New Signal Comes to Light at Site of Fatal Accident

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Cathy Peterson waited patiently on the curb Wednesday afternoon. Traffic was still speeding across the spot where her son, Travis, had a fatal accident.

Peterson's remaining son, Eric, then walked to a control box and flipped a chrome toggle switch to light up a newly installed traffic signal nearby. He pushed the WALK button and waited by his mother's side. The light turned red. The cars all stopped.

And under cover of the new walk light, mother and son crossed to the other side to greet dozens of friends who had helped Cathy Peterson's crusade to have the crossing signal installed following Travis' death.

Throughout the crowd, little gold angel pins glittered on supporters' lapels, and there was a thick round of applause when the light came on.

"Look at all this; this is how we get it done," said a smiling Peterson, receiving hugs from co-workers who helped push the city for the new light, from Travis' hockey teammates, and from the firefighters and paramedics who had tried to save his life. "All these people have pulled together. . . . It wasn't a one-person effort; it was the whole community."

It was May 5 when 13-year-old Travis Peterson rode his bicycle along the Arroyo Simi bike path for the last time.

He was headed to nearby Rancho Simi Community Park to stake out a perfect spot for the next day's fishing derby. At the time of the accident, the mid-block intersection had warning signs posted to instruct bicyclists to dismount and walk across the street. Travis pedaled slowly across Erringer Road into a crosswalk that then was marked only by painted white lines. Although several vehicles did stop, one car ran into him at 40 mph.

He died two days later in the hospital and the driver, Penelope Reeps of Simi Valley, was eventually sentenced to 240 hours of community service for misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter.

On Wednesday, Peterson tearfully recalled how she walked into a meeting with Mayor Greg Stratton soon after her son's death, demanding to know how a light could be installed at the dangerous mid-block crossing.

When Stratton was less than optimistic about getting the funding and approval for the new light, she vowed, "I'm not going away."

Almost immediately, friends began passing around petitions, soon collecting more than 3,000 signatures.

Travis' schoolmates and Peterson's friends attached cards, flowers and pictures of the dead boy to a nearby bridge railing so that no one would forget what happened there.

And before too long, the City Council agreed to spend $120,000 to install traffic lights at three dangerous bike-path crossings--Erringer Road, Sycamore Drive and Royal Avenue--which will all have signals by May.

Nearly every day after Travis died, Cathy Peterson drove down to the spot on her lunch hour and stood by the road as traffic whizzed past--at first to mourn her son, and later to watch workers installing the new signal lights for which she and her friends had successfully lobbied.

Over time, well-wishers festooned the railing with flowers, photos of Travis and his teammates, and a gold-foil banner of his jersey number, 33. They also left letters of support that Peterson said she read to give herself strength.

By Wednesday night, she said, she took even more strength from the knowledge that the place where Travis was hit is safer now.

As the crowd, including the entire City Council, looked on, Stratton hugged Peterson, telling her, "Yeah, we made it--a lot faster than you thought we were going to do it, too."

In a brief speech to her supporters, Peterson warned: "The signal is absolutely gorgeous [but] it is not a guarantee. It is a tool to warn motorists to stop . . . but we all have the responsibility to pay attention to what is going on around us."

Larry Peterson, Travis' father, said later: "I think this is terrific. If it saves one kid's life, it's worth it. It's too bad I had to lose a son to make it happen."

Travis' brother and hockey teammate, 12-year-old Eric, said of the new light: "I think it's cool."

He said his mother will not let him ride his bike like he did when he and Travis used to whiz down to the park's pond to fish.

But he feels better knowing that the light is in place.

"I'm glad," Eric said soberly. "It'll help prevent people getting hit by cars like my brother."

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