‘Love for Layla:’ Outpouring of support
The community has rallied to support both a Cape Coral family grieving in the wake of hit-and-run crash that took the life of an 8-year-old waiting for her school bus and an effort to avert the possibility of a similar tragedy.
Layla E. Aiken was waiting at a northeast Cape stop with her two brothers shortly after 6 a.m. Monday. The street has no sidewalks and she was struck while sitting near the roadway by a pickup truck police say turned the corner too sharply.
“Love for Layla,” a Facebook fund to help Layla’s mother, Kat, has raised more than $60,000 so far, with another fundraiser set for this Saturday to help with funeral costs.
“It’s been incredible,” said close family friend Randi Romanov of the community support the family has received. “The amount of love and support by this community is mind-blowing. I was raised here in Cape Coral, and I’ve never seen anything like this.”
Romanov said that Kat is also overwhelmed with the support of the community.
The fundraising event this Saturday will be held at Cape Assembly Church from 1-3 p.m “to raise money for awareness for increased safety for our children at bus stops.”
“I think that this has been a huge issue in Lee County for a long time,” said Romanov. “Unfortunately, it’s taken the death of an 8-year-old girl for the community to say something needs to be done.”
Romanov is a mother of four and, although she drives her children to school, can imagine the anxiety parents have when their kids walk to and from the bus stop each day, especially in the morning when visibility is low.
“Luckily I can drive and pick up my children, but the thought of (a tragedy like this) scares me,” she said. “There are no safety precautions at bus stops. These kids are sitting at bus stops for up to an hour at times. It’s absurd.”
A charitable endeavor, “Lights for Layla,” has been started to raise money for adequate lighting and benches at all bus stops throughout Lee County.
Organizers are hoping it’s the start of a not-for-profit.
Money from Saturday’s fundraiser will benefit the cause, with funds going towards funeral expenses as well.
Money raised on Facebook will not be available until 30-60 days after the page is closed, so Saturday’s event is critical to lessen the immediate financial burden for the family.
Romanov said that the “Love for Layla” fundraiser will replenish any funds raised on Saturday that go towards the funeral, into the “Lights for Layla” effort.
Plans for the fundraiser include children’s activities such as bounce houses, face painting, a deejay, photo booth, games, Skyzone characters, balloon animals food vendors, the Cape Coral Fire Department, raffles and more.
“We need to give kids a place to sit other than the ground,” Romanov said. “If she was on a bench, she would be here today.”
Police have seized the vehicle they believe was involved. The investigation was ongoing at press time.
The public’s literal and figurative cries for help have been heard by officials in Cape Coral and beyond.
District 5 Cape Coral Councilmember Dave Stokes, a firefighter/paramedic, is among those working to find some solutions.
“On Tuesday I met with City Manager Szerlag and City Attorney Menendez as I would like to institute a city wide School Bus Bench Program at school bus locations so our children will not have to wait for buses in the road,” he said via email Thursday. “The city has been adding streetlights and sidewalks every year, however, I have already asked our City Manager to increase the amount budgeted for streetlights and sidewalks even more this year.”
The City of Cape Coral also released the following statement Wednesday: “In response to the recent tragedy at a school bus stop in Cape Coral, City staff will be working with Lee County School District staff regarding best practices for school children at bus stops. Traffic safety solutions, education, volunteer programs, review of best practices nationwide, and the timeframe and costs to implement any changes will be considered.”
The School District of Lee County, meanwhile, announced late Thursday it is partnering with the Lee County Sheriff’s Office and Big Momma and the Wild Bunch at B103.9 to raise money so that every student bus rider has a flashing LED light they can attach to their backpack.
The Sheriff’s Office is committing $20,000 and the School District $10,000 toward the $100,000 goal.
“The safety of our students is always our highest priority,” said Superintendent Dr. Greg Adkins in a prepared statement. “With the (community’s) support we can raise the money to provide every bus rider a bright, flashing light they can attach to their bag or backpack so they can be even more visible while waiting for their bus in the morning.”
The Sheriff’s Office will be creating a 501c3 non-profit called “Compassionate Cops” to manage the donations and help purchase the lights.
Meanwhile, only checks sent to the Lee County Sheriff’s Office with “Lights for Layla” written in the memo line can be accepted as donations.
Members of the community are stepping up as well. The Jay LaGace Partners at RE/MAX has volunteered its office to organize volunteer bus duty for bus stops in poorly-lit areas of Cape Coral.
The meeting will take place Saturday, April 6, at 10:30 a.m. where volunteers can sign up to offer their time to help ensure safety for school children.
Background checks will be conducted. The group hopes to establish “zone captains” as well.
The office is at 2326 Del Prado Boulevard South.
This is not the first tragedy of its kind to happen recently in Lee County.
On Jan. 14, 12-year-old Alana Tamplin was struck and killed while walking along the edge of Durrance Road in North Fort Myers after walking her younger sister to the bus stop. There are no sidewalks on that road.
A GoFundMe account for her has been set up as well, you can find it at www.gofundme.com/help-for-alana-tamplin.
Cape Assembly is at 717 Skyline Boulevard.
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