Hilton Head resident describes dangerous crosswalk where child was struck and killed
When Bryan Bobinchuck walked to the podium at Hilton Head Island Town Council earlier this month, the room fell silent.
There was no loud shifting or side conversations in the audience — all eyes were on Bobinchuck as he delivered a call to the town’s government: Make our crosswalks safer.
He did not speak his daughter’s name in his speech, but council members knew why he and Daisy were there. Charli was known to many as a “true island girl” and “a big sister to all the kids in Yacht Cove.”
Bobinchuck was there to present an idea he said would make crosswalks on the island safer at night. His plan included a sign that would flash at drivers, alerting them that a pedestrian or bicyclist was crossing the street — something that could have saved his daughter’s life.
He is aware that street lighting is a controversial topic on Hilton Head, where many residents fear adding any sort of lights could threaten wildlife and the natural feel of the island.
Town Council member David Ames said it is always “hard to sell people” on street lights because Hilton Head was designed to preserve the environment.
Bobinchuck told council members he values animal safety on the island. His daughter Charli was an animal advocate and frequently volunteered at Critter Management. However, he believes in lighting crosswalks to save human lives.
“Preserving the natural look of our island and protecting our sea turtles and wildlife is extremely important,” he said. “Protecting our neighbors, friends, family and our economy is equally important.”
Dangerous conditions for street crossings
The intersection where Charli was killed was also the site of another fatal collision. Kevin Reagan, 58, was struck and killed while crossing there in 2014.
According to an Island Packet analysis of collision reports from 2006 to 2016, 25 percent of all fatalities on Beaufort County roads involved bicyclists or pedestrians.
Statewide, 15 percent of fatalities were bicyclists or pedestrians.
“I have been here 25 years, and I have personally lost four people close to me due to vehicle-pedestrian accidents in Hilton Head,” Bobinchuck said to Town Council.
A town that protects itself from artificial light
Bobinchuck said the town’s approach to lighting makes the problem a difficult one to solve.
“One of our shortcomings is our crosswalks,” he said. “The simple fact that there is a town ordinance that disallows the lighting of crosswalks is outdated.”
The town ordinance was passed in May 1990 and prohibits artificial light near island beaches and puts restrictions on pole and flood lighting.
According to the town’s code, the ordinance is designed to protect sea turtles along those beaches by “safeguarding the hatchlings from sources of artificial light which cause disorientation and subsequent death.”
A new kind of crosswalk
Bobinchuck said he has developed a plan to prioritize safety on the island, and encouraged council to consider it.
The crosswalk signs he suggests using “utilize solar-powered independent lights” and “flashing signs for drivers.”
In a handout to council, he explained that the lights can be “tethered and timed,” meaning that pedestrians could activate the flashing lights from the side of the road so the lights are not constantly on.
“I believe that now is the time for us to update our policy and do what is right,” Bobinchuck said, rather than implementing a “half-hearted patch.”
Town Council responded positively to Bobinchuck’s presentation.
Ames thanked him “for taking the time as a citizen to come up with a solution.”
“I think we should open the door to citizens to be able to do that,” he said.
Mayor David Bennett said the issue of crosswalk improvements had been on the council’s agenda, but he removed it until after an Oct. 17 open house to gather input from Yacht Cove residents.
“I don’t know that we have a higher level of responsibility than preserving the safety of our public,” Bennett said. “This needs to be dealt with and we need to get it right — not just good enough — like Mr. Bobinchuck stated.”
Healing through service
After Charli died, her family started a wildlife charity in her honor. Friends hosted “Charli’s Musicfest” this summer to raise money for that charity.
Daisy said she and Bryan have taken on different projects to keep them busy and help bring change to the community. Bryan has researched crosswalk solutions and Daisy manages “Charli’s Critters” — an animal education experience she brings to schools on Hilton Head.
“Every day... every day since the accident has been different,” she said of healing through spreading Charli’s love for critters such as alligators and butterflies.
After the accident, Daisy took to Facebook to share her compassion for the driver of the car that struck and killed Charli.
“I don’t know you, but I love you and hurt for you and I need you to be ok,” she wrote in the June 25 post. “My arms are open and my heart has nothing but love. This is just a horrific tragedy for us all but here we are.... in this together.”
When asked what it was like to make a public appearance at Town Council, she said she has been “in the spotlight so much” with Charli’s Critters that it seemed like the right thing to do.
But the Bobinchucks don’t want their work just to memorialize Charli.
Her parents want to prevent what happened to their family from ever happening again.
The town has proposed improvements to the Yacht Cove intersection, which will be passed on for Town Council to decide.
Those improvements include reflective sign posts and pavement markings to alert drivers to the crosswalk. It does not include flashing lights.
After attending the open house with Yacht Cove residents last week, Ames said the town can make adjustments to the plan. He said he expects the improvements for the intersections to be discussed at the next council meeting Nov. 7.
The Lowcountry Celebration Park, which the town is constructing off Pope Avenue on the island’s south end, also includes a new crosswalk on South Forest Beach Road.
According to preliminary plans for the crosswalk, it will include the island’s first flashing sign that pedestrians can activate to cross the street. It was planned before Charli’s death.