Family of teen killed on busy highway makes passionate plea for Polk County to build sidewalks

Two kids have been killed in last five years

AUBURNDALE, Fla. - A busy stretch of Auburndale highway where two children have died in the past five years is one step closer to getting a sidewalk.

But there's still a ways to go.

The Polk County Board of County Commissioners decided Tuesday to move forward with one section of the project that will build a boardwalk over wetlands along Old Dixie Highway.

The other two sections are in limbo because not enough property owners have expressed interested in donating the edge of their property for a sidewalk.

Last August, Enrique Hernandez was hit and killed on his walk to Tenoroc High School. Family and friends have since gone on a campaign to get a sidewalk and street lights installed to prevent another tragedy.

"It's a grave reminder of how the county has failed to protect the kids," said Daniel Barajas, friend of the family and leader of the group trying to convince county commissioners.

"It falls on us to go out and demand something that should have been done in the first place," he said.

At Tuesday's commission meeting, Barajas delivered a petition with more than 5,000 signatures along with a passionate speech about the need.

Enrique's parents and relatives stood behind him with visual aids and a message of their own.

"This is unacceptable," he told commissioners. "This is something that needs to get done."

According to a presentation by Deputy County Manager Bill Beasley, the cost of the entire project could run between $1 and $2 million if the county can successfully acquire the land from more than 35 property owners.

If not, the cost could balloon to $4 million because the sidewalks will have to be built over difficult drainage ditches.

"If there are other sidewalk projects that need to be delayed in order to build a safe route to school for our children, I'm all for it," Commissioner Ed Smith said. "I don't know how much a child's life is worth. I can't put a price on it."

Other commissioners disagreed, saying $4 million is too much to spend.

For now, they directed staff members to go back and try again to work with the property owners.

"Based on the board's decision today, we have to refocus and re-approach those property owners, possibly with a more passionate plea about why we're doing this. It's not just another government project," Beasley said.

While the Hernandez family is satisfied that a section of the project is moving forward, they said they plan to keep pushing to get the rest.

"While they keep arguing about this, people are still at risk," Barajas said. "All we can do is pray that there's not another tragedy."

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