Less than an hour before the march a man in a wheelchair was hit as he tried to cross Queens Boulevard at 67th Avenue by a van backing into a parking spot. Another woman suffered minor injuries when she was grazed by a vehicle Saturday night at Queens Boulevard and Grand Avenue.
Residents and members of the Forest Hills Action League joined forces with the family of Sofia Leviyev, an eighth-grader from Rego Park who was killed Nov. 29 as she tried to cross Queens Boulevard at 67th Avenue, to bring attention to what they contend is a deadly area.
Carrying signs that said "We're dying for a safer crossing" and "Over 1,000 accidents and 50 deaths," the March for Life began in front of the 112th Police Precinct on Austin Street and continued quietly up to Queens Boulevard before stopping in front of the spot where Sofia was hit for a memorial service. Her mother, Zoya Leviyev, nearly collapsed in tears as the service began and was escorted to a waiting car.
Marchers and police officers who walked with them said the problem on Queens Boulevard is twofold: speeding drivers and pedestrians who jaywalk or try to cross the street against the traffic lights. On Friday the Police Department announced a plan to put more officers on Queens Boulevard to increase enforcement and give tickets to speeding drivers and jaywalkers.
Lt. Joe Davids of the 112th Precinct said "it's important that people understand that traffic safety in Forest Hills is one of our No. 1 problems. Traffic has to slow down. The other thing is jaywalkers."
Sgt. Bernard Adams, a community affairs officer with Queens Patrol Borough North, which is headquartered at the 112th Precinct, said "the people are upset at the number of fatalities we've had and they certainly have a right to be."
City Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills) said efforts have been made to secure the area for pedestrians. A combination of additional traffic lights, extended crossing time and security fences have been introduced or are expected t be installed shortly.
The Forest Hills Action League said 70 people have been killed on Queens Boulevard since 1993.
Estelle Chwat, co-president of the group, said "this is a people's march. We closed the boulevard, and that's the most important thing.
"Sofia did not die in vain," Chwat said as she looked on at dozens of people adding flowers or poems to a makeshift memorial at Queens Boulevard and 67th Avenue. "She brought Queens Boulevard to a standstill."
Days after Sofia Leviyev was killed firefighter Derek Kuhland of Flushing, who worked at Ladder 167 in Bayside, was struck and critically injured on 55th Avenue.
The morning of the march, Officer Valerie St. Rose said a man in a wheelchair was hit by a van trying to back up into a parking spot at the same location where Sofia was killed. The man was crossing the street with his wife and was in a crosswalk at the time of the accident, she said. The victim was in stable condition at Jamaica Hospital, St. Rose said.
Sofia Leviyev's uncle was also killed crossing Queens Boulevard at the same location two years ago, family members said. Both were afraid of walking across the busy thoroughfare, they said.
Vladimir Babekov, Sofia's cousin, said "this is the only time we can get notice. They have to slow down.
"Sofia was always scared of the street," he said. "And her uncle was scared, too, and they're the ones that got killed here."
Stella Babekov, Sofia's aunt, said "today is a very big tragedy. We came to put a stop to this. Somebody should fix it. I want it to be safe for the young kids and older people."
Norbert Chwat, co-president of the Forest Hills Action League, said "she didn't have to die. This should not happen again."
Chwat accused the city Department of Transportation of ignoring safety concerns on the boulevard.
"The DOT has a problem," he said. "They have to get the cars from Manhattan to Long Island as fast as possible."
Rabbi Isaac Joshua said there were too many traffic accidents on Queens Boulevard.
"I'm very worried about it," he said. "We have to think about alternatives, about what to do."
Police said the answer to solving the traffic problems in Forest Hills is a combination of education and enforcement.
"W have put together a plan to slow the people down," said Sgt. Bernard Adams. "It's between education and enforcement."
©2000 Community News Group
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