DENVER - A mother whose young sons were killed by a hit-and-run driver joined Denver Mayor Michael Hancock Wednesday as officials launched "Heads Up," a public safety campaign to counter a soaring number of injuries and fatalities caused by cars hitting pedestrians and cyclists.
Although she didn't speak at the news conference, Zama Bee was there in a wheelchair to raise public awareness about the need to protect vulnerable pedestrians. Her boys, 4-year-old Ah Zet Khan and 7-year-old Za May Ka, were killed by a hit-and-run driver while crossing the street with their mother in March. Bee suffered a broken leg and arm.
The mayor's office said the Heads Up campaign will work to create a culture that encourages "each and every person in the city to take responsibility for their actions while walking, biking or driving in Denver."
"Denver is a growing, multimodal (transportation) city. So we must bolster our city enforcement, education and engineering to make it a safer city; one that will support our families and children in every neighborhood," Mayor Michael Hancock said.
"Government cannot do this alone. It's incumbent upon all of us to keep our heads up and take personal responsibility for ensuring not only our own safety, but the safety of those around us. This is how we will foster that safe, active culture that we all love so much about our Mile High City," the mayor added.
City officials released alarming statistics showing an increasing number of incidents where vehicles hit pedestrians and cyclists, including hit-and-runs.
From Jan. 1 through April 24, there were 31 collisions where hit-and-run drivers struck pedestrians in Denver -- a 55 percent increase over the same period last year. Thirty-five pedestrians were hit, including seven juveniles.
During the first three months of this year alone, six pedestrians were killed after being hit by vehicles, officials said.
From Jan. 1 through April 24, there were 143 overall collisions between autos and pedestrians that injured 154 pedestrians, including 28 juveniles. That's a 27 percent increase over the number of auto-pedestrian collisions for the same period last year.
Auto-bicycle crashes are up, too. In 2012, there were 265 auto-bike collisions across Denver that resulted in injuries or death -- an 11 percent increase over 2011, city officials said.
Behind the numbers, there's a devastating human toll.
The community has rallied around Zama Bee, who's struggled physically and emotionally to recover from the hit-and-run that robbed her of her sons. No one has been arrested in that crime.
"We've really seen her go through some extreme depression and sadness," said Jennifer Gueddiche of the African Community Center. "It has been an incredibly difficult journey for her and will continue to be, which is why this support and outpouring of love from the community has meant so much to her…She has this sense that the community cares for her."
In another tragic hit-and-run, 16-year-old Deyondra Bridgeman remains hospitalized more than two months after she was hit while crossing the street going to East High School.
The teen suffered severe head injuries and still cannot walk or talk, said her mother, Eriana McLaughlin.
An Aurora school teacher, Erin Jackson, was arrested in the hit-and-run and has been charged with leaving the scene of an accident causing serious bodily injury.
"It has turned my life upside down, not only for myself," McLaughlin said. "I have another younger daughter that it has totally affected."
It's hard, McLaughlin said, "just seeing her in the hospital, making that time to go see her in the hospital every day when you have another teen at home you have to take care of."
Meanwhile, the mother said she's also working full-time and "just now starting to get medical bills and all that stuff in the mail."
"It is definitely very important for everybody to pay attention while driving. Your phone call can wait, your text message can wait," McLaughlin said.
Denver is taking a three-pronged approach to improving public safety on city streets: enforcement, education and engineering.
Denver police increase warnings and tickets for those breaking laws while walking, biking or driving, city officials said. Public Works is adopting innovative engineering strategies citywide to help users of all transportation modes follow the law.
Meanwhile, the city has started an public education effort in collaboration with partners like Denver Public Schools, the Regional Transportation District, BikeDenver and Denver Bike Sharing
"The city's approach to increasing safety will only work if we have a community that will work with us to utilize the tools and laws we have in place to keep them safe." said Denver Police Chief White. "We will work every day with our residents to prevent accidents and help them stay safe. When it comes to the interaction of modes of transportation, we all must take personal responsibility in our actions. That includes those who recently have chosen to run from the scene of crime."
The campaign includes five billboards with safety messages posted across the city. At Colfax Avenue and York Street, a red billboard shows the faint silhouette of a bicycle with the words, "Bikes and pedestrians are hard to see -- Heads Up."