By Emily Drooby
On Utopia Parkway in Whitestone, Queens there’s a plaque honoring Madeline Serchen, a Saint Francis Prep Honor student whose life was cut short on June 25, 2018.
“She was in the crosswalk. She had the right of way. She proceeded to walk into the street, and a driver slammed right into her, killing her,” explained Maddie’s aunt, Rita Barravecchio.
The 88-year-old driver, Sheila Kahn-Prager, ran a red light. eventually giving up her license after pleading guilty to reckless endangerment. Maddie was killed on impact.
“All she had to do was be more defensive as a driver,” said Rita.
Maddie’s story is not uncommon. Every two hours, someone is killed or seriously injured in a
Rita is now fighting to lower that statistic, using the tragic loss of her niece as inspiration.
She decided to join Families for Safe Streets, a group of advocates who confront traffic violence and inspire change by sharing their tragic stories.
“This is where my connection with families for safe streets began,” she said.
She joins members like Raul Ampuero, who entered the group just days after losing his 9-year-old son Giovanni to a traffic crash.
“This is a really bad epidemic. We are trying to do something that I think is the right thing to do, which is just save lives. At least if I know that I save one life, I could die in peace,” Raul said.
The group has had an impact in helping to lower New York’s citywide speed limit to 25 miles per hour. They also had a major hand in supporting recently signed legislation allowing speed cameras in school zones.
The group also provides support to those who need it most.
Families for Safe Streets has a resource guide on their website for people who have been recently injured, or families who are dealing with the loss of a loved one to a traffic crash.
Information from their resource guide includes the five most important things you need to know after a crash, and how to deal with an NYPD investigation.
The group is “helping to change the culture of change here in New York, because it needs to change. We need to change this culture, it’s too reckless and people are taking other people’s lives,” said Rita.
For her, the group has become a way to inspire much needed change, and way to prevent other families from having to go through a similar experience.
“My family is living a nightmare that we will never wake up from, and if we can prevent another family from living this nightmare, then we’re doing good, we are doing something for Maddie,” she said.
For Rita, it’s another way to keep Maddie’s spirit alive.
In November, the group will be honoring those killed or severely injured in NYC at their World Day of Remembrance. For more information on the group and their upcoming events please visit their website.