Despite promise of more lighting, student waits at dark bus stop
Sunrise may be coming one hour earlier than last week, but for 14-year-old Vinny DeSouza, it did not do much.
“I’ll leave the house at 5:10, and then I will get here at like 5:15,” DeSouza said. “Because I’m trying to get here as fast as I can.”
Every morning he rides his bike down a Lehigh Acres street to his bus stop and waits in complete darkness. DeSouza has been doing this all school year, and Tuesday morning was no different.
“I wish there was lights on every single street. That would just make it better,” he said. “That would make me feel safe.”
At the intersection, there are no streetlights or sidewalks. He says sometimes people speed down the road, and occasionally it makes him nervous, but the lights on his bike help with visibility.
“It makes him very scared. It makes me scared too,” Thalitta Morais, DeSouza’s mom, said.
WINK News first met Morais 12 weeks ago in August. Back then, she explained she can’t always wait with him at the bus stop because she has a younger daughter at home.
“He goes, ‘Mom, I don’t want to be here alone,” Morais told WINK News in the August interview.
WINK News learned in August the Lehigh Acres Municipal Street Lighting Unit invested $3 million into more lighting in Lehigh, prioritizing at least 400 lights at bus stops, split between Lee County Electric Cooperative (LCEC) and Florida Power and Light (FPL).
For Vinny’s stop, FPL said installation would begin in eight to 12 weeks. On Monday, Nov. 4, 12 weeks later, FPL told WINK News it had started the installation, just not at Vinny’s stop yet.
FPL representative Matt Eissey said in an email:
“Installation of new streetlights is underway in Lehigh Acres, and the project is being completed in phases. Phase one of the project was completed two weeks ago. Areas with bus stops are a priority, and 10 bus stops installations were completed in the first phase. All lights installed during phase one were for bus stops. The intersections listed below are the bus stops that were completed in the first phase. Work on the lights at the 34th St. W and Olive Ave N intersection you noted is expected to begin in mid to late December as we continue installations throughout the area. The project as a whole is expected to be completed by the end of January.”
Morais says she has been pleading with the Lee County School District to move the stop since the beginning of the year.
“They told me straight off the bat, they cannot change it,” Morais said. “And for me to just put lights on his backpack and on his bike. And I said, ‘well OK.’”
So, Vinny thought it would be even longer before he had light. But Morais says that changed when she reached out to the school district on Monday. She says she called and they said no change had been made. But shortly after she told them she would be interviewed by WINK news, they responded saying his stop would be changed.
WINK News reached out to the school district, and spokesperson Rob Spicker contradicted Morais’ version of these events. He gave this response via email:
“The stop change was approved on Friday. Notice was provided on Monday and it will take effect on Thursday. The fact that the parent said they were interviewing with WINK did not influence the decision since it was made the week before.
“The change was made because it benefits all the riders from the same bus who use that stop. That was not the situation at the beginning of the year, but it is now, so the change can be approved.
“As you know, all our bus stops are safe. They meet or exceed state guidelines.
“As you also know, street lights in Lehigh Acres are the responsibility of Lee County.
“We continue to provide our students safe locations for their bus stops, continue to work with our community and municipal partners to improve the conditions around them, and continue to evaluate smaller proximity zones for our elementary schools which could impact bell times and transportation schedules.”
Morais says she is happy her son will have a new bus stop, but that does not mean the push for safer stops is over.
“I think that we all want a change. So if it’s putting more lights, changing the time that school starts,” Morais said.
She says she is just hoping it does not take another life to make some more changes.