STOP for Nikhil hits $50K goal following West Orange race

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WEST ORANGE, NJ — The Nikhil Badlani Foundation’s annual STOP for Nikhil 5K run and 3K walk returned to West Orange High School’s Suriano Stadium on Sept. 18, raising money for the foundation’s traffic safety programs, music lessons and scholarships for the 12th year. The event honors Nikhil Badlani, a West Orange middle school student who died in a car crash in 2011 when a driver failed to stop at a stop sign in South Orange; as of press time on Sept. 20, the event had reached its $50,000 goal. Nevertheless, participants can keep fundraising until the end of the month.

“There’s been an increase in traffic deaths in New Jersey,” Sangeeta Badlani, Nikhil’s mother and the president of the NBF, said at the event. “We want to get to the goal of zero traffic deaths.”

The foundation has worked in West Orange and other area school districts on student traffic education; given away 145 scholarships worth $227,000; given music lessons to 150 students adding up to $100,000; and is launching two jazz band programs at West Orange elementary schools this year.

Laura and Richard Fredricks, of East Brunswick, were given the Nikhil Badlani Inspiration Award, which the NBF awards at the event every year. The couple’s daughter, Emily, was working as a pastry chef in Philadelphia in 2017 when she was struck and killed by a garbage truck while bicycling to work. In 2019 a Philadelphia judge dismissed charges of vehicular homicide. The Fredricks family has been advocating for traffic safety since; they weren’t able to be at the race because they were at a conference in Washington, D.C. They sent a message to be read aloud at the event.

“Our loved ones do not have to die on our roadways,” the family’s statement, read by Sangeeta Badlani, stated. “We are devastated that those who kill our family members face no punishment. We are trying to make the streets safer, because we miss Emily every second of every day.”

Mayor Robert D. Parisi, speaking before the race started, said he met the Badlani family only after Nikhil died.

“I would gladly trade ever meeting them if he was here,” Parisi said. “In that loss, they turned (their) resolve into making sure no other family would have to go through what they did. Nikhil’s 11 years was a gift to his family, and his legacy is a gift to us all.”

Matt McDonald, a senior at WOHS and a member of the foundation’s youth advisory board, administered the traffic safety pledge to participants before the race started. Rebecca Myers finished first in the women’s category and 12th overall with a time of 22:19, and Arland Macasieb finished first in the men’s category and first overall in 20 minutes.

Macasieb is himself a victim of a traffic accident. Last September, the Millburn resident was riding his bicycle when he was hit by a car. He was in the ICU for a week and a half, in the hospital for the rest of the month and in a rehab facility for another month. Macasieb was able to start moving around again in December and is now mostly recovered, aside from scars and some mobility issues in his right arm.

“I can be active now. Biking and running are OK; I just can’t swim,” Macasieb said about his recovery in an interview with the West Orange Chronicle at the event.

He met the Badlani family last November at an event for World Day of Remembrance in Newark, which honors victims of traffic accidents annually. He and his family don’t live too far from the Badlanis on the opposite side of the Millburn/West Orange border, and they’ve been working together on traffic safety education this year.

“Now I’m part of that community,” Macasieb said. “We shouldn’t have to do this all the time, but it’s good to have events like this. It’s a celebratory day, but it’s also solemn because of why we’re here.”

Now that he can get back on his bike, he tries not to ride or run alone; being in a group allows people to look out for one another and get help faster if someone gets hurt. But still, Macasieb said, traffic injuries and deaths happen too often.

“It’s sad this happens all the time,” he said. “So we do things like this and more education and try to change the laws. We keep working to make change.”