SALEM, Ore. -- Less than 48 hours after her 14-year-old daughter was killed crossing Commercial Street SE in busy traffic, Elizabeth Pruden is calling for traffic safety improvements in Salem.
Shatamera Pruden was crossing the street with her 13-year-old sister Jaleaha to visit friends at a nearby apartment complex when she was struck by an FJ Cruiser traveling southbound near the intersection of Commercial Street SE and Royvonne Avenue Monday evening.
"She had already gotten through the first two lanes of traffic, that's when the third lane driver came to a stop for her and put its emergency lights so she could cross," Pruden said.
But the driver of the FJ Cruiser in the other lane, Zane Hilton, 31, did not realize Pruden was in the lane of traffic until the vehicle struck her, said Lt. Dave Okada of Salem Police Department.
She was struck in an area without a crosswalk. The nearest is about a football field's length away in an area where more than 32,000 cars travel every day.
"It's a really dangerous area and a good amount of people cross the street there, so I'm just pushing to put a crosswalk out there," Pruden said.
There have been no citations or arrests as of Wednesday, Okada said.
Shatamera put leadership into practice
Shatamera had just wrapped up her middle school career at Leslie Middle School, where she was involved in student leadership and played volleyball. She would have been a freshman at South Salem High School in the fall.
"Volleyball was her biggest passion," Pruden said. "She wanted to get a scholarship in high school to pursue through college."
While Pruden said she was a leader on the volleyball court, she said her daughter was a leader in the classroom as well.
Shatamera attended the NAACP African American Youth Leadership Conference for the past three years, where she learned about leadership and career opportunities as a young woman of color, said Salem-Keizer NAACP President Benny Williams.
"She was one of 260 students who participated in our 2017 conference at the University of Oregon," Williams said. "As a young student participating in that, we feel that it helps minority students learn about the career opportunities and the life they have ahead of them."
Pruden said her daughter brought that knowledge to school where she mentored younger students while learning about her own heritage.
"She was half black and Spanish and Canadian, so she really embraced her heritage and learned how to embrace other types of people through leadership," Pruden said.
Shatamera mentored incoming sixth graders so they could better acclimate to middle school. Pruden said her daughter could never turn away from a fellow student who needed guidance, even if it meant missing the after-school bus.
"One of my voicemails I have from her is when she said 'mom don’t be mad at me, I was helping friends, so I missed the bus,'" she said with a chuckle. "She couldn't walk by someone in need."
Pruden said she hadn't understood her daughter's impact until the Fourth of July, when family and friends gathered at sunset for an impromptu memorial gathering at the crash scene.
"There were so many kids who came out to place crosses on the memorial and even young boys crying for her," Pruden said. "I was in awe to see the variations of people that she touched."
Pruden said she hopes she can use her daughter's death as a foundation for change regarding traffic safety, especially for children.
Turning tragedy into advocacy
Pruden spent her Wednesday morning calling Salem city officials, including Kenny Larson, the city communications & community engagement manager.
"The city has to get dangerous areas in our city taken care of," Pruden said. "My daughter's death will not be in vain and hopefully her death with save a lot of other children."
Larson said the city has received a number of calls over the past two days regarding Pruden's death near the intersection.
"This is very early on, so we're taking a good look at the situation," Larson said.
He said the city typically receives concerns from neighborhood associations and residents regarding areas that could benefit from traffic improvements, but this area had not been identified before the incident.
Traffic safety concerns are compiled and city officials then identify areas as priorities for traffic improvement projects. Funding for these projects usually comes from grants or from transportation improvement bonds.
"We can't just paint a crosswalk," Larson said. "We have to do it in a way that is not haphazard and in a purposeful way."
Okada said Shatamera's death was a tragic accident that reiterates the importance of both pedestrians and motorists alike being alert on the road.
"The best way to do that is to make eye contact with the other parties, and somehow acknowledge to them that they see you," Okada said. "It can be as simple as a wave and making sure you get a response from the other person."
Pruden said she is waiting for a response from city officials, but said she will continue pushing for traffic improvements.
"Oregon is a pedestrian state, but a vehicle is so much faster than a child on their feet," Pruden said.
There will be a fundraising event hosted at Shotski's Woodfire Pizza at 1230 State Street on Tuesday, July 11 at 7 p.m. Proceeds will go toward a memorial for Shatamera.
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