By Donald Wittkowski
The stepfather of a vacationer who was struck and killed while crossing the street over the Memorial Day weekend made an impassioned plea Thursday night for Ocean City to overhaul what he called an unusually dangerous intersection.
“In the military, we call it the ‘kill zone,”’ Dr. John Albert told City Council while describing the intersection of Eighth Street and Bay Avenue.
Albert’s stepson, Thomas F. Gibbons Jr., died after being struck May 25 while crossing the intersection with his wife, Stephanie, who was also hit by the same motorist. Stephanie Gibbons was taken to a hospital but survived her injuries.
Gibbons, 47, an engineer from Lansdale, Pa., is also survived by two teenage daughters. He was a frequent Ocean City vacationer and was visiting over the Memorial Day weekend.
“In the warmer months, Ocean City, N.J., was always his favorite destination; whether it was the boardwalk, beach or bay, Tom loved it all,” his obituary said.
In a press release, police said the vehicle was going west on Eighth Street and turned left on Bay Avenue when it hit Gibbons and his wife.
The driver was not immediately identified. An investigation is being conducted by the Police Department’s Traffic Safety Unit, the department’s Detective Bureau and the Fatal Accident Investigation Unit of the Cape May County Prosecutor’s Office.
Choking back tears, Albert appealed to the Council members and Mayor Jay Gillian to reconstruct the intersection of Eighth and Bay to prevent other tragedies from happening.
He was joined by other members of the audience who stood up to state that they had narrowly avoided being struck at the same intersection in close calls over the years. They, too, called for changes at the intersection.
“It’s extremely dangerous,” said Gregg Wolfe, a 30-year resident of Ocean City who was nearly hit by a car while riding his bike last summer at Eighth and Bay.
Albert described a series of measures he believes the city should take to reconfigure the intersection, including new turning lanes and a crosswalk that would be controlled by traffic signals.
He said he and his wife were also nearly struck at the same intersection last year.
“That intersection is dangerous, and I’m going to prove it tonight. It needs to be changed,” Albert said, while displaying a diagram he had of the streets.
While speaking to the Council members, he repeatedly urged the city not to waste any time in rebuilding the intersection to make it safer.
“I’m not looking for sympathy. I’m looking for action,” he said.
The Council members commended Albert for his remarks about the intersection. They also said he showed a “tremendous amount of courage” while speaking about his late stepson. They pledged that the city will do whatever it can to improve safety at the intersection.
“It certainly puts things in perspective,” Councilman Bob Barr said, echoing the sentiments of the other members.
Afterward, Albert huddled with Mayor Gillian in the hallway outside the Council chambers. The mayor assured him that the city would examine the intersection, but also told him that Bay Avenue is a county road.
Speaking later with reporters, Gillian said city officials plan to contact the county to immediately begin discussing possible changes to create a safer intersection.
“We’re going to start tomorrow,” he said.
While expressing his sympathy over Gibbons’ death, Gillian said the accident reflected “a bigger issue” in which motorists should be more careful while sharing the streets with pedestrians and bicyclists.
As the two men spoke, Albert told Gillian, “When you drive around these streets, it’s the Wild West out there.”
Albert lives in Fort Myers Beach, Fla., but owns a vacation condominium in Ocean City at Eighth Street and West Avenue, only one block from where his stepson was fatally hit.
In an interview with reporters, Albert said the intersection of Eighth and Bay is deceptively tranquil. He believes there are myriad distractions, including the surrounding homes, parked cars and the nearby Route 52 Causeway bridge, that make the intersection particularly dangerous.
Shadows that occur in fading sunlight also obscure the view of the intersection and heighten the hazards for both motorists and pedestrians, he said.
“It looks like a pastoral, little setting. Let me tell you, it’s a kill zone,” he said.