Injured Child Will Receive Temporary Home Schooling

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Wednesday February 11, 2009 - 07:06:00 PM

The Malcolm X Elementary School kindergartner hit by a truck on Jan. 30 on her way to school in South Berkeley was released from Children’s Hospital in Oakland last week and will be home-schooled for at least two weeks starting this past Tuesday, said Berkeley Unified School District spokesperson Mark Coplan.  

The 6-year-old was on the north side of Ashby at the intersection with Ellis Street, preparing to cross, when the school bell rang, according to authorities.  

The girl, who was walking a little ahead of her brother, looked back and dashed from the sidewalk into the crosswalk, when she was struck by a Toyota 4 Runner making a left turn onto Ashby Avenue.  

She later underwent surgery for two hours for a fractured skull and a fractured clavicle.  

Doctors spent a good deal of that time performing cosmetic surgery on cuts on her face.  

Berkeley police and eyewitnesses described the driver as being “distraught,” and he later told investigators that he had not seen the girl come onto the crosswalk while driving.  

Officer Andrew Frankel, spokesperson for the Berkeley Police Department, said that investigations had revealed that the little girl, and not the driver, was at fault.  

“She did not exercise due care and caution while crossing and just stepped out into the traffic,” Frankel said, citing the California Vehicle Code, which states that “no pedestrian shall suddenly leave a curb or other place of safety and walk or run into the path of a vehicle which is so close as to constitute an immediate danger.” The driver had the right of way, he said.  

Coplan said that the girl would be evaluated by a doctor this week to determine how soon she could go back to school.  

“She really has to be careful right now,” he said. “The district decided that home school would be best for her. It’s a part of independent study, something like short-term intervention, where teachers are assigned to work with kids who are just out of the hospital.”  

Coplan said that the accident had raised some safety issues, including suggestions by community members to have parents stand on either side of the crosswalk, which has been called dangerous by many Malcolm X parents and neighbors.  

“It’s a good idea, but the question remains who would take liability,” he said.  

The Malcolm X PTA hosted a forum on Wednesday to discuss traffic safety in light of the tragic accident, which will include speakers such as Farid Javandel, the city’s transportation manager, Amy Manta-Ranger, the city’s injury prevention program manager, and Susan Silber, education coordinator for Safe Routes to Schools, an international movement designed to increase the number of children biking and walking nationwide.  

Cheryl Eccles, Malcolm X PTA president, said that parents hoped to discuss proposed Safe Routes to School applications, the school’s traffic-calming program, prevention programs offered by the city and other traffic safety issues.  

“Families at Malcolm X and area residents are concerned about the traffic situation at Ellis and Ashby in particular,” she said. “A lot of parents and children use that crosswalk to get to school. The accident was deeply disturbing to our community. We want to make sure that nothing like that ever happens again.  

Eccles said that finding a solution for that particular intersection would be tricky since Caltrans had jurisdiction over Ashby Avenue while the city was responsible for Ellis Street.  

Javandel said that he was still waiting for the Berkeley Police Department’s internal review of the incident, following which, he said, the city would evaluate the current traffic conditions at the Ashby and Ellis intersection to see if any steps could be taken to alleviate future risks.  

“We will definitely be looking at whether anything physical can be done,” he said. “We tend to monitor locations that have a high risk of collisions in the city to understand what the causes may be and how they can be corrected—whether it is poor visibility, overgrown vegetation or the question of painting a crosswalk. One accident alone wouldn’t make us install a traffic signal.”  

Manta-Ranger said that she would inform parents about the different resources as part of the city’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Project.  

“It’s important for parents to remember that they can teach safe pedestrian practices to their kids every day,” she said. “It could be as simple as stopping at the curb, and looking left and right, and then left again.”  

Silber, who has worked for Safe Routes to School—which works with six elementary schools in Berkeley and has been at Malcolm X for the last two years—said that she would be discussing engineering options that would make the intersection safer at the meeting.  

“It would be excellent if we could have a crossing guard at that intersection but unfortunately there’s no funding,” she said. “There may be an option of bringing a crossing guard from one of the other intersections near the school to this one. We are also looking at walking school buses for Malcolm X, where kids will be chaperoned by adults who walk them to school.”  

To view the city’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Project, see www.cityofberkeley.info/ContentDisplay.aspx?id=11242.