Family of teen killed wants lighting added at the intersection
Steve Knight is on a mission: He wants to prevent another tragedy like the one that claimed the life of his son John by getting lights installed at the intersection where the 19-year-old was fatally hit while crossing with friends on July 14, 2016.
“It seems like a fairly small request that could potentially save lives,” Knight said.
He plans to take his case to the Junction City Council at its March 9 meeting, in hopes of making a change along U.S. 127 at the intersection of Shelby Street. He wants others to join him.
“It really affects more than just the people of Junction City. It affects anybody who goes through there — whether you live there or Ohio. It’s still going to affect people,” he said. “The people in the community will have to be the ones to step up and get the job done.”
Calling it “Light up the Council,” Knight is hoping that a public showing will convince the city it’s worth investing the time and energy needed to get lights — and potentially a reduced speed limit — on 127 at the well-traveled intersection.
“It seems like such a small thing,” Knight said.
A ‘great kid’
“(John) was one of those kids that did a lot for people and you never knew he was doing it. He never made a big deal about it, he never really talked about it, but he was always on the lookout for ‘Hey, how can I help somebody?’ If somebody needed help, he would do it,” Steve Knight said.
Knight describes his son being “very well-liked.”
“He had tons of friends — there were over 2,000 people that came to his funeral,” Steve Knight said.
“He was very loyal to his friends. He impacted many more people than I ever realized … he seemed to touch so many lives,” said Cheryl Preston, John’s mom. “He had the best group of friends.”
Those same friends visited her for weeks after, bringing food, even coming by at Christmas to help her decorate for the holiday.
“Their friendship is reflected through him, that they cared enough about him and he meant enough to them to do those things,” she said. “They call me ‘Mom’ — they called me Mom before all of this, but they still call me Mom, which I appreciate.”
She said John was close to his family, especially his sisters Erica Russell and Ashley Bultena, and his step-dad Keith Preston.
“He and his sisters were the three musketeers,” Preston said.
John Knight attended New Hope Baptist Church in Moreland. His dad is convinced he would have done mission work, something he had enjoyed doing with his youth group at the church.
His dad describes him as “strong” in his Christian faith, but “he was never pushy about that.”
“He would talk to people about his faith … If they wanted to discuss it, he would be happy to talk, but he was never pushy about it in any way,” Knight said.
He cites his son’s tattoo as an example: John had 1 Corinthians 13:16 tattooed on his chest.
“Be on guard. Stand firm in the faith. Be courageous. Be strong. And do everything with love.”
“It was covered up most of the time, because it was on his chest, but that was John. He wasn’t trying to be pushy about it,” Knight said, tearing up. “When I have a rough day, I try to remember that verse.”
Knight now carries that verse on tag on a chain around his neck. The tag features a photo of his son on one side with the number of days he was alive on the back.
“(The number of days) was something my girlfriend suggested — it just made sense. I don’t know how to describe it,” he said.
John graduated from Danville High School in 2015. He had enrolled at Eastern Kentucky University for a semester, taking the spring semester off to “work and raise a bit of money.”
“He had every intention of going back to school in the fall,” Knight said. “I had gone over there with him to visit and make sure everything was ready for him to return.”
At the time, John Knight was working at Complete Fitness on Hustonville Road and at Ephraim McDowell Regional Medical Center. He was very much interested in physical fitness and health. Preston described her son as a “fitness buff,” adding he loved to hike the Pinnacles in Berea.
In honor of his birthday, she and many of those who loved John Knight will be climbing the Pinnacles on in June.
“He had ambitions to do something in some area where he could help people. He was looking hard at nursing as a potential career; he was also looking at being a pilot. I don’t know if those two would have come together at some point … Whatever it was he was going to do, it was going to be something where he felt like he was helping people,” Knight said. “He was — it’s hard to look at young people sometimes and tell whether they’re driven. He was driven to help people. I don’t think he knew for sure where that path was going to lead.”
Tragedy at night
About 10 p.m. on July 14, 2016, John Knight was attempting to cross U.S. 127 to return to his house that he shared with his mom and stepdad. He had walked to the BP on East Shelby Street with friends.
“They had been playing basketball, hanging out together, doing things that typical 19-year-olds do,” Knight said.
