running. But the extra seconds on the crosswalk for pedestrians should be in place within two weeks.