A march for pedestrian safety in Camden

Richard Pagan, 5, who is in critical condition after being hit by a car Saturday, June 14. Photo provided by family.

Their voices echoed as they moved south down Haddon Avenue and under I-676, bouncing back from the light-green metal supports of the overpass as traffic rumbled overhead.

"Watch out for kids! Put your cellphones down!" Gabby Colon chanted toward the cars that passed by, some honking in support.

Around her walked more than 80 people, crowding and spilling over from the sidewalk into the street. Many wore white T-shirts with a picture of 5-year-old Richard Pagan superimposed on a Captain America shield. On the backs of the T-shirts, in red lettering, were words from Scripture: "We walk by faith not by sight."

Two weeks ago, making their way across a street in front of the Early Childhood Development Center in Camden, in a marked crosswalk about 100 feet from a bright-white, reflective 10 m.p.h. speed-limit sign, Richard was suddenly ripped from his mother's hand by a passing car.

Some have said the car was speeding, but no criminal charges have been filed against the driver, who stayed at the scene.

Friday was the first time that Leslie Leon, Richard's mother, had left the hospital since he was hit.

"Right now I'm happy because I'm not shaking," Leon said.

Back at Cooper University Hospital, where the march had begun, Richard was resting in the intensive care unit, doing his best to regain his ability to speak. He was speaking a little, Leon said, and had sat up that morning.

He was slowly improving after the accident that left him bleeding from the ears, nose, and mouth.

The marchers on Friday hoped to impress upon motorists, as well as the police, school district, and local representatives, that pedestrian safety needs to be taken seriously.

They were demanding that signs be put up, that speed bumps be installed, and that crossing security be increased, among other steps to reduce pedestrian-automobile accidents.

"Honestly, I don't even think kids around here know how to use crosswalks," Richard's cousin Anthony Hernandez, 16, said.

Hernandez said that in many places, visible crosswalks don't exist, pointing to the first intersection he saw - Walnut Street and Haddon Avenue - where the only thing under the feet of the security guard directing traffic was dust and cracked pavement, no white paint.

The march took a left on Wildwood Avenue, continued past the back of Forest Hill Elementary School, and went around to Pine Street, where Richard was hit. There, a stone's throw from the spray-painted markers of the accident, loudspeakers and a microphone were set up and speeches were made.

The marchers opened a box with a hat with thin stripes and a blue ribbon - Richard's favorite, and what he was wearing when he was hit.

"My son was ripped from my hand because of a careless driver," Leon said. "Since I have a big mouth, already I am speaking out."

Camden School Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard attended the pre-march prayer with two staffers, but left before the march began. The two staffers did stay for the walk.

Rouhanifard said that he and the school district realize the importance of working with law enforcement and the city to ensure that students are safe around schools.

Others speaking on Pine Street repeated the message that change needs to be seen in Camden to keep children and pedestrians safe. Some expressed the feeling that the responsibility to effect change lay on the shoulders of the people of Camden, in the absence of effective leadership.

"We're fighting - we just don't have enough courageous leaders," said Ronsha Dickerson, a parent and community activist. "Camden is tired. It's overwhelming. Our children know more about these kinds of walks than walks of glory."