Page One

Girl hit by police car recovering

Matthew Artz
Tuesday September 24, 2002

Frank and Veronica Thomas stood in disbelief on the blood-stained Berkeley street where their 7-year-old granddaughter was struck on her bike by a police car while visiting a relative Saturday. 

They know that a police review says the lieutenant who hit her was driving within the speed limit. But the Thomas’ doubt it and plan to hire an investigator. 

The girl, who lives with her grandparents in Concord, remains in Children’s Hospital in Oakland recovering from a concussion and a broken left leg, they said. Her name is not being released because of her age. 

At Children’s Hospital the girl’s spirit is strong, said Veronica Thomas, but she has been sedated to deal with the pain. 

“She sees our faces and knows that someone is there,” Veronica Thomas said. “Sometimes she asks for her brother and her mother.” 

The accident occurred shortly before 2 p.m. on the 2100 block of Roosevelt Street. The girl was visiting her aunt who lives on the block.  

According to police, the girl was riding without a helmet on the sidewalk. She entered the street between two parked cars, so would have been hidden from view.  

Lt. Eric Gustafson was driving a cruiser northbound and did not stop in time. The girl collided with the right front bumper. The impact launched her over the roof of the car, police said. 

Judging from orange measurements drawn on the street by police and the location of dried blood, the Thomas’ estimated that their granddaughter rolled 35 feet from the impact point. 

Gustafson was driving within the 25 mph speed limit, Police Information Officer Mary Kusmiss said. 

California Highway Patrol officer L.D. White concurred. A preliminary review did not show any wrongdoing by the officer, White said. CHP is required to investigate traffic accidents involving city police officers. 

The Thomas’, though, are not convinced by police findings. Equipped with a tape measurer and a camera, they studied the accident scene to piece together what happened. 

“It’s hard to figure out,” said Veronica Thomas, who has questioned several eye witnesses. “Some said [Gustafson] was driving too fast and some said he was driving 20 mph.” 

A full CHP report is expected to be completed within two weeks, but the Thomas’ aren’t taking much stock in the findings. 

“Were going to get an investigator,” said Frank Thomas, who doubted that Gustafson was driving within the speed limit.  

The injured girl has a long recovery ahead of her. The collision broke her tibia and femur and bent her fibula, the three largest leg bones. Her grandparents expect her to be released from the hospital in two weeks. They said she’ll wear a cast for three months and eventually have metal rods inserted into her leg. They hope she can return to school in a wheelchair within four weeks. 

Hospital spokesperson Susan Martinez was more optimistic. She said the girl was expected to be released within a few days and ultimately make a full recovery. 

The Thomas’ commended the Berkeley Police Department’s handling of the accident. Veronica Thomas said that acting Chief Roy Meisner visited the girl in the hospital and Gustafson had sent his condolences. 

They added that despite their granddaughter’s injuries, she was fortunate not to have been hurt more severely. 

“Her bike ended up under the car’s front wheels,” said Veronica Thomas. “I just thank god that she didn’t.”