13 years is a long time to accomplish what some people thought originally thought was a “no brainer”. What should have been a “no brainer” in many minds was the installation of a stop sign at 98th and Meade, an intersection that until recently did not have a sign for any of the directions.
13 years ago, Rose Berry went to her Village Trustee, Robert Streit, who agreed to assist her in securing a stop sign for the intersection. Despite their efforts, the request was turned down by the Village after Berry followed a 17 step process that the village has in place for traffic changes.
That was then and this is now. Fast forward thirteen years and times had changed. Unfortunately, Berry and Streit were proven right about the need for a stop sign at the corner on Memorial Day of this year. On that day, a local resident, Jacqueline Chavez Ruiz was driving a GMC Suburban headed east when another vehicle heading south on Meade flipped the Suburban ejecting Ruiz and pinning her underneath the wreckage.
Ruiz was rushed to the hospital by the Village’s paramedics but she passed away six days later. It’s that knowledge that makes Berry sad even when celebrating the installation of the stop sign. She called the death of Ruiz, a mother of four young children, “heartbreaking”.
The accident wasn’t the first one at the intersection but it was the only one that resulted in a death. “Over the 30 years that I’ve lived here there have been a lot of accidents but nothing like that”, said Berry.
She didn’t witnessed the actual accident that took the life of Jackie Ruiz but she witnessed the aftermath. She said she was always concerned about the intersection even after losing the first battle 13 years ago despite support from Streit.
After Ruiz was killed, Rose Berry contacted Streit again. She said that Streit was very responsive and was “helpful” in the process. She once again petitioned the Oak Lawn Traffic Review Committee to add signage at what she considered a dangerous uncontrolled intersection on her block. “People head south from Southwest Highway and don’t stop”, she said.
13 years ago, she was looking for any kind of signage. “A two way stop, a four way stop, a yield sign, something” is how she described her request.
“Bob Streit came to the meeting and spoke in favor of the stop sign, I spoke, Jackie’s husband Roger and few other people also spoke”, said Berry.
Even with the overwhelming support in the neighborhood, the support of the Trustee and the victim’s husband, Berry admitted that she was nervous.
Some residents had told her that “people don’t stop at stop signs” and she even heard that one Village Trustee had questioned the need for a stop sign. According to several residents, Village Trustee Alex Olejniczak was initially not receptive to the idea asking a resident, “do you really think a stop sign would have prevented the accident”.
Berry’s answer is “yes” because she doesn’t think the accident would have been as bad if there was a stop sign in at least one of the directions.
After being defeated 13 years earlier and hearing some negative comments, nobody could blame Berry for being concerned that the request could be denied. 13 years earlier, the Village’s Traffic Review Committee insisted on a “traffic study” and then denied the request.
This time, the Traffic Review Committee decided that it didn’t need a “traffic study” and unanimously approved the request with Norm Lupescu making the motion.
After the Traffic Review Committee’s approval, Berry was cautiously optimistic that the sign would be approved. Streit, who Berry called “helpful”, made a brief statement before the Village Board urging the approval of the request and the board unanimously agreed.
The neighborhood crowd that had come in support of the stop signs applauded. One of the audience members was Roger Ruiz. Three days later, the signage was installed by the Village.
13 years ago, the reasoning for denying such sign requests was that “drivers would jackrabbit” off of the stops and speed more. For that reason, there are other intersections that lack any stop sign or yield sign.
Streit said that the intersection is one of many that needs to be reviewed for “a stop sign or yield sign” and said no other family should have to endure the loss of a loved one because the village didn’t want to put up stop signs. Streit said he has brought his concerns to the Village Manager and Police Chief, who have resisted suggestions that additional signs be installed elsewhere.
Streit said the original request 13 years ago should have been a “no brainer” and the village should install either a stop sign or yield sign at any other uncontrolled intersection.