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The Oakland Press
Teen killed in June while picking up trash along I-696
By Ann Zaniewski
August 13, 2008
The family of a teen who was killed while participating in a youth highway cleanup program has sued the Michigan Department of Transportation to stop the program. Elisa Skinner-Bell, a 16-year-old honor student from Farmington Hills, died in late June from injuries suffered on Interstate 696 near Lahser Road in Southfield. Police said Skinner-Bell was outside an MDOT minivan when it was rear-ended by a vehicle that had veered off the road.
Skinner-Bell was among a group of students participating in MDOT's Youth Corps, an eight-week summer program during which teenagers pluck trash from roadsides and get a chance to learn about transportation-related careers.
The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in Oakland County Circuit Court, asks the court to permanently enjoin MDOT from operating the Youth Corps program.
Richard H. Bernstein, the attorney representing the family, said MDOT failed to safeguard the program's participants, whom he said are sometimes recruited through public schools.
"This program is a horribly administered program. The idea that you would have young men and woman working on the side of 696 and Lahser is unconscionable," Bernstein said.
The family also is seeking damages against Plymouth resident Gary E. Hall, who, according to the complaint, was driving a Ford Excursion in a careless manner when it rear ended the minivan.
The complaint alleges that MDOT failed to provide signs or notice to oncoming traffic to warn drivers about the youth working on the roadside, failed to provide any barrier between the youth and oncoming traffic and failed to provide the youth with proper supervision and training.
Devon Pannecouk, an MDOT communications assistant, said it's policy to not comment on pending litigation.
"We let the judicial system do their job," he said. Pannecouk said the youth program continues.
Bernstein said Skinner-Bell's family is not seeking monetary damages against MDOT at this time because their main priority is to get the program abolished so no other young people will get hurt.
"I want it stopped and to make schools aware of the risk here. The pain and the hurt that our family feels É I can't even begin to explain that feeling," said Erica Bell, Skinner-Bell's aunt.
Bell said relatives of the victim were upset when, about a month after Skinner-Bell's death, they saw a group of youth picking up roadside trash with no apparent additional safety precautions in place.
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