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September 23, 2014

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Pedestrian death sparks protest on Las Vegas Blvd.

Group jams traffic to highlight need for crosswalk improvements

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Stephen R. Sylvanie / Special to the Home News

Police officers stop traffic while dozens of friends and family members of Verlaine Powless cross Las Vegas Boulevard South at the intersection of Wigwam Avenue on Saturday. The group is seeking action from county officials regarding conditions of the crosswalk.

Stopping Traffic

Police officers stop traffic while dozens of friends and family members of Verlaine Powless cross Las Vegas Boulevard South at the intersection of Wigwam Avenue on Saturday. The group is seeking action from county officials regarding conditions of the crosswalk.

Group protests unsafe crosswalk

Guy Smith, left, organized a protest walk on Saturday to demand action from county officials to improve pedestrian safety at the crosswalk at the intersection of Las Vegas Boulevard and Wigwam Avenue. Smith's neighbor, Verlaine Powless, was struck by a car and killed at that intersection on July 25. Launch slideshow »

The hoods of vehicles were slapped, obscenities were shouted and the blasting of horns filled the air Saturday evening as tense moments passed between motorists and a group of protesters at the intersection of Wigwam Avenue and Las Vegas Boulevard South.

The group of about 50 people, which disrupted traffic for at least a mile in both directions, was aiming to increase awareness for what it said is a need for a stop sign or a traffic signal at the intersection. The demonstration was in response to the death of a 19-year-old woman who was struck and killed as she tried to cross in the intersection's marked crosswalk last month.

Verlaine May Powless was killed at about 9 p.m. on July 25 after she was struck by a 2001 Chevy Tahoe driven by 38-year-old Angelo Hurst of Detroit, Mich., while she was crossing Las Vegas Boulevard South in an area that has pavement markings, signs and continuously flashing lights.

The group included friends and family members of the victim as well as area residents concerned about pedestrian safety. Despite the markings and lights, those who live in the area say the crosswalk is not safe.

"It's safer to jaywalk where you can stand on the median than it is to cross here," said Diana Maeda, a friend of Powless.

As the group repeatedly made its way across the street and back, several vehicles came close to striking the pedestrians and a few arguments broke out before police showed up and began directing both traffic and the protesters.

Guy Smith, one of the organizers of the protest, said the goal of those in attendance is for county officials to recognize the need for a stop sign or traffic signal at the intersection.

While neither of those things will be in place in the immediate future, Clark County Public Works spokesman Bobby Shelton said county technicians are currently looking into the feasibility of lowering the speed limit on that stretch of Las Vegas Boulevard South from 50 mph to 45 mph.

Shelton said the change could happen in the next 30 to 45 days.

Additionally, Shelton said the county has expedited plans for the placement of a traffic signal at that intersection.

"If (the county) can get the funding and get it designed, they hope to get it in place by the end of April," he said.

Powless' former boss, Brett Raftery, said that while he understands the placement of a signal will take time and money, the county can do something right now "so people can feel safe in their own neighborhood."

"Put two stop signs in until the light is ready," he said.

Smith said that until the intersection is improved, he will continue to lead similar protests.

Ashley Livingston is a reporter for the Home News. She can be reached at 990-8925 or [email protected].

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