Crashes Kill One, Seriously Injure Another Student On UMass Amherst’s Main Campus Roadway

An aerial view of the UMass Amherst campus showing the 4-lane Massachusetts Avenue roadway dividing the residential dormitories (south of the road) from the campus's academic buildings (to the north).
An aerial view of the UMass Amherst campus illustrates how Massachusetts Avenue – the four-lane roadway running through the middle of this image – divides the campus's residential dorms (left) from its main academic and athletic buildings (right). Imagery courtesy of Google and MassGIS.

The University of Massachusetts has launched an engineering study of roadways on its Amherst campus after drivers killed one student and seriously injured another on the same road in two separate incidents this spring.

The crashes sparked student demands for the University to do more to protect students and address long-standing pedestrian safety issues on campus roads.

UMass spokesperson Ed Blaguszewski said Monday that the University has engaged a national engineering firm to study campus transportation issues and develop short-range, mid-range and long-term solutions to enhance pedestrian safety, improve traffic flow, and promote bicycle accommodations. VHB, Inc. will work with the UMass Transportation Center in the University’s College of Engineering.

Blaguszewski said engineers have been tasked with developing immediate recommendations for projects to improve pedestrian safety on two major, heavy-traffic roadways on campus, Massachusetts and Commonwealth Avenues.  Those plans are to be completed over the summer of 2022.

The University made some temporary changes to calm traffic on Massachusetts Avenue on its Amherst campus after the death of a student earlier this year.

On the evening of February 22, a 21-year-old student killed Elena Lucore, a 19-year-old student, when he drove his car into her in a crosswalk on Massachusetts Avenue.

Less than a month later, on March 21, another driver struck and seriously injured a 20-year-old student in a hit-and-run crash in another crosswalk on the same street, within 100 yards of the first incident.

The victim of the March 21 crash was transported to the Baystate Medical Center and admitted in serious but stable condition.

According to UMass police, there have been 10 crashes involving pedestrian victims on campus in the past four years, and four of those crashes have occurred on Massachusetts Avenue.

Students are calling for more substantive changes to the four-lane roadway that cuts through the middle of the campus.

An online petition is calling for the University administration to redesign Massachusetts Avenue to prevent cars traveling at highway speeds on the multi-lane, divided roadway that bisects the Amherst campus.

The boulevard-styled roadway divides the school’s largest residential complex from its academic and administration buildings, and thousands of students living in the Southwest Residential Area and off-campus housing along Amherst’s North Pleasant Street must cross the road’s four lanes to attend classes or any on-campus event.

While Massachusetts Avenue is considered a campus roadway and falls under the University’s jurisdiction, it is a major connector for two municipal roadways. East of the campus, Massachusetts Avenue terminates at its intersection with North Pleasant Street, a two-lane Town of Amherst roadway.  To the west, the street terminates at the intersection of University Drive and North Hadley Road, which are also two-lane streets.

But for half a mile through the heart of the UMass campus, Massachusetts Avenue widens to a four-lane cross-section, divided by a grassy median – a street design that’s linked to higher speeds and more serious crashes.

The school has undertaken some temporary measures in an attempt to slow traffic.  Protective barriers have been installed near a construction site along the roadway, and a covered pedestrian walkway protected by a Jersey barrier has been installed near the site of the fatal crash where a driver killed Lucore.

The school has also reposted the speed limit along Massachusetts Avenue from 30 mph to 20.

Blaguszewsaki said the University also plans to install flashing push-buttoned crossing lights at crosswalks.

According to the Northwestern District Attorney’s Office, a 21-year-old student drove into Elena Lucore, a student from Mississippi, when Lucore and a friend were using a crosswalk to walk toward a large parking area to the south of Massachusetts Avenue near the Whitmore Administration building around 9:15 p.m. on February 22.

Lucore was later pronounced dead at the Baystate Medical Center in Springfield.

The perpetrator, a 21-year-old student who had just left the W.E.B. DuBois Library, stayed at the scene and cooperated with the Massachusetts State Police Collision Analysis and Reconstruction Section investigation. Investigating police officers noted that the incident occurred during heavy downpours that may have obscured the driver’s visibility. To date, police have filed no charges.

In the second crash, on March 21, police say that an eastbound SUV traveling at a high rate of speed struck a 20-year-old male student as he crossed Massachusetts Avenue at its intersection with Sunset Avenue, directly in front of the Southwest Residential Area. The driver fled the scene.

Two days later, police arrested a 20-year-old Northampton man and charged him with leaving the scene of personal injury, negligent operation of a motor vehicle, a crosswalk violation, misleading a witness, and trespassing.  The trespassing charge was filed in connection with a March 2021 trespass order issued by UMass police after the suspect was found drinking on the campus.


Dave Canton has been a working journalist in western Massachusetts for over 30 years.

 

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