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May 23, 2016

Bucks County mom honored for sidewalk-safety effort

Sharon Rearick's son died after a New Falls Road hit-and-run; her work to make that road safer garners recognition

Transportation Awards
Sharon Rearick SAFE Brian Hickey/PhillyVoice

Seen here sporting a Sidewalks Are For Everyone (SAFE) T-shirt, Sharon Rearick tried for years to have sidewalks installed along the Bucks County roadway where her 23-year-old son was fatally struck by a hit-and-run driver in 2012.

In February, Sharon Rearick’s years of tear-soaked efforts to bring sidewalks to a stretch of the Bucks County roadway where her son was killed by a hit-and-run driver finally paid off. That's when elected officials in two municipalities agreed to install sidewalks along New Falls Road.

On Saturday, she led “Sidewalks Are For Everyone” (SAFE) volunteers in a nascent Adopt-A-Highway cleanup effort along that stretch of New Falls Road in Levittown.

And in early June, TMA Bucks – a nonprofit organization that “provides leadership for transportation issues in Bucks County” – will bestow upon her its first-ever Community Service Award to acknowledge “hard work and dedication which will lead to making the Bucks County community safer.”

“This is important to TMA Bucks,” said spokesman David Walter, “since we manage the Bucks County Community Traffic Safety Program, which sees us work with law enforcement, local businesses, schools and the community to reduce the number of annual highway deaths in Bucks County.”

Rearick said she learned about the award when she got a phone call from TMA Bucks about a month ago.

"I'm still somewhat in shock by it all. People may not have been there day-to-day, attending our meetings, but they were there in the background for us." – Sharon Rearick, Sidewalks Are For Everyone

"I thought it was over the top, that they were giving me way too much credit, but I said yes," she told PhillyVoice on Monday morning, noting that she's heard a lot of feedback regarding the effort in recent months.

"The emails and thank-you notes have been overwhelming," she continued. "I'm still somewhat in shock by it all. People may not have been there day-to-day, attending our meetings, but they were there in the background for us."

Rearick will be honored at TMA Bucks' annual meeting, to be held June 3 at Parx Casino East in Bensalem, where SEPTA General Manager Jeff Knueppel will deliver the keynote address.

The backstory

Rearick found herself in this position via the tragic loss of her son, John, who was struck by a vehicle on New Falls Road in the early morning hours of July 22, 2012. He would die at St. Mary’s Medical Center six days later.

A small memorial marks the spot where John was struck by a driver, who, thanks to surveillance video captured by a nearby business, was arrested. Jonathan Simmons, who had been driving with a suspended license, accepted a plea deal that landed him a 15-to-30-month sentence in state prison.

What ensued for Sharon Rearick was years of confronting, and cutting through, bureaucratic red tape after launching the SAFE movement.

Courtesy of Sidewalks Are For Everyone/Via Facebook

Members of the Sidewalks Are For Everyone (SAFE) group in Bucks County led an Adopt-A-Highway cleanup effort on Saturday, May 20, 2016.

A Facebook correspondence last December with Pennsylvania Department of Transportation Secretary Leslie Richards would become the breakthrough. Soon, PennDOT extended a $1.7 million offer to build sidewalks on New Falls Road in Middletown and Bristol townships. Within two months, officials in both townships signed letters of support.

"I'm not a political person, but I knew something had to be done, and I was going to get it done," Rearick said of the years-long effort. "We're getting there."

Groundbreaking for the sidewalk installation, located between Pa. Route 413 to Oxford Valley Road along New Falls, is scheduled for June 17, 2017, she said.