memorial for Steven Gessner

Friends made a memorial for Steven Gessner, killed in a crosswalk in front of Peoria High School Nov. 15. 

Isaiah McGinnis, a seventh-grade honor roll student, was walking home from Santa Fe Elementary School at 3:20 p.m. Oct. 10, 2018. He was crossing West Peoria Avenue at North 77th Avenue, less than a half-mile from school, when a 2006 Ford pickup truck hit him.

Emergency personnel rushed to the scene but found Isaiah unconscious and without a pulse. Shortly after, the 12-year-old was pronounced dead.

Thirteen months later, Steven Gessner, 14, was crossing 83rd Avenue, on his way to class at Peoria High School less than a mile from where Isaiah died. 

Raeed Antoine Sabri of Peoria was driving a 2003 Chrysler minivan north on 83rd Avenue.

According to a police report, Steven pushed a button to activate flashing lights, then began crossing 83rd in a lighted crosswalk.

 Sabri’s vehicle struck him. Police responded to the scene within 3 minutes. Steven was transported to Banner Thunderbird Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead.

Peoria Police have not charged Sabri, 33.

“The investigation is ongoing,” said Brandon Sheffert, spokesman for the Peoria Police Department.

According to Officer James Cousins’ report, the speed limit where the accident happened is 30 mph. The report estimated Sabri was driving 35 mph.

In the “distracted driving behavior” section of the report, Cousins’ checked a box indicating Sabri was talking on a hands-free device at the time of the accident. Police interviewed Sabri, who stayed at the scene and apparently was cooperative.

The portion of the police report with Sabri’s interview has not been released by the Peoria Police Department.

The part of the report released to the Peoria Times includes Cousins’ description of the area:

“Eighty-third Avenue is an arterial road going northbound and southbound. The road has five lanes traveling north and south. There are two continuous lanes in both directions with a painted median. At area of impact, the median has a protected island designed for pedestrian crossing. 

“The road has two crosswalks on the south and north of the island to not only provide a traffic calming measure, but to allow for distinct pedestrian crossing. This crossing allows drivers to know which half of the road the pedestrians are using. There are warning signs prior to the crosswalk alerting drivers to the crosswalk. 

“At the crosswalk is a double flashing yellow sign, which pedestrians activate to alert approaching drivers the crosswalk is in use. The lights flash on both sides of the roadway to alert drivers in both directions. The lights remain flashing with enough time for pedestrians to cross the entire roadway. After the time permitted, the lights stop flashing.”

The Peoria Times phoned Sabri last week. In broken English, he said he was having a hard time understanding and said he was putting his wife on the phone. 

After saying her husband “is doing better but was very bad,” she asked for any other questions to be asked of the family’s attorney, Zayed Al-Sayyed.

“I can’t comment on what my client told me,”  Al-Sayyed said. “I’ve heard a few things about that intersection … We’re hoping the city fixes this thing and alleviates people of this problem. There is a problem.”

The attorney called Steven Gassner’s death “not only tragic for the victim’s family but tragic and had for Mr. Sabri and his family.”

 Al-Sayyed said until his vehicle struck the boy that Friday morning, “It was just a normal day for (Sabri).”

While Sabri’s attorney suggested a traffic problem led to Steven Gassner’s death, the mother of Isaiah McGinnis has filed a $15 million wrongful death lawsuit against the city of Peoria and Peoria Unified School District.

“Defendants breached their duty to keep the intersection safe for drivers and pedestrians as there was no safe crossing of the intersection at the collision site for pedestrians such as Isaiah,” the suit claims.

“Prior to the death of Isaiah McGinnis,” the lawsuit continues, “defendants had actual or constructive notice of the dangerous conditions at the intersection of the collision site and failed to take adequate remedial steps that would have prevented Isaiah’s death.”

According to the lawsuit, the city and school district’s “negligence, recklessness and carelessness ...caused the tragic and untimely death of Isaiah McGinnis.”

The city of Peoria and PUSD have asked Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Theodore Campagnolo to dismiss the case. 

Campagnolo responded by scheduling oral arguments by the attorneys Thursday, March 12.