Parents focus on change at vigil for son killed on roadway

- The parents of a teen hit and killed by a car Monday on a Lakeland Road are calling for change.

Monday morning, when it was still dark, deputies said 17-year-old Kalen Kirk was walking to his bus stop, as he'd done many times before. Deputies said Kalen darted across Clubhouse Road, into the path of an oncoming car driven by the county's crossing guard supervisor.

A memorial, just feet away from where it happened, keeps growing with flowers, hats and even a handwritten note.

His family said they're overwhelmed by the love they've felt in the two days after Kalen died, especially because they are new to the area. Their mission is to fix this road so no one else's child gets killed.

That particular part of Clubhouse Road near Andros Boulevard has a 45-mile-per-hour speed limit, no crosswalks or lighting. Kalen's family fears what happened to their son could happen again.

"I need everyone here who has a voice," said his mother, Tiffany Criss, "I need you to be our voice. I need you to be Kalen's voice, because Kalen was not just our child. He is Lakeland's child."

Standing tall at 6'3", Kalen Kirk was known as a "gentle giant."

"Kalen was the sweetest guy you'd ever want to know," his father Tony Kirk said. "To know him is to love him and we all love him very much."

He attended George Jenkins High School for less than a year, but judging by the size of the crowd at his vigil Tuesday night, he was well-loved. 

The gathering was more than a vigil for Kalen's family. It was a rally for change.

"Fight," Criss pleaded. "Do not let my son, our son, die in vain. This is his last request. Help all the other children who have to cross streets, do so safely."

The Polk County School District said it's working with the county, while reviewing the safety of bus stops along Clubhouse Road.

Bill Skelton with the county's Roads and Drainage Division said he's unaware of any complaints in that area. A traffic study will determine what, if anything, might be needed to improve safety in the area, like more lighting, signs or crosswalks.

"We are considering our options and they'll determine what the best thing is to decrease the likelihood of something like this happening again," Skelton said.

Kirk said, "Lighting, crosswalks, and crossing guards, something. Because one child is too much."

Laying flowers where Kalen took his last steps, his family held each other tight, promising their son they won't stop fighting.

"While I'm very hurt," Kirk said, "I know he is wearing a crown, he's wearing wings right now and he's looking down on us saying, 'wow. All this for me?'"

There will be a celebration of life for Kalen Thursday night at 7, at Free Life Chapel. His classmates also plan to wear blue and red on Friday as a tribute.

At this point, no charges have been filed. The Polk County Sheriff's Office said that's unlikely.

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