SOMERVILLE, NJ - A pedestrian struck by a van in front of the Somerset Hotel on Grove Street Tuesday morning has been identified as Christine McConnachie, a 52-year-old resident of Clinton Township in Hunterdon County.
She was transported to Robert Wood Johnson/University Hospital in New Brunswick where she succumbed to her injuries, according to Somerville Police Lt. Manuel Garcia.
The investigation into the 9 a.m. accident is ongoing, according to Garcia.
“This doesn’t appear to be a criminal matter, just a very unfortunate accident,” Garcia said.
The driver of the van that hit the pedestrian stopped and remained at the scene, where he spoke to police, according to Garcia.
Police also interviewed several witnesses to the accident, Garcia said.
Police shut down Grove Street in front of the Somerset County Administration Building between East. High Street and East Main Street for several hours afterwards.
Garcia noted that several people are crossing the street at that hour, many of them county employees on their way to work. Garcia did say that McConnachie was not a county employee.
Erin Cross, owner of the Dessert Plate at 34 East Main St., several hundred feet from the busy intersection near where the accident occurred, posted this plea on the tapinto Somerville Facebook page later Tuesday afternoon:
"Please take a moment to write our Mayor about this intersection. As a business owner, I have seen too many unfortunate accidents and close calls at this exact intersection. It needs a light...the whole Grove Street-Main Street-Warren Street intersection is so dangerous between sun glare in the morning, large cars parking in the evening and the new building causing a massive blind spot on top of the fact that people are speeding well above the 25 mph limit. There should be no reason for people to be dying in crosswalks in our town.”
Mayor Ellen Brain, who took office in early February, was at the accident scene Tuesday.
During her first meeting as mayor on Feb. 4, she listed traffic safety as one of her priorities, creating a Traffic and Pedestrian Safety Committee.
The committee had its third meeting the night before the accident; Brain said the committee has been dealing with complaints and suggestions from parents concerning students walking to school and the accompanying safety concerns.
“We are, after all, a walking community with a vibrant downtown,” she said in making her announcement at the February meeting.
She reiterated that theme following the fatal accident.
“We have new apartments, new tenants and new merchants; the ShopRite is a major draw, people walk there to shop from around town,” Brain said.
“New stores put feet on the street and all of this activity is compressed into the downtown area,” she added. “I noticed this before I was mayor and said to myself ‘we need to be careful that we can manage this influx.'
"A vibrant downtown is good for us but we have to make sure the people that are there are protected from any potential problems,“ she added.
Brain said Wednesday that she has asked Police Chief Dennis Manning to compile information on any other incidents at the intersection of East Main, Grove Street and Warren Street intersection.
She also will seek help from state Sen. Christopher “Kip” Bateman, R-16th, whose legislative office is on Warren Street, a two-minute walk from where the accident occurred.
Somerville’s Main Street is actually Route 28, a state highway; the speed limit for the roadway is 35 mph, according to Brain.
The intersection near where the accident occurred is one of the few downtown that does not have a traffic signal, although there are stop signs and the streets are well-marked.
“Our police are diligent and they enforce the laws, but they can’t be on every street at every corner,” the mayor said. “People don’t realize that if they’re going 30 mph down one of these streets and if someone jay walks which people are wont to do, there’s going to be an accident.”
Any attempt to lower the speed limit, or to have traffic signals installed, would have to be evaluated and approved by state traffic engineers, according to the mayor.
“I know in the past, we’ve asked to have the speed limit re-evaluated; it’s something I’m going to try and work on but I don’t know how successful I’m going to be,” she said.
Brain said the Borough Council will observe a moment of silence for McConnachie at the regularly scheduled Aug. 6 Monday meeting, which begins at 7 p.m. in Council Chambers at police headquarters.