Police still searching for driver who killed 15-year-old West High student

Posted at 10:50 AM, Jan 07, 2019

CINCINNATI — After nearly four months of investigating, police are still looking for the driver they say fled the scene after hitting a Western Hills University High School student on Harrison Avenue last September.

Fifteen-year-old Gabriella Rodriguez died Sept. 10 after two separate vehicles struck her as she was crossing Harrison Avenue in Westwood at about 6:30 a.m. Rodriguez was trying to cross the street to catch her Cincinnati Metro bus to school. Police said the driver of the first vehicle stayed at the scene and cooperated with officers' investigation, but the second driver -- which caused the majority of Rodriguez's injuries -- is still at large.

Cincinnati Police Assistant Chief Lt. Col. Paul Neudigate and Traffic Unit Commander Lt. Brian Norris updated City Council's Law and Public Safety Committee Monday morning. Norris said his team of investigators interviewed more than 30 people of interest, and assessed more than 300 vehicles that fit the loose description of the car wanted in the case — a white, four-door sedan.

"Unfortunately, we have to say right now there is not substantial positive progress," Neudigate told the committee. "It will remain a priority."

City transportation officials followed Neudigate and Norris' presentation with an update on safety efforts underway around the school district's high schools — particularly around West High and Gilbert A. Dater High School, which share a campus on Ferguson Road.

Over students' holiday break, Duke Energy installed new LED street lights along Ferguson outside the high schools, after Cincinnati Public Schools reported that roughly a dozen students were involved in crashes while they were walking to school last fall semester.

City Traffic Engineer Dennis Lechlak outlined several safety improvement efforts outside the high schools that are underway, completed or being evaluated by engineers:

  • street light upgrade
  • replace "Pedestrian Crossing" paddles on Ferguson Road
  • evaluate adding a crosswalk at the intersection of Sidney Road and Glenway Avenue
  • re-evaluate existing plans for student drop-off and pick-up operations
  • add alternative crosswalk warning systems, like rapid-flashing beacons
  • review the configuration of Ferguson Road and Ferguson Place
  • adding a flashing "School Zone" sign along Ferguson
  • traffic calming measures along Ferguson Road

Lechlak emphasized pedestrian education throughout his report to the committee — a point on which Cincinnati Public Schools Superintendent Laura Mitchell pushed back.

"Even when our students are educated, we're finding our students are getting hit. I think the bigger issue is really about driver safety," Mitchell told the committee.

Committee Vice Chair Amy Murray called for a safety campaign that would educate both drivers and pedestrians on how to use the streets safely.

Lechlak did not go into detail on what a review of the Ferguson Road-Ferguson Place intersection would look like or what traffic calming measures his team could implement in the schools' vicinity.

Monday's hearing began a little more than an hour after students' made their way back to class from their two-week holiday break.