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Malcolm X Kindergartner Expected to Survive

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Wednesday February 04, 2009 - 06:45:00 PM
The intersection where the elementary school student was struck by a car.
The intersection where the elementary school student was struck by a car.

The Malcolm X kindergartner hit by a car last Friday on her way to school in South Berkeley was moved from intensive care to a regular surgery recovery room at Children’s Hospital Wednesday and will start therapy soon on her fractured clavicle, according to authorities. 

Sgt. Mary Kusmiss, spokesperson for the Berkeley Police Department, said that a distraught man called 911 around 8:14 a.m. on Jan. 30 to report that he had hit the girl with his truck in the crosswalk of Ellis Street and Ashby Avenue.  

When Berkeley police arrived at the scene, they found the 6-year-old unconscious at the intersection and the driver sobbing near his Toyota 4 Runner.  

Paramedics from the Berkeley Fire Department took the girl to Children’s Hospital, where she was reported to be in serious condition and later underwent surgery for two hours for a fractured skull and fractured clavicle, among other things.  

Mark Coplan, spokesperson for the Berkeley Unified School District, said that doctors had spent the majority of the time performing cosmetic surgery on cuts on her face from the accident.  

She was given a breathing tube for bruises on her lung at which point she reached out for it with her hand, Coplan said.  

“That showed that she had got her motor control back,” he said. “All signs indicate that she will have a good recovery.”  

Coplan said that the mother of the girl did not want her daughter’s name released but expressed her appreciation for the generosity and prayers of the Malcolm X community members, many of whom had sent get-well cards and notes. 

“Parents and students are looking into simple ways to help the family,” Coplan said. “Simple things like a casserole for dinner can mean a lot for a parent stretched between the hospital and home.” 

Police said that according to the driver of the Toyota—who authorities said remained at the scene and cooperated completely—and eyewitnesses, the student was walking to school with her 8-year-old brother.  

The two children were heading south on Ellis Street in the crosswalk crossing Ashby Avenue.  

The Toyota was going north on Ellis, making a left turn onto Ashby Avenue when it struck the girl.  

According to the 8-year-old brother, who was found later in his classroom and interviewed by police officers, he and his sister were on the north side of Ashby at the intersection with Ellis, preparing to cross Ashby.  

Kusmiss said that the two children had not yet stepped off the curb when the school bell rang, and the girl, who was slightly ahead of her brother, looked back and dashed from the sidewalk to the crosswalk.  

Initial investigations, Kusmiss said, revealed that the little girl was at fault.  

“It’s hard to say what goes on in the mind of a 6-year-old when she hears the school bell,” Kusmiss said. “The driver is still very, very upset.” BPD Traffic Enforcement officers have ruled out drugs and alcohol as a factor in the accident  

Authorities said that although Ellis Street is controlled by stop signs on the north and south, there are no traffic controls for Ashby Avenue at the intersection.  

Classes at Malcolm X went on normally Thursday. Coplan said City of Berkeley mental health workers were on hand to provide counseling to parents and students if needed and a counselor had been with the young girl’s brother all morning.  

Malcolm X principal Cheryl Chin said that although there were no traffic guards at the intersection of Ashby and Ellis, they are stationed at Ashby and King Street, which she described as Malcolm X’s safe route to school.  

Across the street from the school, a group of regulars at the South Berkeley Senior Center discussed the morning’s events.  

Ron Brill, a city employee, said that he had given the girl first aid in the morning right after the accident happened.  

“I was fixing the water fountain around 8:15 in the morning, and I went out and saw a young black female, approximately 6 years old, lying on the street in a semi fetal position,” he said. “She had a pulse and was still breathing and her eyes were open, fixed and dilated. She had facial injuries—there was a cut on her cheek but not a lot of blood involved.”  

The family lives on the 2900 block of Ellis. Shortly after the accident, the mother of the girl who was hit came to the scene.  

“I didn’t touch her and kept everybody away till the paramedics arrived,” he said. “When you see something like that you automatically assume spinal injury or damage to the head. I kept the mother away as well. The paramedics arrived within three to four minutes and after they took her away, I controlled the scene.”  

Brill said that he and two others controlled the traffic until police took over the intersection where the accident happened, after which he moved to the next intersection.  

“Cars were getting backed up, some people were trying to get through by going around the scene and a couple of idiots were in a rush to get out of there,” he said.  

Brill described the driver of the car as a white man in his 40s “who was completely distraught” by the incident.  

“He was curled up in a ball sitting on the ground behind his truck and crying,” he said.  

Patty Thomas, director of the senior center, said that she had been in the building with her staff when one of the seniors came in and told them what had happened.  

“One of our drivers—she called the ambulance,” Thomas said.  

”It’s dangerous for seniors too. Are they going to put up a stop sign out there?” asked a young woman who works at the center.  

The intersection has a history of tragedy. In 2003, Fred Lupke, 58, an activist for the disabled community, was killed when his wheelchair was struck by a car on Ashby Avenue near the Ellis Street intersection.  

Coplan said that, although the city and the school district work together to develop an effective traffic enforcement formula, the Berkeley Police Department was responsible for the placement of crossing guards.  

“It gives me goosebumps to say this, there was a crossing guard once on that street, but she was always afraid to go out there because of the cars,” said a visitor at the senior center who did not want to be named. “She used to hold a stick in front of her before she went out there.”  

Mary Bell, who was sitting in her wheelchair in the senior center lobby, said that even with a traffic light the intersection, would still be dangerous.  

“It’s a scary little corner,” she said. “It needs some kind of recognition, especially since there are children right across the street.”