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By Miriam Raftery

March 21, 2014 (Rancho San Diego) – Julian Fraire, 16, was on his way to school at Steele Canyon High School Thursday morning from his home on Mt. Helix in unincorporated El Cajon.  He never made it to class.  The minivan he was driving crossed the center line and collided with an oncoming pickup truck on Steele Canyon Road.  The teen died at the scene.

It’s far from the first tragic accident to impact the school and the families who attend Steele Canyon.  Another 16-year-old, Zachary Jannenberg was killed in March 2007 when he lost control of the Ford Explorer he was drivin while on his way to school.

In 2010, Navy veteran David Norman Reid, a parent and active supporter of the school’s drama club, was killed in a head-on collision near the high school. He was struck by Steele canyon alumni and Tampa Bay rookie baseball payer Andrew Bellati, 18, who pled guilty to gross vehicular manslaughter for driving too fast.

Reina Menasche, whose 15-year-old son attends the school, said traffic is a “nightmare” and that delays of 15 to 20 minutes at a traffic light near the school are common.  She said student drivers often take dangerous chances in their haste to get to school, since traffic delays are not excused and being late to class due to traffic results in detention.  She told East County Magazine that she complained to school officials about dangerous traffic conditions long before the latest fatal accident.

Now a student at Steele Canyon has launched an online petition asking that a barrier be installed on Steele Canyon Road to make it safer.

Menasche wants to see a public meeting held to brainstorm ways to make conditions safer. 

School officials have started car pool lists and have traffic controls in the parking lot.  But many parents and students say that’s not enough – especially with two new major projects slated to add even more traffic to the already-dangerous State Route 94, the major route to the school. 

A new border crossing to accommodate trucks with oversize loads  has been approved at Otay, accessible from  State Route 94. In addition, the Jamul Indian Village is constructing a casino, leading to even more traffic delays and raising concerns about future traffic risks if the casino is allowed to serve alcohol.  While the tribe has paid for significant mitigation measures, the County and some residents believe that’s not enough-- they and are suing CalTrans.

But even without these projects, the dangers to students and their families remain, and its clear that unless steps are taken to improve the safety of roadways used by students and their families, more tragic accidents are likely to occur.

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