Traffic flows through the barricaded area at Lewiston High School as parents drop off students Friday morning. On Thursday, a student was hit by a woman who drove her vehicle into a sidewalk. The crash had nothing to do with the new traffic system, educators say. The barricades are to make student drop-offs safer.

LEWISTON — A city woman who hit a student with her SUV Thursday was an out-of-control, inexperienced, unlicensed driver, and the crash had nothing to do with a new traffic pattern at Lewiston High School, Superintendent Leon Levesque said Friday.

The student, Kelsey Cope-Norris, 16, suffered broken bones and other injuries. She was listed in good condition Thursday at Central Maine Medical Center. The hospital declined to list her condition Friday, at the family’s request.

The Sun Journal reported Friday that witnesses said SUV driver Bilow Farah, 33, may have become impatient with a long line of vehicles as people waited to drop off students. The school created the new traffic pattern on Jan. 4 to provide a safe space for vehicles to pull over and drop off students.

“The whole idea is we want to slow traffic down,” Levesque said. “They’re going too fast, doing U-turns, doing things that are endangering students.” So far, it has improved safety, Principal Gus LeBlanc said.

At 7:30 a.m. Thursday, Farah was parked in front of the school dropping off students. She sat in her vehicle for about a minute, holding up vehicles behind her, LeBlanc said. As she started to leave she drove her vehicle off the road and down a paved walking path.

“How do you confuse this with a road?” Levesque asked, pointing to the sidewalk. “This is where the kid was hit, on the sidewalk. See the tire tracks?”

Cope-Norris was knocked to the ground.

“Witnesses said the car actually picked up speed,” Levesque said. “It goes flying into the snow and the car rams into five other cars.” Police said seven parked cars sustained damage. “It has nothing to do with the traffic pattern. It’s more about (driver) inexperience than anything else,” Levesque said.

LeBlanc praised the reaction of students and faculty who dropped what they were doing to help the student and the driver.

“People were taking their coats off and covering the girl on the ground,” he said. “I was proud of the way people demonstrated their compassion.”

The crash was under investigation Friday, Lewiston police Lt. Mark Cornelio said. Farah’s vehicle, a 2000 Mercedes Benz, is registered to her. According to police, she provided proof of insurance.

Farah, who has an expired learner’s permit, was featured in a 2008 series by Colby College about Somali Bantus who immigrated to Maine from Africa.

On Thursday, she was charged with driving without a license and driving to endanger. She was arrested and released on $1,000 bail, according to Androscoggin County Jail in Auburn.

At the high school Friday morning, vehicle traffic was heavy from 7:30 to 7:45, with cars lined up to East Avenue.

Most of the school’s 1,400 students are driven to school by their parents or drive themselves. About 300 take the bus.

The safest way to enter the school is by bus, for which there is a drop-off lane near the building. Officials are trying to replicate that with two lanes for personal vehicle drop-off separated by wooden barricades, LeBlanc said.

Most parents interviewed Friday said traffic has long been a challenge and that the new barricades are making dropping off students safer.

“It’s better,” said Tina Dubois as she brought her daughter, Courtney, to school. Both witnessed Thursday’s crash. “She called 911,” Dubois said of her daughter.

Before the barricades were erected, people pulled in to drop off their students and traffic in other lanes would stop, Dubois said. “You’d be stuck for five minutes trying to get out. There’s more order now,” she said. “Lewiston is a big school. You can’t expect to get in and get out in two seconds.”

Joey Willette and Rachel Belanger agreed. “Before, we would have three lanes of cars dropping off kids. It was very dangerous,” Belanger said. “I think it’s better, if parents cooperate.”

But Keith Nazaroff called the new traffic pattern confusing. “Before, you’d pull in,” he said. “Now, people get confused where to go.”

Student Alex Chicoine, who drives to school, complained about more congestion. “It’s crappy. It’s been backed up here for two weeks straight. I guess they want a traffic jam.”

At many Maine schools morning traffic is a challenge because more parents drive their children to schools that weren’t designed for that kind of traffic.

But the number of parents who drive students to school is higher in Lewiston than at most high schools, Levesque said.

“It’s a cultural thing,” he said. For years there was no busing for Lewiston High School students. Parents got used to driving their children to school or allowing them to drive.

“We’re probably unique in the number of kids who get rides to school,” he said. “Everyone wants to drop off their kid at the same time, and they want the best space. It’s a physical impossibility.”

Parents who drive their students to school need to come early,
Levesque said. They need to understand that there are going to be some restrictions to make sure that
traffic is slow and kids exit safely, and they need to be patient. 

LeBlanc said he conducted a traffic study on East Avenue, and the heavy traffic lasts about five minutes beginning at 7:30 a.m. So far, the temporary barriers have kept parents from making dangerous U-turns and creating three or four lanes of stopped vehicles. If, over time, the barriers prove effective, permanent ones might be built, LeBlanc said. “We are engaging a traffic engineer.”

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Students at Lewiston High School make their way on the crosswalk as they go through the new barricaded lanes Friday morning.

Lewiston High School Assistant Principal Paul Amnott, right, keeps an eye on traffic and student safety Friday morning.

Lewiston High School Assistant Principal Paul Amnott uses the crosswalk in the barricaded drop-off area at the school Friday morning.

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