Fatal crash revives call for better sidewalks

The leader of a coalition for the disabled is renewing her call for improved sidewalks in Jackson after Thursday’s traffic crash that killed an elderly man in west Jackson.”It’s always something tragic that brings attention (to a problem),” said Mary Troupe, director of the state Coalition for Citizens with Disabilities.

James Smith, 68, was killed as he rode his motorized wheelchair along Medgar Evers Boulevard. An SUV that had been struck by another car careened into Smith as he moved along the road’s shoulder. He was pronounced dead in the 4700 block of Medgar Evers, less than two miles from his home in Delhaven Manor on Albermarle Road. The drivers of the two vehicles were not seriously hurt. No charges have been filed.

The coalition has for years urged the city to improve existing sidewalks and install new ones in some areas, including Medgar Evers. The city has inadequate sidewalks or no sidewalks at all in most places, leaving people in the unsafe position of traveling on roadways in wheelchairs, said Troupe. People in wheelchairs often have to brave traffic and bumpy roads to run errands, she said. A manager at the Food Depot on Northside Drive less than a mile from the accident site said Smith occasionally would shop there, though he did not recall Smith being at the store on Thursday.Attempts Friday to reach Smith’s family were unsuccessful, but neighbors at his apartment complex said they were saddened by his death. “We’ve been friends for 20 years,” said Eugene Bracey, 74. “I think about what if somebody had run over me.”

Like Smith and many Delhaven Manor residents, Bracey uses a motorized wheelchair to run errands outside the apartment complex several times a week. “All these roads around here are dangerous,” Bracey said. He would use the JATRAN bus system but said buses that come by the apartments rarely have working wheelchair lifts. Another neighbor, 74-year-old Anderson Forbes, said Smith took a risk going down Medgar Evers Boulevard is his chair. “People fly down that road,” Forbes said. Forbes has an artificial knee and has used a wheelchair for many years, but he said he will climb out of his chair if it looks like cars are coming too close. Not only is it unsafe for the disabled not to have proper sidewalks, but also for the many walkers in the city, Troupe said.

Ward 3 Councilman Kenneth Stokes said he would like the city to use economic stimulus money to install some sidewalks or repair crumbling and cracked sidewalks. The city is due about $2 million in stimulus funds for public works projects, mostly street resurfacing. It’s uncertain when the money will come and how much it will be. “I just hope that somebody will take it seriously and realize that people in wheelchairs need access also,” Stokes said.

To comment on this story, call Kathleen Baydala at (601) 961-7262 or Heather Civil at (601) 961-7067.