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Students mourn friend, lobby for safer conditions near Richland High (w/ gallery)

RICHLAND -- Thirty mourners stood Friday night in the shadow of Richland High School, holding candles.

Sierra Murray was hit by a car there in late October. The 16-year-old died a week later.

In prayers and whispered speeches, friends and family paid tribute to her Friday.

"There are a lot of wounded souls here tonight," said Randy Barnes, who was Sierra's youth pastor at Temple Baptist Church in Richland. "But you can honor Sierra's memory by touching a heart and touching a life."

Sierra had lived that way to the end.

She tutored a student at school hours before she was hit by the car, and she volunteered in Barnes' church group the night before, the pastor said.

And she continues to affect students at the high school after her death -- or rather, through her death.

Losing Sierra has turned students into lobbyists -- for changed traffic patterns around the school, for traffic safety education and for organ donor programs.

Students plan to present this list of requests to city officials at Tuesday's Richland City Council meeting:

* Build at least one crosswalk on Thayer, with flashing lights that can be turned on by the school whenever there are evening events on campus.

* Set up a memorial bench or plaque for Sierra at the intersection of Thayer Drive and Longfitt Street.

* More strictly enforce the no-parking zone on the east side of Thayer, from Lee Boulevard to Long Avenue.

Several students from the leadership class have coordinated the lobbying effort. They've been in touch with city officials and have met with former Richland politicians to learn how to best make the case for their safety proposal.

And they talked to their school resource officer about accident statistics. Officer Jeff Muai helped them get the report for Thayer.

"There were six reported accidents on Thayer in the last two years," said Emily Irwin, a junior who is one of the organizers of Tuesday's presentation. "But not every accident is reported."

Students talked about "almost getting hit on Thayer" daily, she said.

Shortly after Sierra's accident, Richland officials told the Herald that a crosswalk at Longfitt and Thayer would only signal to kids that this is a preferred spot for them to cross.

Because of the traffic from the parking lot there, city officials don't want students crossing at that intersection.

But the intersection is close to the rear exit of campus and to the school auditorium, and students are bound to cross there anyway, Irwin said.

"If we put a crosswalk (at Longfitt and Thayer) it will let drivers know that kids are crossing there," said Elizabeth Quick, another student organizer.

Parents often drop off and pick up students on Thayer, even though the school has a designated zone for this off Long Avenue, Irwin said. No-parking signs and increased police presence on Thayer when school lets out would curb that and make the street safer, she said.

The students hope to draw a crowd of supporters to the council meeting. They have rallied classmates and parents through Facebook and announcements at school.

They know it will be tough to convince the city to spend money on their proposal, but they are hopeful.

"As long as we present it well and have confidence in ourselves, it can work," said Kailee Carneau, a junior.

And they are not just relying on the city to make the streets around campus safer. The students are organizing Safety Week at school for Jan. 9-13, said senior Chanel Friday.

Each day of that week will bring announcements and activities about safety issues to campus.

They will have safety quizzes during lunch hour with candy prizes. As students leave campus, organizers will hand out reflective stickers to make backpacks more visible at night. They will produce educational videos to show to students.

And on Jan. 11, they will talk to students about becoming organ donors.

Sierra's family made her organs available after her death. Their daughter had made it clear that was her wish should anything ever happen to her, Sierra's father, Terry, told the Herald.

Using materials from LifeCenter Northwest, a Washington organ donor organization, students will set up tables in the cafeteria to help students register with the group, said Caitlin Haan, who is organizing that part of the effort.

"We're not invincible," Haan said. "If something happens, at least you can help someone after you're gone."

But most of all, they want to prevent further accidents.

"It's so hard when someone who used to sit four seats behind you (in class) isn't there anymore," Haan said.

The organizers will graduate soon, but they want to leave a safer school behind.

"We want to see (lasting) change," Irwin said. "This will affect students five or 10 years from now."

The Richland City Council meets 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at city hall, 505 Swift Boulevard.

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