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SOUTH SALT LAKE — After a rash of crashes has left three men dead near the new South Salt Lake homeless resource center, city leaders are scrambling to improve safety in the area.
“It breaks my heart that our city is going through this tragic time,” said South Salt Lake City Councilwoman Corey Thomas. “It’s tragic for all involved — the individuals that have passed away, their families, and also the individuals in the cars. It’s extremely traumatic.”
Four crashes, three resulting in deaths, have happened in the area since the November opening of the 300-bed South Salt Lake men’s resource center at 3380 S. 1000 West.
The first was just weeks after the center opened, when police said a man who was apparently homeless was killed when he was struck by a vehicle while trying to cross 3300 South — a six-lane road — near the crosswalk at 900 West. His name has not yet been released.
A second crash happened late Christmas night, when a vehicle traveling north on 300 West struck 43-year-old Randall Stewart, who was in a wheelchair in the roadway near 3400 South. He was hospitalized in critical condition but later died, according to South Salt Lake Police Department spokesman Gary Keller.
Another crash that Friday left a 29-year-old man with injuries after he was hit by a pickup truck in the middle of the road near 3300 South at 200 West. That same day, 67-year-old Duane Nebeker was killed while walking across 3300 South, across all six lanes of traffic, near 1000 West, directly across the street from the resource center.
All of the men who were killed are believed to have been homeless, Keller said.
Now, Thomas said she’s aiming to meet soon with Utah Department of Transportation officials to discuss installing a crosswalk closer to the center, and maybe reducing the speed limit.
“Any little thing we can think of to help is better than nothing,” Thomas said.
City leaders and the owner of the South Salt Lake facility, Shelter the Homeless, knew before the center’s opening that clients — many who come on foot or by bus, which drops passengers at a bus stop across the street from the center midblock — would have no designated crosswalk unless they walk farther up the street to 900 West, then back down a block to 1000 West to get to the resource center.
Shelter the Homeless had initially painted a crosswalk on 1000 West — but did so without the approval of UDOT, so it was removed, said Preston Cochrane, executive director of Shelter the Homeless. He noted that’s “probably better” to have it removed because crosswalks without lighting or any type of alert system “can create a worse situation.”
It’s tragic for all involved — the individuals that have passed away, their families, and also the individuals in the cars. It’s extremely traumatic.
–South Salt Lake City Councilwoman Corey Thomas.
As deaths have racked up, Cochrane said there have been “lots of meetings” with UDOT officials to come up with new safety measures. In the meantime, the Road Home and the South Salt Lake Police Department have been urging clients staying at the resource center to stay on the sidewalks, use the 900 West crosswalk, and to not cross 3300 South illegally.
The South Salt Lake Police Department has also increased patrol and enforcement to prevent illegal street crossings, Keller said.
In the meantime, Thomas, of all people, knows how long it can take to get a crosswalk installed.
Thomas, who said she was propelled into public service after she watched a car strike someone on State Street in her South Salt Lake district, has been down this road before with UDOT. Over the last two years, she’s advocated for the agency to put a crosswalk on that segment of State Street, and just now its lights are getting installed.
“I know it’s a long process and it’s hard,” Thomas said, acknowledging a traffic study likely needs to be done, but she said she’d also like to speak with Utah Transit Authority officials to discuss maybe moving the bus stop so it’s not in the middle of the block and perhaps closer to the existing 900 West crosswalk.
It’s not clear exactly when changes may happen, though.
“I’m pressing as quickly as we can,” Thomas said. “It’s kind of hard to say (when) because it’s really up to UDOT.”
UDOT spokesman John Gleason said UDOT officials “want to work with the city,” while noting that “anytime there is a serious crash or a fatality, UDOT conducts a comprehensive study of the area to see if there is an engineering solution that may improve safety.”
“We’re going to do everything we can to make sure that we’re looking out for people’s safety, but we’re also asking everyone else to take steps in order to protect themselves as well,” Gleason said.
In the meantime, Gleason urged people to never cross the road illegally and to use the 900 West crosswalk.
“We understand it can be a bit of an inconvenience to walk several yards out of their way to use the crosswalk,” he said, “but it really is what’s necessary to ensure their safety.”