BY MIKE NOLTING
The Monongalia County Sheriff’s Department is investigating a report of a suspected panhandler hit near the Pierpont Centre Monday afternoon.
Deputies were called to the scene at 12:17 p.m. on a report that one person was injured.
Traffic on Venture Drive reportedly backed up all the way to Lowe’s during the investigation.
The Dominion Post reached out to the sheriff’s department for information on the accident. No response was received in time for this report.
Monongalia County Commissioner Tom Bloom said they are praying for the person injured and want the public to understand the importance of the Pedestrian and Vehicle Safety Ordinance passed earlier this year.
“This has always been a safety ordinance, not directed at one group of people or anyone else,” Bloom said. “This is a perfect example of the worst-case scenario, and we don’t want to see any more of these instances.”
The ordinance passed this year makes it illegal for pedestrians within a right-of-way and vehicle drivers/occupants to restrict the flow of traffic by exchanging items or interacting in any other way. The ordinance provides an exemption for first responders who may have to enter the right-of-way for emergency purposes.
Commissioners took the action on the ordinance after multiple reports of near-miss situations, mostly around retail areas.
“We did everything possible to prevent this accident from happening,” Bloom said. “It was private property, we had signs up, we had the police go out and ask them not to stay out there and this is the result, but hopefully it won’t happen again.”
While the measure was being debated earlier this year many people accused commissioners of trying to “make homelessness illegal,” and targeting a specific group of vulnerable people.
“This is the reason why we needed to pass this safety ordinance — to protect those individuals in the median and the drivers,” Bloom said. “Unfortunately, this accident happened and hopefully this will be the last one.”
While some of the panhandlers are suspected of having homes and nice cars and electing to stand on the side of the road because it’s easier than a conventional job, many do need services offered by the county. Bloom said more than $1 million is allocated to safety net services that he believes are under used.