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Pedestrian safety the focus of Phase II

Cary Ashby • May 13, 2019 at 12:00 PM

The brief ribbon-cutting ceremony for Phase II of the Alex Waite Trail at Veterans Memorial Lake Park was a bittersweet experience for the namesake’s family.

The trail is named for the 11-year-old boy who was fatally struck by a car while riding his bicycle on Old State Road in August 1995.

“We are honored. This is just a nice way to remember (him),” his mother, Diane Waite, said Friday.

“When I go by, I love seeing families with strollers and kids on bikes and they’re safe and they’re good and enjoying it; it really makes me happy to see that,” the Norwalk woman added.

The second phase expands the path at the rear of the reservoir by three-quarters of a mile.

“It warms my heart when we drive by and see people enjoy it — biking, walking, strollers. It’s a nice green space and we’re very happy that you guys did this. Thank you,” Waite said.

In March, Norwalk council members unanimously passed a resolution for an Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) grant for Phase II of the path. The reimbursement grant included $98,000 for the project and $2,000 to be paid to ODNR as an administrative fee. It required no matching funds from the city.

Mayor Rob Duncan, during Friday’s ceremony, thanked state Rep. Dick Stein (R-Norwalk) and Gayle Manning, a Republican and former state senator who represented the 13th district, for helping secure the money.

“(They) helped us get these funds — about $100,000 — to put this trail in the back. Obviously it’s important for us — pedestrian safety,” Duncan said. “We just needed to get this extended to the back.

“Some people have complained that it doesn’t allow quite as much room for the vehicles to go past, but honestly they have to slow down anyway. … So that works out well.”

 

‘Statement project’

The project included installing a sidewalk in the rear loop of Veterans Memorial Lake Park and a small parking lot near the bridge.

“This is our most heavily utilized park. There are hundreds of people who walk out here … or bike out here, any given week,” said Joe Lindenberger, superintendent of the parks and recreation department. “Until this point, a good portion of this loop around the reservoir would be on the roadway. … Now we’re getting them off the roads, they’re safer (and) people are side by side.”

Although the project wasn’t entirely complete Friday, Duncan said he wanted to make sure public works director Josh Snyder was there for the ribbon-cutting. Snyder’s last day with the city is Wednesday; he will start the next day as an assistant city engineer in Sandusky.

“Josh had a lot to do with designing this project, so we wanted him to be a part of this ribbon-cutting today,” the mayor said.

“This probably is my first memorial project,” said Snyder, who appreciates how the second phase will keep pedestrians safe. “It gets them off the road. … I think it’s a statement project.”

The engineer also said this project focuses on wellness, people and safety.

“(I’m) happy and proud to be part of it,” he added.

In addition to Alex’s mom, his siblings, Connor and Ian Waite, attended Friday’s ceremony along with their father, John. Their uncle and aunt, Doug and Marlene Duffield, of Willard, also were there.

“Alex was a very gregarious 11-year-old kid and when he died, the brothers you see now were 3 and 4 years old,” his mother said.

 

Details of tragedy and aftermath

Diane Waite shared some details of what led to the 1995 tragedy.

“He and a group of friends came out to the reservoir. … I think they were out riding out back here,” she said.

One of her son’s friends lived near the reservoir.

“He went across the street to … use the bathroom and a car came going north on Old State (Road) and hit him,” Waite said.

One of the painful parts of losing Alex was “that it was a hit-and-run,” his mother added. “She ran and hid her car for like two days until police were able to get witnesses and determine who … had hit him — and that’s why we suspect she was drunk.”

No charges of drunk driving were filed against Hoyt in this case.

A jury determined the driver, Janet Hoyt, was guilty of involuntary manslaughter and failure to stop after an accident. However, legal technicalities led to the felony conviction being overturned. She received a six-month jail sentence and $1,000 fine for the misdemeanor traffic offense.

A wrongful death lawsuit filed by the parents against Hoyt was settled out of court, with the terms not disclosed.

Hoyt died Sept. 23, 2015 at age 67.

 

‘Something good for the city’

Ian Waite said his family appreciates that the path means “no one else will be in the same situation” and people who come to the reservoir will “have a place to walk.”

Lindenberger said safety is a key element in expanding the trail.

“Like Josh Snyder mentioned, it’s a safety issue. … We care about the people who are out here and keeping them safe, so it’s exciting,” he said.

Plans call for the trail to end at Bishman Park, 101 Republic St., which is across from the Ernsthausen Recreation Center.

Reflecting on the path being named for her son, Diane Waite said it’s a great way to keep Alex’s name and spirit alive while also doing “something good for the city.”

“To have had the first phase (named for him) was a great honor because when you lose a child, you look for a way to put some meaning into that — and Norwalk helped us do that,” she added. “We are very honored they did that, so when they added Phase II, it’s just, you know, whipped cream on top of the cake.” 

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