Four years later, grieving grandmother calls on drivers to prevent pedestrian deaths

18-year-old Kenzie Beyers’ legacy lives on

ROANOKE, Va. – At Lord Botetourt High School, Sandy Beyers watched as the newest senior class embarks on their next chapter.

Four years ago, her granddaughter, Kenzie Beyers, was in the same gym.

“She wanted to enroll at Virginia Western. She would have already graduated, had a job, and maybe, you know, be married, start a family,” Beyers said.

On her last day of high school, May 15, 2020, Kenzie was hit by a distracted driver while crossing Brandon Avenue in Roanoke.

She was just 18.

“According to the police officer, she was speeding by nine miles,” Beyers said. “The driver did not even know she had hit Kenzie. So the witnesses slowed the car down.”

Kenzie was taken to Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital, where multiple doctors said that Kenzie’s brain and brain stem were dead. Eleven days later, Kenzie gave her last gift: she was an organ donor.

“Kenzie would want them to achieve their dreams in life and be happy and bring joy and happiness to our community. I know she’s smiling down,” Beyers said.

The driver was never charged. Forty-five days later on July 1, Virginia lawmakers enacted a hands-free law. Enforcement began Jan. 1, 2021.

“We’ve forgiven her. You know, it was an accident. She didn’t mean to hit Kenzie, but we do pray for her because she has to live with that for the rest of her life,” Beyers said.

The tragedy triggered change. Roanoke City repaved Brandon Avenue, cutting four lanes down to two, adding a center turn lane, bike lanes and a crosswalk. According to data from the city’s traffic engineering department, those safety improvements slowed cars down by six miles an hour, while cutting commute times for drivers by one to two minutes.

Fast forward to March 21, 2024 and the city saw another deadly crash. This time, a Crystal Spring Elementary School student: 9-year-old Brayden DeHaven.

Neighbors along Avenham Avenue demanded action. One month later, the city added stop signs.

“The unfortunate thing is crashes and fatalities sometimes do accelerate timelines,” Robert Issem, the city’s Complete Streets & Vision Zero Coordinator, said.

He added that Avenham Avenue was not considered a ‘hotspot’ for overall crashes. Data from the DMV shows one crash in 2018, two in 2019, two in 2020, zero in 2021, two in 2022 and four in 2023. To date in 2024, there have been two, including the deadly crash that killed DeHaven.

Issem said that streets in the city are repaved every few years on a rotating schedule, usually based on the pavement condition. Typically, areas of concern and needed safety improvements are identified using crash data after incidents occur.

As for Brandon Avenue: after Kenzie’s death, deadly pedestrian crashes dropped to zero in 2021 and 2022. However, there was one deadly crash in 2023.

Overall crashes along Brandon Avenue jumped from 29 in 2020 to 49 in 2021. In 2022, there was a slight drop to 46, but 2023 saw 63. So far this year, there have been 26 crashes.

Issem said the city is about to launch a new “Vision Zero” initiative to proactively reduce crashes, thanks to a $660,000 federal grant.

“And that’s basically a blueprint to give the city a way forward,” Issem said. “To go from where we are now, which is like about 14 fatalities annually to zero.”

Sandy’s story, sadly isn’t unique.

According to data from the DMV, since 2020, 380 people have been in pedestrian-involved crashes in Roanoke City, including 29 people 18 years old or younger. Of those crashes, 195 pedestrians were injured or killed.

10 News asked Beyers if she wished safety improvements had been made before the deaths of her granddaughter and DeHaven.

“I’m just thankful that they have been done,” Beyers said.

Back in Botetourt, Sandy is keeping Kenzie’s memory alive by handing out the annual Mackenzie Renee Beyers Memorial Scholarship. She also promotes organ donation and pedestrian safety every chance she gets.

“It seems like you really are focusing on the good that can come out of Kenzie’s passing,” 10 News Reporter Lindsey Kennett said.

“Yes, something good. So no one else has to go through this,” Beyers said.

About the Author

You can watch Lindsey during Virginia Today every weekend or as a reporter during the week!

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