Greenside Drive fence a start, neighbors say Oriole Tim Hulett's son, Sam, 2 others killed on street

September 16, 1992|By Frank D. Roylance | Frank D. Roylance,Staff Writer

When 6-year-old Sam Hulett -- the son of Oriole infielder Ti Hulett -- was killed July 22, he became the third child in five years to be fatally struck while running from a Cockeysville playground into traffic on Greenside Drive.

Now, two of the Huletts' neighbors are nearing victory in their bid to have the playground fenced.

Debbie Smith and Jill Ball have found fence contractors willing to donate the labor and materials. The managers of Deertree Apartments, where the playground is located, have OK'd the work. Installation could start this week.

But residents, the apartment managers, school and county traffic officials agree more than a fence is needed to prevent similar tragedies.

"I'm delighted with the fence, but I hope that doesn't give parents a false sense of security," said Dorothy L. Dorman, principal of Padonia Elementary School, two blocks from the playground. "Children at this age are so spontaneous, they act before they think."

Mrs. Smith and Mrs. Ball have started a petition drive asking the county to put a four-way stop and crosswalks at Greenside Drive and Sorley Road, the south end of the planned fence and a block closer to the accident scene than an existing stop at Galloway Avenue.

County traffic engineers have vetoed the idea. They say it would worsen safety conditions along the busy road. The best solution, they say, is education.

Mrs. Dorman said uniformed county police officers are scheduled to speak to more than 400 children at a Padonia Elementary assembly tomorrow about crossing Greenside Drive. The officers will be invited back next June, before school ends.

"Maybe that will make an impression," Mrs. Dorman said.

Sam Hulett never attended Padonia Elementary. He lived in Springfield, Ill., most of the year, and spent his summers in Cockeysville while his dad played ball for the Orioles.

He was playing at the Deertree playground just before he was struck. Police said he ran into traffic from in front of a parked truck, apparently headed toward his family's apartment across the street. He died the next day at the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at Johns Hopkins Children's Center.

Nearly two years earlier, on Aug. 30, 1990, Jeremy Green, a 10-year-old 5th-grader at Padonia Elementary, was hit while chasing a ball at the same spot. In October 1987, Misong Baek, 7, a Padonia 2nd-grader, darted from the playground after spotting a family member across the street. She, too, was struck and killed. A companion was seriously hurt.

All three deaths were blamed on pedestrian error. None of the drivers was charged. Neighbors say several other children have been hurt in similar accidents.

Within weeks of Sam Hulett's death, the county installed "No Parking" signs along both sides of Greenside to give drivers and children a better view of each other. The county also donated three "Slow, Children at Play" signs, which the apartment management installed.

Mrs. Smith and several other residents asked Deertree property manager Kathleen Welsh to put up a fence. She declined, but eventually agreed to install one if residents paid for it.

"We have no objection to the fence at all," Ms. Welsh said. "But the fence is not going to prevent any accidents." She said children will go over or around the fence and continue to dodge Greenside traffic en route to the playground or to a nearby shopping center.

Undeterred, Mrs. Smith and Mrs. Ball began organizing a bike ride, a yard sale and other activities to raise $1,200 needed to install 400 feet of 6-foot-high chain-link fence. However, Mrs. Smith soon found a Baltimore County contractor willing to donate the fence and labor. Residents will donate the $350 they raised to Padonia Elementary.

Dale Amato, president of Port City Fence, said he and his supplier, Lenny Pietzrak, manager of Safety Fence Systems Inc., will put up the fence after they get the needed clearances from the county and from Deertree. Shrubbery is being donated by Randy's Landscaping, of Parkville.

The fence, Mrs. Smith said, "is just a solution now to protect the children while I'm working with the county to get a four-way stop and crosswalks at Greenside and Sorley." Her effort has run into stiff opposition.

"Several weeks ago we made the decision not to install a four-way stop" there, said C. Richard Moore, chief of the county's Bureau of Traffic Engineering.

A study of recently installed four-way stops showed that accident rates go up, not down, after they're put in, said Mr. Moore. As a result, the county no longer installs them.

At Galloway's four-way stop, officials "already see a large number of vehicles running the stop sign, not because they intend to, but because on a road like that, a driver does not expect to see a stop sign," he said.

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