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Family of Cobb crossing guard: ‘Whatever it takes’ to improve safety


A day after a crossing guard was struck and killed in front of Lindley Middle School in Mableton, the woman’s family say they will not rest until safety improvements are made to the stretch of road, described by many as dangerous.

Edna Umeh, 64, died Thursday morning after she was hit by a driver, 38-year-old Lamonte Roosevelt Whitaker of Lithonia, according to police.

“We’re going to get a change,” said Umeh’s sister, Toni Hunt. “Not another crossing guard is going to have to put their life on the line. Whatever it takes.”

Cobb County announced Friday that it will undertake a “corridor safety audit,” jointly with the state, of the section of Veterans Memorial Highway where the school is located. Although the area is a designated school zone, there are no lights or crosswalks at the school’s entrance.

A safety audit is automatically conducted when there is a pedestrian fatality, according to a statement from the county. Cobb Transportation Director Jim Wilgus was quoted in that statement saying most immediate solution could involve placing medians on the road that include pedestrian refuge islands.

Commissioner Lisa Cupid, who represents the district, said she felt horrible that it took a tragedy for the concerns to be addressed.

“This is not the first time these concerns have been raised,” Cupid said in the statement. “We’ve had a number of stakeholders to bring this to their attention with little or nothing to be done.”

Cobb Police Chief Michael Register said officers will focus traffic enforcement efforts in the area in the upcoming weeks, the statement said. Police will also coordinate with the Board of Education and transportation department elements to enhance traffic and pedestrian safety in the area.

Hunt called the traffic safety audit a “start.”

“What else can they say?” she asked. Hunt said her sister was vocal about her concerns for the safety of the crossing guards and students, but that her complaints “fell on deaf ears.”

Cobb Schools spokesman John Stafford said the safety and security of students and staff is “of paramount importance.”

“We support any efforts to improve safety in and around our schools,” he added.

Umeh was a well known and loved crossing guard for several local schools. She is survived by five siblings, three sons, nine grandchildren, a great grandchild and a host of nieces, nephews and other relatives. The family is working to finalize private funeral arrangements and a public vigil. A GoFundMe fundraising account has been set up for funeral expenses.

Hunt said she will be thinking of her sister this Christmas, which was Umeh’s favorite time of year. The whole family would put on their pajamas and head over to Umeh’s for breakfast on Christmas morning, she recalled with a chuckle.

“She would make all the gifts because she was so crafty and so creative,” Hunt said. “We would have plays at church and she would make every costume in the play. She never had a pattern, she would just look at it and look at the time period and she would cut it out based on the person that was playing that character.”

Hunt said her sister loved children and worked with them all her life. She sees her final moments as a heroic effort to stop the driver before he hit one of the students.

“For her to put her life on the line for the young children, I can see that,” Hunt said. “She was trying to stop him.”

As of Friday afternoon, police had no updates on whether charges had been filed against Whitaker.

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