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Florida community fights for student safety

By staff

The spot of fatal accident that took life of where Enrique Hernandez

Auburndale, FL – Over 150 community members gathered at the intersection of US Highway 92 and Old Dixie Highway on Jan. 5 to demand Polk County Florida commissioners take action for public safety for high school students.

Tenoroc High School was built and opened up to Auburndale students in 2008. It is located near the intersection of US Highway 92 and Old Dixie Highway. These two roads are very busy and neither road has sidewalks. Old Dixie Highway is a narrow road with extremely narrow shoulders. The grass is normally overgrown here, which makes slip and falls into its deep ditches a constant danger for those who attempt to walk to school. Lighting is almost non-existent, making early morning walks in winter hours an extreme risk.

Since the opening of Tenoroc High, there have been two students who, while walking to school, were hit and killed by vehicles. The first incident occurred December of 2009, when then-freshman and 14-year-old Colton Meyers was hit as he crossed the road. The second was Enrique Hernandez, who was killed as he walked to school in August of 2013.

Those who are fighting to change Auburndale's conditions are the Young American Dreamers (YAD). A recent meeting with county commissioners, authorities tried to discourage the community from fighting to improve things, making the absurd argument that $2 million would be needed to correct the situation.

“Why is there suddenly a price for the safety of our community, especially when it involves our youth?” says Daniel Barajas, organizer and co-founder of Young American Dreamers. “Only a few miles away and in a wealthier location, another Auburndale stretch of road has a wooden path running parallel to a busy street. This wooden path must take a lot of money to keep it looking as nice as it does. And during our meeting with the commissioners, they never brought that price up to us. $2 million might be easily spent there already,” said Barajas.

The vigil took place on what would have been victim Enrique Hernandez's 18th birthday. Those present included various supporters of the sidewalk implementation and Hernandez's family. In the middle of the event, sheriffs attempted to intimidate those gathered. They pulled Barajas aside and questioned him about a potential march. To the crowd, Barajas asked, “We can march, but on what sidewalk?”

“As our communities continue to grow, as proved by having had a new high school built in the area, it is imperative that safety precautions are also created to protect the people,” said Barajas. “We parents work hard to protect our children from bullying, abuse and violence. It's time Polk County do its part too, by solving the issue of sidewalks, now. For a city to be directly responsible for the death of two minors while walking to their public schools, and for the city to continue to do nothing while the deaths are growing, is completely unacceptable.”

Among the chants ending the vigil were, “Si se puede! Si se puede!” or “Yes we can!” to advancing the fight for a safer community. Petitions urging Auberndale and Polk County commissioners to solve this issue are being gathered. Those who were present at the vigil all signed the petition and vowed to not rest until there is justice.

Protest demanding student safety

Daniel Barajas speaking to Enrique Hernandez's family

#AuburndaleFL #TenorocHighSchool #YoungAmericanDreamers