By BRIAN WALKER
SPIRIT LAKE — Some Spirit Lake residents are still on edge about pedestrian safety along Highway 41, especially after a reported close call on Saturday and last month's incident that left a resident hospitalized.
Despite bright signs erected last week by the Chamber of Commerce that warn motorists to be aware of pedestrians and to slow down, a woman reported to police that she and her son just had a close call.
"This lady … wasn't paying attention and hit me because she wasn't looking," Martha Stafford wrote in an online comment. "Luckily, my son was on the right side of me. Her front passenger side of her car bumped my arm, but didn't do any damage because she wasn't going that fast. She said she was very sorry and I left it at that."
The chamber posted signs in the Highway 41 corridor with three different pedestrian safety messages.
One of them, which states "Kill your speed, not our citizens" shows a car striking a pedestrian. It raised the eyebrows of a few residents, including one woman who contacted The Press who didn't feel it was appropriate in light of the injury of 77-year-old Catherine Graf on Feb. 3 that left her hospitalized in critical condition.
Graf's friends said she has made gradual strides in recovery. Kootenai Health officials said late last week that Graf was transferred to the Northern Idaho Advanced Care Hospital in Post Falls. A spokesperson at NIACH couldn't be reached for comment Monday to provide Graf's condition.
Marc Kroetch, a chamber member, said there were honks of approval as the signs were distributed.
Responding to the sign content concern, Kroetch said, "Maybe the image is on the edge, but not so much to help the issue of slowing down to prevent a life-altering event from happening not only to the driver but the person being struck. It's too important to soft-peddle this. If the viewer remembers the image until they are 100 years old and it slows them down enough to prevent an injury or worst-case death, it's very appropriate."
Kroetch said the signs will be up for a few weeks, then can be re-erected if they're needed.
"If our signs are on their lips, then so is the message — slow down, you might kill someone," he said. "Hey, we're talking about it. Cathy will still be walking with a limp or cane long after the one offended has forgotten about this tragic event."
Another area of discussion has been the lack of snow removal from the sidewalk along Highway 41, as that can hamper pedestrian safety.
Heather McDaniel, police spokeswoman, said such concerns are valid and directed them to City Hall. Mayor Renee Eastman, who’s been working with the Idaho Transportation Department on ideas to improve safety, couldn't be reached for comment on Monday.
Megan Sausser, ITD spokeswoman, said sidewalk maintenance is the city’s responsibility, per a 2005 agreement between the agencies.
Sausser said ITD will continue to work with the city to develop long-term safety solutions to complement flashers at crosswalks and other features. Some residents believe stop lights at both ends of town would help.
Reducing the speed limit from 35 mph — it’s 25 mph in the school zone during school hours — is also being considered, but approval from ITD is needed.
Meanwhile, the police department intends to charge Tamaara Shearer, 32, Blanchard, with misdemeanor inattentive driving for her alleged role in the incident involving Graf.
According to police, Graf, who is involved in the community's garden club, Tree of Sharing at Christmas and other efforts, was crossing Highway 41 at 2:20 p.m. on Feb. 3 when she was struck be a vehicle that was rear-ended by a Toyota Sienna driven by Shearer. Drugs or alcohol do not appear to be a factor, police said.