As she was headed home with her son in tow this Halloween, Elmont resident Mimi Pierre-Johnson watched as a car careened off the road near the intersection of Dutch Broadway and Elmont Road, flipping into the air as it struck a tree, utility pole and, eventually, four teenagers standing on the nearby sidewalk.
“My son was screaming and asking, ‘Mommy, are they dead?’” Pierre-Johnson recounted.
She then recalled nearby drivers stopping and rushing over to help the teens, who were all Elmont Memorial High School students walking home from school. As people tried to keep the bloodied students from moving, Pierre-Johnson said she prayed for them.
Nassau County police officials said that while two of the victims, a boy and a girl, were taken to a local hospital with non-life threatening injuries, two, both girls, were in critical condition, one of whom needed to be airlifted because of the severity of her injuries.
“This is an ongoing investigation,” Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder said at a news conference shortly after the incident. “… We’re going to let our guys do their job and hopefully figure out how this accident occurred.”
But many residents say they aren’t interested in how the accident happened. Instead, they want to know why these accidents keep happening around the same stretch of Dutch Broadway, one that police have said has a high volume of injuries and fatalities. Nassau County Legislator Carrie Solages expressed frustration over the accident, saying he has been pushing for increased safety on Dutch Broadway since 2015, when he took high-ranking county officials on a tour of the area.
He explained that as drivers enter Nassau County from Queens, they see that the one-lane streets become two lanes and take that as a sign to speed up. Residents have said that they know all too well that cars in the area have a tendency to hit 60-mph speeds. Solages said he repeatedly sent letters to the office of then County Executive Ed Mangano and the County Department of Public Works to conduct a traffic study of the area, and come up with a solution to prevent further accidents from happening.
Yet, not much came out of his advocacy attempts, and in 2016 a car struck 12-year-old Gabrielle Johnson as she walked to EMHS. Solages again sent a letter to the county leaders, demanding a traffic study, but again, there was little movement.
“It was clear that the previous county executive was not hearing our request,” Solages said, adding that when he had forwarded his requests to County Executive Laura Curran’s administration when she took office in 2017, the county finally moved forward with the traffic study.
He noted that while the County Legislature can earmark funds to improve safety on the road, it falls on the county executive’s office to implement the recommendations that come out of the traffic study. He reported that the county is currently in the midst of sending out requests for proposals for the installation of additional traffic controls in the area.
But Pierre-Johnson isn’t waiting for the county to move on its own time anymore. As a longtime activist and founder of the Elmont Cultural Center, Pierre-Johnson is launching a petition to get the county to act quickly the fix the problems on Dutch Broadway. She also reached out to State Sen. Todd Kaminsky for help.
“Clearly, speeding is a deadly problem at this intersection, and traffic-calming measures are needed as soon as possible,” Kaminsky said “An immediate traffic study is warranted, and I have already spoken to county officials, who are optimistic that one can begin promptly.”
Pierre-Johnson wants the county to designate the area of Dutch Broadway between Elmont Road and Ridge Road as a school zone, with 20-mph speed limit signs to deter motorists from speeding. She said she hopes the signs would help not only protect Elmont Memorial’s student body, but also reduce the number of accidents that plague nearby streets.
Barry — a homeowner at the corner of Dutch Broadway and Diamond Street, who declined to share his last name — said he has videos showing speeding cars that hit nearly 80-mph as they cross Elmont Road on Dutch Broadway. His house has suffered damage in several accidents, including one that occurred last June that tore down the fence he built specifically to keep his children safe.
“How am I supposed to let my kids play outside when things like this keep happening?” Barry wondered. “I’m scared to leave them alone.”
Residents also expressed concerns that Dutch Broadway would become even busier once the Islanders arena in Belmont opens. Ferida Khan, a mother who lives near the Dutch Broadway School, told arena developers during a public hearing earlier this year that they need to survey the road.
“Dutch Broadway will be a secondary road that will be flooded with cars heading to and from the stadium, trying to avoid traffic on Hempstead Turnpike,” Khan said.
Although the arena’s developers said they would look into all the traffic concerns of residents, Dutch Broadway was ultimately left out of the traffic portion of their environmental impact study for the arena.
As she gathers signatures to expedite the county’s work on Dutch Broadway, Pierre-Johnson said she was confident that action would finally be taken by the end of the year.
“I’m not going to let something like this happen again,” she said.
An emergency meeting had been scheduled for 8 p.m. on Nov. 8 at the Elmont Public Library to address the accident, after the Herald went to press on Monday.