Hartford Police Tell Volunteer School Crossing Guard To Stop Or Face Arrest
March 07, 2009
Did you know you could get arrested for helping a child cross the street to get to school?
Raymond Vail didn't know it until last week, when Hartford police told him to stop doing that unless he wanted to end up in handcuffs.
Vail's tale starts at the beginning of the school year, when he walked his granddaughter, A'netrice, a first-grader, to the Achievement First Academy on Lyme Street and saw the chaos in front of the building. Cars darted in and out of traffic dropping off students. Neighborhood kids walked to school, crossing in front of those cars and in between buses. Motorists were speeding or disregarding one-way signs that are in effect during the opening and closing of school each day. He even saw school staff members ignoring the one-way rule.
So Vail, 61, a disabled Vietnam-era veteran, took it upon himself to keep kids safe by directing traffic, escorting students across the street and encouraging them not to walk between the buses parked on Lyme Street.
"I saw the danger," he said. "I didn't want to see anyone get hurt."
School officials say they welcomed Vail's effort and even went as far as to buy him a green reflective vest and hand-held stop sign to help him do his thing. They also contacted city police about the safety issues in the school's vicinity and developed a plan for traffic flow, and say they sent reminders home to parents about being careful when dropping off and picking up their children. And recently Vail was hailed for his efforts in the school newsletter.
Jay Mihalko, the school's dean of students, also intervened when a few parents complained about what Vail was doing or got into disagreements with him.
"We had to keep bringing it back to child safety and remind them that Ray was out there to help," Mihalko said.
In the meantime Vail continued to lobby police for more presence, got dozens of parents to sign a petition asking the city for three school zone signs, two painted pedestrian crosswalks and an additional crossing guard.
Two weeks ago, the extra crossing guard showed up, but Vail has yet to see any additional signs or painted crosswalks. At the time he said it didn't matter, because he wasn't going anywhere until his requests were answered.
"I can't let it go," he said.
But Tuesday, after his morning shift, Vail said he got a call from a police officer telling him that if he didn't stop directing traffic or crossing children other than A'netrice, he would be arrested for obstructing traffic.
"It's unbelievable," Vail said. "Two weeks ago he told me what a wonderful job I was doing."
Hartford Police Chief Daryl K. Roberts said he applauded Vail's initiative, but when parents complained, the department had to do its job and enforce the law.
"It could be a public safety issue," Roberts said. "It's a sad commentary, though. He was just trying to do something that's right and good."
Mihalko said that, setting aside the new restrictions on Vail, the school still wants him to stay involved and finish what he started with safety improvements for the students and beyond.
"He still has quite a presence with the kids. They really look up to him," Mihalko said, adding that the school planned to put Vail's drive and energy to use in other areas.
Vail said he'll stay out of the street and escort only A'netrice to and from school from now on. But he plans to monitor the situation from the sidelines, write down license plate numbers if he sees wrongdoing and get the pedestrian lines done.
"And if it's a situation where I see a kid about to get hit, I won't just stand and watch it happen," he said.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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