Before Fatal Bus Stop Shooting, A Complaint About Missing Streetlights

This story was produced by the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting, a nonprofit newsroom by Louisville Public Media. For more, visit KyCIR.org.

The sky was still dark when the teenagers got to the school bus stop where one student was fatally shot and two were injured just after 6 a.m. Wednesday morning.

The corner of West Chestnut Street and Dr. W.J. Hodge Street was made even darker because there is no streetlight. Just last week, a resident submitted a request to the city’s Metro311 service for streetlights to be installed at the intersection, citing the threat of crime.

“These two corners appear to be LMPD crime data hotspots. Please add lighting to Hodge & W Chestnut and W Chestnut & 22nd,” the resident wrote in the online submission. The person did not leave their contact information, according to a spokesperson for Metro311.

The intersection is one of the few along the busy one-way stretch of Chestnut Street in the Russell neighborhood without a streetlight directly overhead. In addition to the Jefferson County Public Schools bus stop, there are two TARC bus stops at the intersection, where West Chestnut Street crosses the Dr. W.J. Hodge thoroughfare.

Two students were injured and 16-year-old Tyree Smith died in the shooting at the darkened corner Wednesday morning as they waited for the bus to take them across town to Eastern High School. Police said the gunfire came from a passing car and released a photo of a Jeep with Illinois plates they suspected in the shooting. It was found burned Thursday morning in St. Matthews.

A spokesperson for the city’s Department of Public Works and Assets did not return a request for comment on Wednesday about the specific service request for streetlights, which is listed in city data as “in progress.” A spokesperson for Louisville Gas and Electric said the agency has no streetlight at the intersection.

On Thursday, Mayor Greg Fischer said during a press conference that the public works department has referred a “lighting issue” near the intersection to the power company, and that agency has issued a work order.

Police data show officers have recorded nearly 140 criminal reports on the blocks that make up the intersection of West Chestnut St. and Dr. W.J. Hodge St. between January 2019 and earlier this month — more than 40 incidents involved violence or the threat of violence. Police recorded four homicides in nearby blocks since April 2021. The school bus stop at the intersection had already been the target of at least three other shootings this school year, families told a reporter from The Courier Journal.

During a candlelight vigil Wednesday night to honor Tyree Smith, residents were discussing the need to improve bus stop safety — like organizing adult volunteers to have a presence at the stops and adding streetlights, said Metro Councilman Jecorey Arthur, who represents the area.

Asked if streetlights would be a good idea, Arthur was quick to respond: “1,000 percent yes.”

He said installing street lights near bus stops is “low hanging fruit” to ensure kids have a safe space to wait for rides to school.

Lights Key To Safety

City residents have submitted more than 3,300 service requests related to street light outages or the need for street lights since September 2019, according to Metro311 data.

The danger unlit streets poses for children and other people at bus stops was the focus for at least 20 of the complaints.

“This light is needed for safety,” wrote one resident in an August 2021 request for a light repair near Beulah Church Road.

At least 70 other complaints listed the threat of crime or dangerous conditions that come with darkened streets as the need for a streetlight, according to a KyCIR review of the data. Nearly 160 complaints dating to September 2019 are listed as “in-progress.”

Residents can also complain about busted, broken or needed street lights directly to Louisville Gas and Electric.

The mere presence of a streetlight is not guaranteed to prevent crime, but it can certainly help, said Aaron Chalfin, an assistant professor of criminology at the University of Pennsylvania.

Chalfin has studied the effect lighting has on crime and said research shows that lights can reduce the amount of crime. Moreover, he said lighting can empower people by making them feel safe — especially people at a bus stop, which are set locations that people must be at if they want to catch their bus.

Without lights, victims are put at a disadvantage, while offenders get the upper hand, Chalfin said.

When selecting bus stop locations, school officials should pick locations that offer adequate lighting, according to a report from the National Center for Safe Routes to Schools.

“If students will be waiting during low light hours, the stop should be positioned near a street light or other light source whenever possible,” the report states.

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The bus that Smith and the other children were waiting for is due at 6:11 a.m., according to data listed on JCPS’ online bus finder tool. The sun in Louisville doesn’t rise this time of year until an hour later, at least.

JCPS operates more than 770 bus routes.

A spokesperson for the district did not immediately respond to a request for information about whether officials consider lighting when selecting a bus stop location.

Diane Porter, a JCPS board member who represents the area surrounding the intersection where Smith was killed, said decisions about bus stops are made by district officials and not something board members have been asked to consider during her tenure.

“I regret that there may be a need for lighting, but that is not what a school board makes a decision about,” she said.

Asked what, if anything, should be done to improve school bus stop safety, Porter said it’s difficult to say because board members aren’t privy to those issues.

Right now, she said there’s much to pick apart, but she’s focused on Wednesday’s tragic killing.

“We lost a child yesterday,” she said. “I don’t think that we should just very quickly step away from that.”

At least 70 other complaints listed the threat of crime or dangerous conditions that come with darkened streets as the need for a streetlight, according to a KyCIR review of the data. Nearly 160 complaints dating to September 2019 are listed as “in-progress.”

Residents can also complain about busted, broken or needed street lights directly to Louisville Gas and Electric.

The mere presence of a streetlight is not guaranteed to prevent crime, but it can certainly help, said Aaron Chalfin, an assistant professor of criminology at the University of Pennsylvania.

Chalfin has studied the effect lighting has on crime and said research shows that lights can reduce the amount of crime. Moreover, he said lighting can empower people by making them feel safe — especially people at a bus stop, which are set locations that people must be at if they want to catch their bus.

Without lights, victims are put at a disadvantage, while offenders get the upper hand, Chalfin said.

When selecting bus stop locations, school officials should pick locations that offer adequate lighting, according to a report from the National Center for Safe Routes to Schools.

“If students will be waiting during low light hours, the stop should be positioned near a street light or other light source whenever possible,” the report states.

The bus that Smith and the other children were waiting for is due at 6:11 a.m., according to data listed on JCPS’ online bus finder tool. The sun in Louisville doesn’t rise this time of year until an hour later, at least.

JCPS operates more than 770 bus routes.

A spokesperson for the district did not immediately respond to a request for information about whether officials consider lighting when selecting a bus stop location.

Diane Porter, a JCPS board member who represents the area surrounding the intersection where Smith was killed, said decisions about bus stops are made by district officials and not something board members have been asked to consider during her tenure.

“I regret that there may be a need for lighting, but that is not what a school board makes a decision about,” she said.

Asked what, if anything, should be done to improve school bus stop safety, Porter said it’s difficult to say because board members aren’t privy to those issues.

Right now, she said there’s much to pick apart, but she’s focused on Wednesday’s tragic killing.

“We lost a child yesterday,” she said. “I don’t think that we should just very quickly step away from that.”

Contact Jacob Ryan at jryan@kycir.org.