Billings, Montana — When their son Ben was struck by a speeding car while riding his bike to school last fall, Johnna Jablonksi and Joshua Toenyes’ lives were abruptly changed. Ben was flung 50 feet, and they both suffered life-changing injuries.
On the morning of October 4, it was at the junction of Lyman Avenue and Brentwood Lane. In reaction to the event, a stop sign was installed, but many now believe that more urgent action is required after learning that another child was struck just a few streets away.
“Ben’s doing really well, but because of how severe of a concussion he had, it’s possible that we don’t know all of the impact of the injuries that he suffered. So, it could take some time for that to fully manifest itself,” said Toenyes, Ben’s stepfather on Thursday.
This week, another youngster at Will James Middle School was struck by a car just a few blocks away, giving voice to their concerns once more.
They continue, “Enough is enough,”
“What are we without children? What is our community? So, why aren’t we focusing on keeping them safe so they can feel confident? Parents don’t have to be stressed or be worried, is my kid going to make it to school safe today,” said Jablonski.
There may soon be improvements.
The city’s safe paths to School program is currently in its second phase. Its goal is to make the area around the city’s schools safer. The 22 elementary schools in the city were the focus of phase one.
Now, middle schools are the focus.
Parents and students can walk routes with consultants as part of that study’s walk audits to identify dangerous places. On Monday, Will James was audited.
“Will James is a pain to drop off kids. People are always aching to get off because there’s no controlled light outside of the school and no controlled crosswalk until you walk to Rehberg,” added Jablonski.
This fall, the city hopes to adopt a formal strategy supported by $500,000 in funding.
And that’s good news for Ben’s family, who understand the need for improvement.
“After Ben’s accident, we put together a petition. We spoke to the City Council, went door to door, and the city agreed and installed stop signs along the safe route schools, along Lyman Ave. near Poly Drive Elementary,” added Toenyes.
Ben’s family said they aren’t taking any chances, however, they have added safety measures. They stopped allowing Ben or their middle schooler to ride a bike or walk to school.
“I can’t send Ben out on his bike to school anymore, even with the stop signs because I’m so scared that someone is going to blow right through that stop sign,” Jablonski added.