As CT debates ice cream truck safety bill 'Tristan's Law,' tens of thousands sign online petition in support

More than 47,000 people have signed an online petition supporting a bill that would institute new safety requirements for ice cream trucks — legislation that was prompted by the death of 10-year-old Wallingford boy Tristan Barhorst, who was struck and killed last year after buying ice cream. Launched on change.org by a friend of Tristan’s family, the petition highlights the widespread support for SB 608, also known as “Tristan’s Law.” The state legislature’s Transportation Committee last month unanimously endorsed the bill, and it now awaits votes by the full state Senate and House of Representatives. “It’s beautiful for me to see how much of an impact Tristan has had on everyone and how that impact has turned into advocacy for the protection of other children,” Christi Carrano, Tristan’s mother, said in an interview Friday.

The petition’s creator, Cheshire resident Brooke Stanziale, is a friend of Carrano and Tyler Barhorst, Carrano’s husband and Tristan’s father. Stanziale launched the petition on March 24 as a way to show legislators the public interest in “Tristan’s Law.” Initially aiming to get 1,000 signatures, she was astounded by the tens of thousands of people who have signed in the past couple of weeks. “I’m thrilled to have this many signatures,” Stanziale said. “Losing Tristan was an awful tragedy for his family and all his friends.

But if there’s something positive that can come from this tragedy and help prevent this kind of tragedy from ever happening again, that’s what we’re hoping for.” Stanziale’s 16-year-old daughter, Neve — who is a friend of Tristan’s sister, Sienna, and was friendly with Tristan — has played a key role. She has raised awareness by posting the petition link in her Instagram biography.

“I started getting Instagram notifications that people were reposting my petition on their Instagram Stories — people I didn’t even know, people I didn’t even follow,” Neve said. “The support was overwhelming. It was really powerful to see all these people I didn’t even know just trying to make a difference.” “Tristan’s Law” would require ice cream trucks to be equipped with signal lamps, a stop sign arm, a convex mirror and a front crossing arm.

Among other provisions, it would generally mandate that drivers stop at least 10 feet away when the trucks were flashing their signal lights and extending their signal and crossing arms — and impose infractions on motorists who violated the new regulations. “Something like this should have been introduced many years ago,” one of the supporters, Claudia Gutierrez, wrote on the petition page. “It’s common sense to drive safe when an ice cream truck is present. I’m so glad someone had the courage to start this petition.

Rest in peace, little angel.” At least three states — California, New Jersey and New York — and 21 local governments across 17 states have laws or ordinances concerning traffic safety around ice cream trucks, according to a report last year by the state Office of Legislative Research. “I’m signing because laws to protect children are imperative, and Tristan’s Law would save lives,” another of the petition supporters, Catherine DePorte, wrote on the petition page.

A pop-up message, which appears after people sign the petition, asks them to “chip in” with monetary contributions. But Carrano said the family is not actually raising any money with the petition. Carrano and Barhorst testified in support of the bill during a March 8 hearing of the Transportation Committee.

“What’s really at stake here is that you have an opportunity to make sure that no other parent has to end each night sitting on an empty bed that no longer says good night back,” Barhorst said. “You have an opportunity to make sure that no other parent has to replay the image of losing their child every time they see an ice cream truck or the front end of a Jeep on the road.” On the evening of June 12, 2020, Tristan went with his family to Cheshire for a backyard celebration of his father’s birthday hosted by friends. While they were at the gathering, an ice cream truck’s jingle caught the attention of Tristan and other children.

Tristan purchased one of his favorite treats, a SpongeBob SquarePants popsicle. As he rounded the ice cream mobile to cross the road, a Jeep driven by a 17-year-old approached the rear of the truck at about 40 miles per hour. While his father screamed from the front of the house for Tristan to stop, it was too late.

The Jeep struck and killed Tristan. He was two months away from his 11th birthday. The driver of the Jeep stayed on the scene and cooperated with police, according to the Cheshire Police Department.

“This bill is not about blaming the driver, and this is not about blaming the (ice cream) vendor,” Carrano told Hearst Connecticut Media. “We’re not trying to blame anyone. It’s about creating awareness and protecting our children.” Many of the legislators who co-sponsored the bill said that they were heartened by the extent of support for the petition.

“This overwhelming support from those in our community and around the state shows how important of an issue this is to families. It’s imperative that we do everything we can to keep children safe, especially as we enter the warmer months when ice cream trucks will be in and around our communities,” said state Sen. Paul Cicarella, R-North Haven. “This is a common-sense law that everyone agrees on and I’m encouraging the House, Senate and governor to get this bill across the finish line.”

pschott@stamfordadvocate.com; twitter: @paulschott