Burying their 13-year-old daughter was the hardest thing Jerry and Mary Suszynski ever had to do.
But getting a crosswalk placed on the busy Amherst road where she was struck by a car has tested them as well.
Despite raising more than $85,000 for a lighted crosswalk on Maple Road, family and friends have been unable to get government leaders to approve the safety measure – and they packed Town Hall on Monday to make their case.
“I ask you to please help us,” said Mary Suszynski, Erin’s mother. “This is something that could be fixed to no harm to anyone, and to the benefits of all the residents of Amherst.”
Eileen Woloss, Erin’s aunt, told the board that a crosswalk at Maple and Culpepper roads “should have been there years ago.”
“Do you really want to see this happen again?” she asked.
Erin, an eighth-grader at Mill Middle School, had stopped at a center median with a friend in June and was waved on by the driver of a car that stopped to let the girls pass.
Another car, though, sped around the vehicle and struck the girls. Erin died a few weeks later while the other girl, Briana Francois, has recovered and was at Monday night’s meeting.
Erie County is responsible for Maple Road, but town leaders would first need to make the request for a crosswalk for the county to consider one.
And while they have resisted doing that to this point – in part because the Suszynskis are suing both the town and county – an hour of passionate testimony Monday evening by Suszynski’s friends may have swayed the board.
“These are my neighbors,” said Supervisor Barry A. Weinstein. “I cross that street with my family, with my neighbors. I would do whatever I could. We’ll see what we can do.”
Council Member Mark A. Manna suggested the town invite county leaders to a town meeting to “hold their feet to the fire” on the idea of a crosswalk.
“We all have children, and our first priority is their safety,” Manna said. “If it was up to us, it would have been done already. We want to do as much as we can, as quickly as we can.”
Town and county leaders are fearful that any action they take now could affect the outcome of the suit, though the family denies that would be the case.
Peter Anderson, a spokesman for Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz, declined to comment on the crosswalk, citing the lawsuit.
But he said if the town requests a signal or crosswalk, the county normally studies traffic counts and determines if a certain intersection warrants a new device.
That was an easy question for those in attendance Monday night.
Jerry Suszynski said last summer he saw 30 children in less than an hour cross Maple Road across from the playground, each walking across the same five lanes of traffic his daughter did.
“We are still seeing people do it every day,” he said. “I want to make sure that nobody gets hurt from now on, or at least lessen the possibility.”
The nearest crosswalk is nearly a half-mile away, and cars often speed down the five-lane Maple Road on their way to Millard Fillmore Suburban Hospital.
“For anyone that has lived there, it becomes apparent why we drive to a playground that is less than a block from our house,” said one neighbor.
It was unclear Monday night exactly what steps the town would take, but Town Board members said they would forward a video of the meeting to county leaders and perhaps push for a meeting with county officials.
“We’ve tried every way we could to get hold of them,” said Mary Suszynski. “We would like to meet with the county.”
Neighbor Rob Lederman said government officials need to get beyond the legalities and use “some common sense.”
“This is a tragedy,” he said, “and worse than that, it was an avoidable tragedy.”