Music from some of Hilton Head’s best musicians will fill the air outside Catch-22 on Sunday afternoon to honor and remember a local 11-year-old who was killed in a dark intersection earlier this summer.
Family and friends of Charli Bobinchuck have organized a benefit concert to remember cherished times and help “Charli’s Critters,” a charity dedicated to the “true island girl” and her love of animals.
Charli’s death stunned neighbors in Yacht Cove, a mid-island community nestled between Long Cove Club and Shelter Cove. She was walking her dog, Max, with an adult around 11 p.m. on June 21 when she and the dog were struck and killed by a motorist. Charli was crossing the street using the crosswalk when the accident occurred.
Since her death, a renewed sense of concern over pedestrian safety and unlit crosswalks has swept through the community. From 2006 through 2015, there was an average of four pedestrian and cyclist deaths per year. In 2016, the worst year for bicycle and pedestrian safety in more than a decade, 11 people were killed on Beaufort County roads and sidewalks.
In 2017, just a mile away from the intersection where Charli was hit, a 78-year-old woman was struck and killed by a motorist as she walked her bike across the street.
Last month, Yacht Cove residents flooded a town council meeting in July to ask for a solution. Resident Joe Izzo was at the meeting, and reminded the council that he had been bringing up the dangerous intersection for two years before Charli’s tragic death.
Linda Prosser, a Yacht Cove resident, also spoke at the July meeting. She frequents the intersection, and expressed concern that drivers cannot see crosswalks on U.S. 278 until they are driving over them. Prosser suggested lighting at the crosswalks, and added that “human life is a huge cost.”
Town Manager Steve Riley said at the meeting there were multiple options but no clear solution to improving the intersection.
“Lighting has been an issue that has always bogged down this community,” Riley said at the July meeting. “There are folks who like the dark skies and are concerned about excessive lighting …”
The South Carolina Department of Transportation has street-lighting guidelines that require engineering design approval to ensure the proposed lighting does not leave dangerous shadows or dark spots, according to Josh Johnson, the traffic engineer for the Transportation Department district that includes Beaufort County.
Johnson said he has received multiple calls regarding the improvement of the intersection where Charli was struck.
Once a plan is decided and a permit application is submitted by a town like Hilton Head, the department typically can issue a permit in two-three weeks, he said. Johnson said the major hangup for many permit applications is ensuring that the fixtures adhere to uniform lighting requirements.
The Town of Hilton Head has not applied for a lighting permit for the intersection of William Hilton Parkway and Yacht Cove, according to Johnson.
Family friend Sonie Johnson Minshew said making the intersection safer is crucial for the close-knit community that calls the western side of William Hilton Parkway home.
“Lots of families cross this street,” Johnson Minshew said. “That’s where they go to rent a video or go to the store.”
The town has made little movement on improving the intersection since June. Carolyn Grant, communications director for the town, told the Island Packet on Thursday that “the town staff is still researching the issue.”
David Ames, council member who represents Bobinchuck’s ward, said that a variety of designs including traffic lights and street lighting will have to be tested, and he does not consider the process to be held up.
“I wish I could snap my fingers and there would be a solution tomorrow morning,” Ames said. He agreed that the research process is necessary for identifying proposed methods of intersection safety measures at Yacht Cove, which he deemed complicated “because there are so many turning movements.”
Aside from safety issues, organizers of this weekend’s festival want to rally the community to support the Bobinchuck family, the primary reason for the event.
“I wanted to spread awareness about all of these safety issues, but I also wanted to just get together, celebrate her and support her parents.”
She said the main goal of the festival is to raise money for the charity she and others established shortly after Charli’s death.
Charli’s Critter Fund is a branch of the local nonprofit, the Community Foundation of the Lowcountry.
Johnson said the charity funds will go to feeding and housing local critters so that children can learn about nonvenomous snakes, reptiles, racoons and baby alligators in a safe environment.
In honor of Charli, Johnson Minshew hopes that the festival will be powerful to help heal both her parents and the community. She said the event’s timing is crucial.
“We came together at the memorial, but it’s now been five weeks,” Johnson Minshew said. “[Now] is when they’re going to need us to come back together as a community and embrace them and lift them back up.”
The music festival will run from 1-5 p.m. on in the parking lot of Charli’s parents’ restaurant, Catch-22, located at 37 New Orleans Road on Hilton Head Island.