TAMA — Just weeks removed from the tragic death of 13-year-old Ian McFate, a cross-country runner hit by a car during practice, community leaders are taking steps to improve pedestrian safety.
The cities of Tama and Toledo are partnering to add pedestrian stop signs at road crossings along the Tama-Toledo Recreation Trail, the path McFate was on when he was hit about 4:50 p.m. Oct. 1. Both cities also plan to add stop signs or slow speed limits on streets that interest with the trail.
“It’s very important to do this so a tragedy doesn’t happen again,” said Tama Mayor Dan Zimmerman.
When McFate was hit, he was running north on the recreation trail where it crosses Highway E49, just a few blocks from the South Tama County elementary and high schools. He was not near any other runners, according to the Iowa State Patrol, meaning there were no eye witnesses.
Timothy Nunnikhoven, 30, of Montour, was driving a Honda Accord – with his two young children in the back seat – west on Highway E49, out of town, according to the State Patrol. Nunnikhoven told investigators that something fell from his passenger seat to the floor, and he glanced at it for a moment before looking up to see McFate ahead of him, according to Trooper Sean Helton.
Nunnikhoven didn’t reach for the fallen item or bend over to pick it up, Helton said. He slammed on his brakes and veered to the left to avoid hitting McFate.
Following the collision, Helton said, Nunnikhoven stopped his car, called for help and tried to find a pulse. McFate was flown to Mercy Medical Center in Des Moines, where he remained on life support until he died Oct. 2.
Nunnikhoven has not been charged in the incident, and investigators said they’re still gathering information on what happened.
The trail McFate was running on crosses the road just as it transitions from town to country driving. The speed limit in town and in front of the trail is 25 mph, but it jumps to 55 mph about 30 yards west of the trail.
The nearest 25 mph speed limit sign is several blocks east of the trail, according to city officials. And there are no stop signs for pedestrians on the trail near the road crossings.
Tama and Toledo leaders, for the portions of the trail that fall under each city’s jurisdiction, are planning to add pedestrian stop signs at road crossings. Tama, additionally, is planning to add stop signs for drivers on E49 a block east of the trail as drivers head out of town and a block west of the trail for those heading into town, Zimmerman said.
Tama also is looking to post new 25 mph speed limit signs near the trial, and Zimmerman said the city is working with the county to slow down drivers heading into town. New speed limits will graduate down from 55 to 45 to 35 as they near the trail, Zimmerman said.
Toledo Mayor Dave Svoboda said his town – in addition to adding pedestrian stop signs in four places along the trail – is looking at lowering the speed limit on Ross Street, where the trail begins, from 25 mph to 15 mph.
A “caution” sign near the pedestrian crossing also could go up, Svoboda said.
“We want to slow the traffic down so that, should someone run out in front of a car, hopefully they can get stopped in time,” he said.
The Tama and Toledo city councils are planning to discuss the changes at their next meetings in November. But, Svoboda said, he hopes the new signage will be in place by spring when the trail would start to get more use after winter.
Svoboda said it’s unlikely that pedestrians would be ticketed for failing to stop at signs on the trail. But, he said, the expectation is that everyone – even runners – would pause and look for traffic.
“Our concern is that if they don’t have a stop sign there and they get hit, it’s coming back on us,” he said. “If we have a stop sign there, it’s their liability.”