Tristan’s Law seeks to honor 10-year-old struck and killed crossing street for ice cream truck [Hartford Courant]

March 11, 2021

From the Hartford Courant:

On a warm summer night last June, Tristan Barhorst and eight of his friends lept into action when they heard the familiar jingle of the ice cream truck circling their Cheshire neighborhood.

Tristan, just two months shy of his 11th birthday, was first in line and got what he always got: a SpongeBob SquarePants pop.

As he crossed the road back to his house, ice cream in hand, a teen driver passed the truck and struck him. “Tristan was gone by the time I ran to the front of the house,” recalled his mother, Christi Carrano.

A bill moving quickly through the General Assembly would put new safety measures in place to protect kids such as Tristan. It would require ice cream trucks to install flashing signal lamps, signal arms, caution signs, front convex mirrors and other safety equipment. It would also bar vendors from stopping in high-traffic areas.

Senate Bill 608 won the unanimous approval of the legislature’s transportation committee Wednesday and appears to be on a fast track for a vote in both the Senate and the House of Representatives this spring.

Lawmakers praised Tristan’s parents for their advocacy, despite the anguish of losing their only son.

“Their bravery and courage is just overwhelming in the face of the grief they are dealing with,” said Rep. Cristin McCarthy Vahey, D-Fairfield. “I look at this bill as one of the many things we can do to help protect what we call vulnerable users.”

Rep. Craig Fishbein, R-Wallingford, said he and his colleagues drafted the measure in response to Tristan’s death as well as a similar incident in Hamden in 2019 that left a child with serious injuries to their head, legs and collarbone.

“No child or family should have to endure this pain,” Fishbein and Sen. Paul Cicarella, R-North Haven, wrote in a letter to the transportation committee.

Tristan was compassionate boy and a thoughtful younger brother to his big sister. He was a talented basketball player, a master at robotics and a “Lego genius,” recalled his mother.

He had earned his junior black belt in karate and was on his way to becoming a black belt. Although only 10, he was already an instructor, teaching other children.

“He was the most compassionate kid,” Carrano said in an interview Wednesday morning. “I told him every day how proud I was of him.”

The accident occurred around 8 p.m. on June 12. Tristan’s family was celebrating his father’s birthday with a small party in the backyard when the children present heard the ice cream truck and ran to buy a treat.

After making his purchase, Tristan was crossing the street when a Jeep Wrangler driven by a 17-year-old approached from behind the truck and struck him, police said. The driver remained on the scene and cooperated with investigators.

Advocates of the bill say it would help prevent future tragedies by alerting motorists that, when they see an ice cream truck, children are likely to be present.

The legislation would require ice cream trucks to come with safety equipment, such as flashing signals and caution signs. The ice cream truck involved in the accident that claimed Tristan’s life had such equipment but it was not activated, a witness told the transportation committee.

New Jersey has had a similar law since the 1970s, Carrano said. Other states have enacted similar rules. But in Connecticut, only the city of Hartford has approved regulations regarding the safe operation of ice cream trucks; an ordinance prohibits ice cream truck vendors from selling to children who must cross the street in order to access the truck.

Rep. Roland Lemar, a New Haven Democrat and co-chair of the transportation committee, said lawmakers were moved by Tristan’s story, as conveyed by his parents and his neighbors at a public hearing earlier this week.

“The determination was made that we wanted to act quickly in response to a deficiency in our current laws,” Lemar said. “The testimony was hard for a lot of our members and was certainly difficult for the family that was most impacted.”

The goal, he added, “is to move this consciously forward and have the best piece of legislation in place as soon as we can.”

Carrano said she hopes the bill will help other families avoid the heartbreak that has befallen her family. If approved, the measure will be known as Tristan’s Law.

“Tristan is not physically present anymore but to hear his name and know that it is helping to protect others is amazing to me,” she said