Community demands changes to intersection
Members of the community, classmates, family members and community leaders held candles, carried signs, sang hymns and demanded change at a candelight vigil Monday night in honor of 15-year-old George Coleman Jr.
A car stuck and killed Coleman on Oct. 19 at 6:30 p.m. while crossing the intersection of Route 18 North and Commercial Avenue with three of his friends.
The boys were on their way to a youth group program across Route 18, said Lillian Ashie, Coleman's aunt. The only way for the boys to walk to the program was by crossing the highway.
Ashie and several speakers commemorated Coleman's life and called for the city and state to take action and make changes to the intersection so pedestrians can safely cross the highway.
But City Administrator Tom Loughlin said Route 18 is a state highway, which the city does not control.
"But we will certainly ask the Department of Transportation to take another look at this intersection and see if it's as safe as it needs to be," Loughlin said. "We feel terrible for George's parents; it's a tragic accident that no parent should have to experience, we feel very badly for them."
Ashie said the boys walked from Paulus Boulevard to the intersection, where they waited at the traffic light for it to turn red. The boys then crossed one by one.
The first crossed without any problem, the second was nearly hit by a car and Coleman, the third to cross, was struck by a car and sent flying through the air, Ashie said.
New Brunswick Police Lt. JT Miller said Coleman crossed against traffic, and traffic has the right of way in a green light.
"He ran across the street at night when it was dark, and it's unfortunate that he was struck by a vehicle," Miller said. "But he crossed when he shouldn't have been crossing."
But Coleman's uncle, Kofi Eshun, said the boys had enough sense to stand by a traffic light and wait for their turn to cross the street.
"They did not just walk around; they stood by the same traffic light, which implies that they were trying to obey the traffic light, so they did the right thing.," Eshun said.
Changes need to be made to the intersection to prevent another accident from happening and to protect pedestrians, speakers said.
"We see no problem with the intersection," Miller said.
But Attorney Patricia Bombelyn said traffic travels on Route 18 at speeds of 50-70 miles per hour, and the only chance pedestrians have to cross is if drivers slow down in time.
"There's a blind spot if you stand at the light and you look down," she said. "You can see that the cars in the right-most lane will not see you until they're five to seven seconds from this intersection."
Bombelyn said the intersection poses an unreasonable risk to families.
"It's unfair to expect a parent to feel comfortable about sending their child to cross an intersection like this for whatever reason," she said.
Latino Leadership Alliance of New Jersey President Martin Perez said there needs to be a pedestrian bridge to protect those crossing, and pointed out that the speed limit signs along Route 18 still remain blank, with no speed limit posted.
"The city should be more responsive, the police should treat these families and the people who complain with dignity," he said. "That's the least they deserve."
While the community stressed the need for changes to the intersection, Ashie said she did not like how police officials handled the entire situation.
The police did not notify the parents of their son's death even though the boys told authorities the victim's name, his parent's names and the Coleman's home address, Ashie said.
"Not a single police officer knocked on their door to tell them ‘George Coleman has been hit by a car, he's in the hospital' — no," she said.
But Miller said this is untrue and the police were in contact with the family.
Ashie said Coleman's parents found out about their son's death through Coleman's friend's cousin at 9:30 p.m. They went to Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, and were told their son was not there. At this time, Coleman was listed as a John Doe.
They then went to St. Peter's Hospital around 11 p.m. and they were told they did not have a patient listed as George Coleman Jr., and no accident victim had been brought there, Ashie said,
The Colemans went to the New Brunswick police station and were told that there was a name to the victim and their son was at RWJUH, Ashie said.
"What defense do you have for not going to the parent's house and to inform them of their child's death?" Ashie asked.
Ashie fought back tears while she addressed the crowd.
"We're talking about the injustice of the whole thing, the treatment of these parents; how do you lose a child and no one tells you? How do you sit in your home hoping your child is coming home and he never shows up?" she asked.
Attendees held signs reading, "We demand equal rights and justice for George," "Respect our families," "Everyone deserves equal treatment" and "Different colors doesn't mean different treatment."
Rev. John Thompson-Quartey of St. Mary's Church in Point Pleasant, the Coleman family's minister, led a prayer and the crowd sang "Amazing Grace" and "Jesus Loves Me," among other hymns.
President of the NAACP Edison-Metuchen Branch Reggie Johnson said he will be asking his membership to raise money for the Coleman family to keep their son's memory alive.