Colorado community mourns, demands road safety changes in the wake of Littleton 7th grader's death

Community mourns, demands safety changes in wake of 7th-grader's death

A memorial of flowers, teddy bears and candles now sits up along a Colorado intersection in the wake of a deadly auto accident, where a Littleton middle school boy died while cycling to class.

Littleton Public Schools identified the victim as Liam Stewart. Neighbors and community members shared their grief and condolences Tuesday.

"It was sickening. All I could really think of is what those parents and siblings are going through today," said David Stowell, who's lived in the neighborhood for 16 years. 


Today, the Littleton School District sent a letter to parents and students saying Liam, who attended Euclid Middle School, passed away after an accident on the way to school.  

The statement said, in part: 

Because the accident happened at an intersection just a few blocks south of Euclid while many students were arriving at school, we believe that some students may have seen the accident or emergency response in the area. Our counselors and district mental health staff members have been working to identify and connect with those students and their families to provide support.  

It's a tragedy that hits close to home for Dennis Riley, who tells CBS News Colorado he neighbors the family of the student who was killed.  

"Needless to say, that had to hurt, that had to hurt," said Riley.  

Littleton police responded to the intersection of South Elati Street and West Arapahoe Drive after 8 a.m. Thursday, but the cyclist was pronounced deceased at the scene after first responders attempted life-saving measures. A statement from Littleton police read:

Any loss of life is difficult, but the loss of a child is heartbreaking. LPD is grieving with the family and friends of the child and with those impacted in our community.  

The driver of the vehicle remained on scene; no charges have been filed at this time, and the investigation is ongoing. Due to the age of the victim, no further information will be released at this time.  

"Most of us who live here think, 'I'm actually surprised it hasn't happened more often,'" said Stowell.  

Longtime residents of this neighborhood, like Stowell, say cars and cyclists have sped on down South Elati Street for years.

"Done it myself, I have to admit," said Riley.

"The reason people slow down on streets is the way they're designed, and this intersection could've been designed to really slow drivers down there," said Patrick Santana.

Santana is a member of Vibrant Littleton and Littleton Social Cycle, groups that have been advocating for safer streets in the city for all commuters, particularly cyclists and pedestrians.


"Unfortunately, it often takes a tragedy like this before you get any kind of big motion," said Santana.  

A city spokesperson says traffic circles, like the one adjacent to where this incident happened, were built back in 1999 as a way to address traffic concerns, but residents say it's clear it has not served its intended purpose.

"There have been multiple instances of people, mainly drunk drivers, mainly going over the top of them. This guy right here has had cars end up in his yard twice just in the last 10 years," said Stowell.

Santana and others in the community say tragedies like the death of Liam could be better prevented with barriers that separate bike lanes from drivers, not just colored striping around the circle.

"As a driver in a car coming on Elati street, you don't need to slow down. There's no calming generated by the traffic circle. In fact, the city's striping around that circle just causes a soft deflection around it. So, there's no speed reduction needed there," said Santana. "As a bicycle rider, you could just be in that intersection when a car goes at speed around that circle. You won't even have time to react or know."

At the same time, residents say there needs to be better methods to prevent drivers from speeding through the intersection.  

"I would love to see a four-way stop. I mean, we are a block from school and just, with the amount of speed that comes down this hill, I don't see what else we can do," said Stowell.  

While neither police nor the city have commented on whether they think the traffic circle played a role in the incident, residents hope to push city leaders for tougher safety measures.  

"And we're going to be asking that question more and more in the weeks and months in the wake of this tragedy; that we look at these kinds of locations," said Santana.

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