There are no markers, no cross, flowers or stuffed teddy bears along Md. 118 in Germantown where Christina Morris-Ward, 15, died a year ago after being struck by a car. But part of her mother’s heart is there.
Gwen Ward is working for pedestrian safety so no other parent will go through what she has.
Ward has partnered with the Montgomery County Department of Transportation and with Safe Kids Worldwide in a campaign against distracted walking, which Christina was doing before she was hit.
The campaign is called “Moment of Silence.” Students are urged to put down or turn off their electronic devices as they are about to cross a street.
During school lunch breaks and after school, Ward has stood on the same corner where Christina died to remind students to take that moment of silence and be aware of their surroundings when they cross the street. She has passed out reflectors for them to clip onto their jackets or backpacks.
“It’s been difficult, but it’s been therapeutic,” Ward said. “[I’m involved] to help prevent this from happening again.”
Ward said she was at work on the morning of Oct. 31, 2012, when her son called to say Christina had been in an accident and he was going to the hospital. That was all she knew when she arrived at Shady Grove Adventist Hospital in Rockville. It was not long before she heard the bad news that her daughter had died.
“Our kids are precious, and to lose someone that young is really devastating,” Ward said. “I never expected my daughter would not come home.”
Ward said that after putting stories together from witnesses and the police, she learned that Christina was wearing dark clothes. It was early morning, not quite daylight, when she was walking to school.
Christina was looking down at her cellphone and had earphones on. She was not in a crosswalk as she crossed the eight-lane road.
Those conditions and actions increase the chance of pedestrian collisions, said Jeff Dunckel, pedestrian safety coordinator for the Montgomery County Department of Transportation.
“Sadly, she paid the ultimate price,” he said.
Dunckel said vigilance by drivers and pedestrians is “a two-way street.”
“We are trying to get drivers to be aware that pedestrians may not be where they expect to see them,” he said.
Kate Carr, president of Safe Kids Worldwide, a global organization dedicated to preventing injuries to children, said she heard about Ward’s work with Montgomery County’s transportation department and asked if she was willing to help students nationwide by sharing her story.
“She’s been really willing to get involved. We developed our Moment of Silence campaign with her in honor of Christina,” said Gary Karton, director of communications for Safe Kids Worldwide.
The need is great, Carr said.
Safe Kids conducted an observational study in 17 states during the 2012-13 school year involving 34,325 students walking to school.
“One in five high schools students was distracted by an electronic device and one in eight middle schoolers,” she said. “There are a lot of campaigns against distracted driving. [We need one] for distracted walking.”
In Montgomery County, Dunckel said, information from 2010 to 2012 shows 172 pedestrian collisions within a half-mile of Montgomery County high schools, 30 of them involving high school-age kids.
“This is the time of year that we have an increase in pedestrian collisions,” he said. “We think it’s because more people are out when it’s dark.”
Pedestrians will stand out more near traffic if they wear light-colored clothing or have on something reflective. That is why Ward stood on the corner giving out reflectors and talking to students.
“I want them to be safe,” she said. “I just want to get this message out.”