Council discusses Walnut Street changes

Marianne Gillespie
Barricades are now at the Walnut and Pine streets’ boat launches at the Illinois River in light of where Julie Peters’ body and car were found Oct. 7, near the Walnut Street boat ramp. They blink when dusk begins. Officials also have ordered reflective paint for the area and are looking into long-term possible changes, including signs, flashing lights and re-routing traffic on Walnut Street.

The Chillicothe City Council heard from Julie Peters’ family that they want something done quickly about Walnut Street leading to the Illinois River.

Peters, 22, left a wedding reception at the American Legion in downtown Chillicothe Sept. 28.

The Edwards woman was missing for more than a week until she and her vehicle were found in the Illinois River Oct. 7, just south of the boat launch at the foot of Walnut Street.

While it is not known yet how she ended up heading that direction that rainy night, it is theorized she did not realize the river was ahead as she drove down Walnut Street.

“How long do you think it will take for you to actually decide what to do — whether you are re-routing this?” Peters’ mother, Vicky, asked at the meeting Oct. 14.

“I mean, I want to see some results, and I don’t want to wait a year from now and somebody else’s child ends up in that river before you guys decide it’s time to reroute it. It’s time to put these signs up. I want to know when you guys are going to make your decision on how to handle this,” she said.

Mayor Doug Crew said he was hesitant to give a timetable for the decision, but referred to comments he made earlier in the meeting about the discussion and action already taken.

“I can assure you that the council’s giving it its full attention,” Crew said.

The mayor expressed his condolences to the family and friends of Peters in the audience.

“It’s understandable that there are a lot of calls for action. I want to assure those that have contacted members of the council, myself and others that the city shares your concern, but at the same time we need to act in a very careful, deliberate manner,” Crew said earlier in the meeting.

Once Peters’ car and body  were recovered, Crew met with her father and stepmother, as well as her sister to discuss their concerns about the area.

Additionally, while not on the scheduled public works committee meeting agenda Oct. 9, members also included some preliminary discussion about what to do to “alert drivers, particularly those unfamiliar” of the area on both Walnut and Pine streets.

Crew reported that they discussed reflective striping on the street side near the boat launches, caution signs and possibly a yellow flashing light.

After that, Crew said, another idea surfaced of re-routing traffic and making Walnut Street one way so that it heads away from the river between Front and First streets.

He noted, though, there are considerations to discuss such as the boaters and the business Bananas being affected by whatever changes are decided upon.

While city officials discuss what should be done in the long-term, there were some changes made for the short-term.

At both the Pine and Walnut street ramps, barricades with flashing lights are on each side of the boat launches to draw attention to them.

Additionally, reflective paint has been ordered for striping to help bring attention to the area, Crew said.

“I think it’s important that I say none of these steps by themselves may absolutely prevent a similar occurrence ...” Crew said.

Signs alerting drivers to the river ahead must be custom made, Crew noted.

Peters’ uncle also mentioned what he calls “idiot bumps” or chatter strips near the boat ramp that would alert drivers to a stop sign or an area.

Her aunt also asked about hearing this tragedy had happened previously.

Crew said one incident five or six years ago involving an elderly woman was intentional. Other than that, he is not aware of any other similar tragedies.

The family members said they felt like the council was trying to sweep the incident under the rug, so to speak, but Crew tried to assure them that was not the case.

Shawn Jason, a man who said he was a pallbearer earlier in the day as Peters was laid to rest, said when he went to the police department, he was told they had to wait 48 hours, which is the typical waiting time for someone to be declared a missing person.

He also asked why the river was not searched previously. No one answered his questions, which were laced with tears.

Before the Peters family and friends spoke, Aldermen Mel Witte and Trish Connor, as well as Crew, mentioned various comments they heard from residents.