State drags it feet

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, May 3, 2005

It’s too late to say, &uot;what if.&uot;

It’s never too late to say, &uot;what can be done.&uot;

Last week’s tragic death of RonGina Wilder, a promising young student-athlete at Hertford County High School, poses a much larger debate – when will the state finally loosen their grip on funds that will afford the Ahoskie Police Department an opportunity to hire and fully equip two, full-time traffic safety officers?

In their population divisions, Ahoskie and Hertford County lead the state in the number of motor vehicle crashes. Sometimes it’s great to be number one, but not in this case.

While the majority of accidents have resulted in nothing more than bent sheet metal, some have proven fatal, just like last week in Wilder’s death.

In July of last year, Ahoskie Police Chief Troy Fitzhugh received permission from the Ahoskie Town Council to pitch a proposal to the North Carolina Governor’s Highway Safety Commission (GHSC) in regards to the traffic safety officers. His goal was a special appropriation that, if approved, would provide Ahoskie with federal funding, funneled through the GHSC, with $141,255 for the first year of the three-year grant process period.

As a show of support, Ahoskie officials committed to appropriate $24,642 in start-up money.

In return for those funds, Ahoskie will receive two, full-time traffic safety officers assigned to the Police Department, patrol cars for both, all the necessary equipment (uniforms, weapons, etc) and training sessions for the new hires.

Fitzhugh’s proposal to state officials fell on kind ears as the GHSC approved his request in October.

Now, a half-year later, Chief Fitzhugh, despite several pleas to Raleigh, is still awaiting the money.

Meanwhile, motor vehicle accidents are increasing at an alarming rate.

Meanwhile, we are burying our young people.

Could have Wilder’s death been prevented if Ahoskie had its traffic safety program up and running? Perhaps not. But could a message have already been sent that the Town of Ahoskie has a zero tolerance when it comes to excessive speed and alcohol consumption by those operating motor vehicles within the town’s limits? Certainly so.

With two officers totally dedicated to traffic control, perhaps Ahoskie’s Memorial Drive will no longer appear as the backstretch at Daytona International Speedway on the white flag lap.

No, we cannot bring back RonGina Wilder. We will never know the full potential of this life, one so precious and so young.

However, we can hopefully save the lives of others, young and old alike.