The 3300 block of West 16th Street in front of North Lawndale College Prep, near where a hit-and-run driver killed an 11-year-old boy June 16, 2022. (Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago)

West Side neighbors say more stop signs are needed to slow down speeding drivers after a hit-and-run driver killed an 11-year-old June 16 near Douglass Park.

The boy was crossing the street in the 3300 block of West 16th Street at 10:20 a.m. when a driver hit him, police said. The boy, identified as Jalon James by the Cook County Medical Examiner’s office, was taken to Stroger Hospital, where he was pronounced dead, police said. Authorities said Jalon lived about a block away from where the crash occurred.

The driver took off in an unknown direction, police said. An investigation is ongoing.

Neighbor Keith Gerald said he was across the street building a playground in a vacant lot when the crash occurred.

“I heard the bang,” Gerald said. “I thought [the driver] hit a car. I looked up and it was a little boy. I was really upset. That boy was really young.”

The crash occurred near North Lawndale College Prep, 1615 S. Christiana Ave., as well as churches and a community garden, where there are lots of pedestrians during the day, a bystander named Dee said. Many young folks walk along 16th Street so they can “come to stores,” Dee said.

North Lawndale College Prep, 1615 S. Christiana Ave., near where a hit-and-run driver killed an 11-year-old boy June 16, 2022. (Pascal Sabino/Block Club Chicago)

There are several crosswalks at 16th Street intersections between Kedzie and Homan avenues, though there are no stop signs to slow traffic. Despite the crosswalks, cars speed down that stretch of road “like a drag strip,” said Latanya S, who also witnessed the crash.

“A lot of people don’t obey the signs on the ground. They see a crosswalk but they could care less,” she said.

Speeding has been an issue along 16th Street for years, she said.

It “don’t matter what time of the day. It could be ice on the ground,” and people would still fly through the intersections, she said.

Asked what safety upgrades the city could make to the road, several neighbors said they preferred stop signs along 16th Street over speed cameras. There are two speed cameras along Roosevelt Road on the northern edge of Douglass Park as well as one on Ogden Avenue going through the park, according to a city map.

“We don’t need any more red light cameras. We need stop signs,” Gerald said.

The boy is at least the third child a driver has killed in three weeks.

On June 2, a driver hit and killed 2-year-old Raphael “Rafi” Cardenas in Lincoln Square.

On June 9, 3-year-old Elizabeth Grace Shambrook was killed in Uptown.

This weekend, hundreds of people marched in Lincoln Square to demand safer streets after the children’s deaths. A man who’d been at the march was killed just hours later when a driver hit him as he crossed the street.

Sheila Benson, a lifelong Lawndale resident, said reckless driving has been an issue in the area her entire life.

“It hurts my heart because it’s more kids getting hurt than anything,” Benson said. It’s terrible. They drive through here like it’s a drag race. They ain’t giving our kids the time to live. “

“They need to slow down and drive right because you never know when somebody will run out into the street,” neighbor Matt Griggins said.

Residents who live in areas where there are issues with speeding and traffic safety “can’t wait until the next tragedy” to take action, said James Brooks, pastor of Harmony Community Church and CEO of Lawndale Christian Health Center.

Brooks lives nearby and came to the site of the crash once he heard about it to support neighbors mourning the tragedy.

Road infrastructure like traffic lights and speed bumps could help make the streets safer, Brooks said. Community members should also come together to have conversations about what safety features they need and how they can stop people from getting behind the wheel if they are inebriated, unlicensed or unwilling to follow traffic safety rules, Brooks said.

“It’s on us as a community to galvanize and be the change that we want to see,” Brooks said. “We noticed that speeding is happening; we gotta stay on it.” 

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