“Most young people would hop in a car and drive to the BP, but they walked,” he said. “They were going to walk. John was in really good shape — he loved working out and really enjoyed his time at (the fitness center).”
A plaque still hangs at the fitness center in John Knight’s memory, Preston said.
According to the police report from the Boyle County Sheriff’s Office, John Knight and his friends were crossing the southbound lane when he was fatally hit.
His friends, listed as Brett Underwood and Brock Haydon, believed they had the light, according to the report. However, the driver, Phyllis Baldock of Liberty, also said she had the light.
“It is unknown which unit had right of way at the time of the collision due to conflicting statement of the parties and third-party witnesses,” the report states.
The report also notes the “intersection not specifically lighted. Shelby St. is lighted but does little to illuminate the intersection.”
“It was almost a full moon that night, but having that additional light, I think, maybe, could have at least helped,” Knight said.
Lighting it up
Since the fatal crash, Junction City Council members have discussed the potential of getting lights installed at that intersection, but no resolution has been reached. Council member Sonya Kitchen and new member Pete Kendrick have been most vocal about getting something done there.
Junction City Mayor Jim Douglas has publicly said it’s up to the state transportation department to fix the lighting as U.S. 127 is a state-maintained road, most recently stating that at the Feb. 9 city council meeting.
During that meeting, Douglas said the department was “not waiting” on the city. “They lie to everybody. They’re the ones that has to issue the permits,” he said.
He told the council he was making contact with individuals at Congressman Brett Guthrie’s, state Sen. Chris Girdler’s and state Rep. Daniel Elliott’s offices.
Knight said he’s “frustrated” with how slow things are progressing.
“I’ve spoken with the folks at the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet, district seven, which covers Boyle, myself and they’re like, ‘Look, we just need a permit application from the city. Once that comes in, we can move forward on the approval process.’ They said usually the city or the county, or whoever’s involved, would typically work with the utility company to get the lights up,” Knight said. “It almost seems like it’s become a situation, talking with the mayor out there at Junction, that — my opinion is talking with him — it’s become some kind of money issue.”
Knight said money shouldn’t be an issue because, “it seems like a fairly inexpensive project, number one, and number two, I’ve told him that I’ll either pay for it or I’ll raise the money to pay for it.”
He’s also spoken with a few council members who, he said, seem to agree with him on the need to get it fixed.
While Knight knows lights and a lowered speed limit won’t prevent all crashes at that intersection, he thinks it could save a life.
“I don’t feel the lighting was certainly the cause of the tragedy involving my son. I do feel like that intersection is far too dark. It could certainly be improved and potentially save somebody’s life,” Knight said. “It is a heavily trafficked intersection, with Hardee’s and the BP gas station over there. Kids, and most families, live on the other side (of U.S. 127) and are constantly walking back and forth — especially in the summer.”
Lowering the speed limit from 55 miles an hour to 45 miles an hour would also increase the chances of stopping in time, and help drivers in the southbound lane as they merge from two to one.
“People just fly through that intersection,” Knight said. “I used to be guilty of it too, but now I just cringe.”
“I think about it at every single intersection that I go through … especially when I go through that intersection at night, dawn or dusk. I think, ‘Gosh, we need to improve this. Why are we even fighting it? It could be so simple.’”
Knight said he just wants to see something done.
“(The transportation cabinet) told me it would take 60 days tops to get it approved. It just seems like a simple request,” he said. “They seem happy to work with us. We’ve got to have a starting point.”
According a September 2016 article in The Advocate-Messenger, Natasha Lacy with the Transportation Cabinet said any agency is allowed to apply for a permit to place their own lighting at an intersection. Applicants must include a map view of where they want the light poles and information on the type of lighting. The entire cost falls upon the agency seeking the installation. It is usually installed by the local power company, Lacy said. But the request could also be denied, she noted.
Knight believes fixing the intersection could be something good from the tragedy of his son’s death.
“Maybe one positive thing that could come out of this is that we make sure this intersection is better lighted, so that this doesn’t happen again,” he said. “It’s a pretty small request in the grand scheme of things … if it saves a life, it’s worth it.”
Follow Kendra Peek on Twitter, @knpeek.
The next Junction City Council meeting is 7 p.m. on March 9.