Vaclav Hajek (1997 - 2007)
On a sunny late August day in 2007, a 10-year-old boy prepared to walk his bike across a crosswalk after tending to the family's community garden plot. A car stopped to let the boy cross the street. Behind the car, an impatient teenager in a pickup truck swerved around the vehicle and sped toward the crosswalk. The sound of squealing tires that I heard in my backyard over a quarter mile away foreshadowed the impending tragedy. Two families' lives were forever changed on that fateful August 27 day.
In late September, Eugene police arrested the 16-year-old student who was reportedly traveling 65 miles per hour in the 35 mph school zone. The driver was later charged with criminally negligent homicide, served a short time in juvenile detention, put on probation, and his driver's license suspended for eight years. He was quoted a few years later saying that he would give anything to get that day back, to not have to suffer a lifetime of "if onlys".
The family erected a small roadside memorial at the crash scene and faithfully kept their young son's memory alive. Students were reminded as they walked by each day of the unnecessary tragedy that had taken place.
A more lasting memorial though was in the works. This decades old stretch of pavement was a straight line with two lanes in each direction. It passed the high school and a nearby elementary school.
The Bailey Hill Safety Committee was formed and the boy's mother, Marina Hajek, joined it. They worked with the City of Eugene to recommend changes that would make the road safer and prevent a similar tragedy from happening.
Bailey Hill Rd Improvements
The result led to major changes to Bailey Hill Road. The two lanes were reduced to one in each direction with a center median. Landscaped islands were added in the median with designated turn lanes.
Two crosswalks were added, including the one in the picture with flashing lights to warn drivers of crossing pedestrians. A fenced center median provides additional safety. The speed limit was also reduced.
On the high school side of the crosswalk is a small plaza with a bench and a rock monument with an embedded plaque honoring the memory of Vaclav Hajek.
The memories of that day on August 27, 2007 may fade, but the changes that resulted will minimize the chances of it happening here again.
If Only ...
The speeding teenage driver who struck and killed the young boy pays a personal price each day. His probation required him to give classes on driver safety. Below is a passage from a 7/6/2009 article in The Register-Guard.
"He was on his way home from the River Road Pool, where he was a lifeguard that summer, when the crash happened. He was listening to music, driving behind the other car, when it signaled to turn left. He changed lanes and looked in his rear-view mirror. When he looked back up, Vaclav was there, but he was going too fast and it was too late to react.
The presentation he gives ends with these words:
On Aug. 26, 2007, my personal slogan was “I can’t wait.” I can’t wait to turn 18, go to college, save up enough to buy a new car, play baseball for the U of O. Since Aug. 27, 2007, my personal slogan has been “if only.” If only I’d been coming home five minutes later, if only Vaclav had been crossing the road five minutes earlier, if only I’d taken another road.
All of us have had “if only” moments. If only I’d turned that paper in on time, studied harder, not said that to my friend. Please don’t add “if only I’d paid more attention driving” to that list. Some “if onlys” last a lifetime. Or end one."