Mount Prospect crosswalk fatality still sparking questions about flashing signal
On June 9, 2016, Joni Beaudry brought husband Eric Jakubowski a fresh cup of coffee, touched his shoulder and slipped away for a bike ride.
The next time he saw his wife, she was suffering catastrophic injuries in a hospital bed at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge. Since then, the fatal crash that ended Beaudry's life has become a crucible for the family, the village of Mount Prospect and the state.
Losing his wife sent Jakubowski on a public safety crusade against the flashing beacon he thinks gave her a false sense of security when she crossed busy Central Road.
In Mount Prospect, Beaudry's death has caused friction and action over the rectangular rapid flashing beacon intended to improve safety at the crosswalk. And statewide, it's prompted changes in the Illinois Rules of the Road and potentially in the criminal code.
Jakubowski considers himself "blessed" by his happy life with Joni and their five children.
"I could say it's shattered ... but it's not completely," he said. "Being busy helps. I'm trying to raise these kids the way she would have wanted. Walking around being miserable doesn't help anyone."
Hanna Burzynska of Elk Grove Village paid $364 in fines and court costs for failing to stop her SUV for the rectangular rapid flashing beacon at Central and Weller Lane before striking Beaudry.
Critics say the relatively new device confuses drivers because the lights are yellow, not red, and aren't suited to Central, a 35 mph, four-lane state road with up to 23,000 vehicles a day.
"I worry someone else will be killed," said Jakubowski, who is suing the municipality and Burzynska.
Mount Prospect Village Manager Michael Cassady said the village acted properly with the state to fix a problematic crossing. A committee with federal and state transportation advisers is currently "figuring out additional best practices for safe pedestrian traffic when crossing Central."
Meanwhile, the village has installed additional signage, pavement markings, digital speed feedback signs and a third rectangular rapid flashing beacon in the middle of the street on a pedestrian island, Public Works Director Sean Dorsey said.
A visit to the crosswalk Thursday found cars coming to a complete stop just 30 percent of the time. At other times, while most vehicles complied, one or two blew past the flashing lights and waiting pedestrians.
State Rep. David Harris, who witnessed a near-miss at the crossing, successfully lobbied to put rectangular rapid flashing beacons in the Rules of the Road. He also shepherded a bill through the House in 2017 that would increase penalties for drivers who hit pedestrians at crosswalks. It stalled in the Senate, but he hopes to revive it.
"I'm not satisfied," the Arlington Heights Republican said. "They've done a lot of work on (the crossing). It's safer than it was. Still, the fact is -- it's a major, four-lane highway and you could still get into the same situation Joni was in."
Jakubowski met Beaudry at a conference in Boston and was smitten with the bright, blonde city manager whose lucky number was 11. "My corny joke was, 'one plus one equals two,'" Jakubowski said.
Five months into a long-distance relationship, "we quit our jobs and went to Europe for two months. When we came back from that, we had a pretty good feeling we were soul mates."
Their next adventure was starting a family in an arts-and-crafts style Mount Prospect bungalow, once a farmhouse.
Joni "gave me the greatest gift ever ... five beautiful kids," Jakubowski said. The ambitious career woman who was Wheeling's assistant village manager became a full-time mom and community volunteer, making good use of her multi-tasking skills.
"We'd go to dinner and have business meetings ... we'd both bring a list," he recalled.
Two of the couple's children have special needs, including 15-year-old Zach who has Dravet syndrome, a severe form of epilepsy.
Some nights, both parents would lie awake and wonder, "how does one family get two special needs children?" Then conclude, "maybe it's because God thinks we're capable of doing it," Jakubowski said.
On June 8, 2016, the family was hustling to transfer a load of soil into raised garden beds. "I was saying, 'quit dawdling!' She was saying, 'go easy on them,'" he remembered. "It was a good time and we went out for pizza."
Twenty-four hours later, Jakubowski was moving heaven and earth to get his three oldest kids home from a New York trip to say goodbye to their mom.
Friends and neighbors baked casseroles, cared for Zach and completed Beaudry's garden.
They told Jakubowski, "'you know she really loved you. You were her soul mate.' That meant a lot to me."
Jakubowski finds comfort knowing Beaudry's donated lungs and kidneys saved other lives. He finds hope in his children's successes.
And he finds Beaudry every day. "Miss you. Love you," he says to his wife. "I do feel her presence in our life."
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