Fatal Five Points accident drives safety concerns

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WACH) - The death of a Columbia man in a wheelchair who was hit by a truck in a Five Points intersection has Columbia officials taking a closer look at traffic safety.

The Richland County coroner says George Jackson, 67, died Monday morning after he was hit by a dump truck at the intersection of Greene and Harden Streets, which is essentially the welcome mat to the Five Points retail and entertainment district. Columbia police are still investigating the accident.

Since May, two people have now died and two others have been injured in vehicle versus pedestrian accidents near that intersection.

Columbia city manager Steve Gantt met with the city's traffic engineer Tuesday to talk about ways to enhance traffic safety features in that area. Gantt says local leaders have been eying safety in that region for months, but, Monday's incident is ramping up efforts to address problems.

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"To have three events in just about the same place, although they've been at different times of day and different circumstances, I felt it was important that we be proactive," said Gantt.

Gannt and members of the Five Points Association want the traffic study to look at an area along the Harden Street corridor from the Food Lion shopping center through the intersection in question, and down to Blossom Street. Improvements could include more traffic signals and beefed up traffic enforcement patrols.

The city added better lighting to Five Points during a streetscaping project several years ago and also installed buttons at intersections that pedestrians can push to extend the amount of time they have to cross the street.

The area draws a mix of vehicle and foot traffic because it so easy to get to all the shops, bars and restaurans by foot. People who frequent Five Points say they worry about traffic safety

"I feel like during the day it's comfortable, but at night with people drinking down at all the bars and stuff things can get kind of dangerous because people don't use caution," said graduate student Savannah Hopper.

"(People) partially not paying attention, and that whole 'Oh, I'm not going to get hit by a car or they'll watch out for me.' that whole thing," said student McKenzie Roland.

Despite the recent string of incidents in Five Points, Gantt still calls it a "safe area" pointing to the traffic safety upgrades in recent years. The study he is asking for that will potentially lead to even more safety improvements will take roughly 30 days. Gantt says it will look at traffic patterns of both people and vehicles in the area at various times throughout the day.
The pedestrian involved accidents in recent months have happened at all hours of the day.

Meanwhile, people who spend time in the area say safety means both pedestrian and driver need to be looking out for each other.

"It's probably people not paying attention driving and people thinking 'They're driving in a car, of course they going to see me and stop,' when probably not," said Hopper.

Gantt plans to present the study's findings and potential solutions to city council.