Another Child Hit Walking to School

Another Child Hit Walking to School

– A third-grade boy was struck by a car as he walked to Las
Animas Elementary School Monday morning, and survived with a badly
bruised shin.
Gilroy – A third-grade boy was struck by a car as he walked to Las Animas Elementary School Monday morning, and survived with a badly bruised shin.

Isaiah Mollinedo-Navarro, 8, was crossing Welburn Avenue northbound when a Chrysler sedan traveling southbound on Wren Avenue turned left onto Welburn Avenue, hitting the boy. It was 8:12am. Firefighters, police and an ambulance sped to the scene; a neighbor who spotted the boy amid the rescue vehicles rushed to tell his mother.

When Angela Mollinedo arrived, her son had been loaded into an ambulance, and was breathing into an oxygen machine.

“He was so shaken up, but he was talking,” said Mollinedo. “I rubbed his leg to comfort him.”

Paramedics drove the boy to a local hospital, where he was flown by air ambulance to a nearby trauma center. There, uncle Eric Lopez said the boy cried, blaming himself for the accident. Isaiah was released Monday afternoon with a bruised shin, and given crutches to ease his walking.

“He’s a very, very lucky boy,” said Sylvia Reyes, principal of Las Animas Elementary School, “and we’re very happy.”

But the accident weighs heavily on his family. Mollinedo recently lost her job at a Gilroy Premium Outlet store, and her health insurance with it. The mother of two estimates that the family’s medical bills will reach $30,000, including $15,000 to $20,000 for the emergency helicopter.

“I’m hoping the person who hit him will be responsible” for the expenses, Mollinedo said. “I understand it was an accident, but accidents do have consequences.”

Traffic officer Nestor Quiñones is investigating the accident, said Gilroy Police Sgt. Jim Gillio, and will likely mail a citation to the driver, an unidentified woman, for failing to yield to a pedestrian.

Gillio said the driver was not apparently under the influence of drugs or alcohol, but could not comment further. Police declined to release the driver’s name.

The intersection of Wren and Welburn avenues, a few blocks south of Las Animas Elementary School, has been the site of multiple accidents over the past three years, at least five causing damage and one causing injury. In February 2005, traffic analysts ranked the spot 27th among the city’s top 50 collision intersections in a study commissioned by city engineers.

The site has never had a crossing guard, however, because the four-way stop is considered a controlled intersection, said Teri Freedman, the school district’s public information officer.

That aggravates Millie Del Rio, the boy’s grandmother.

“Something needs to be done,” said Del Rio, noting that in October 2006, 5-year-old Julio Gonzalez was killed within blocks of Wren and Welburn avenues. A few days earlier, elderly Norm Watenpaugh died while crossing Wren Avenue near El Cerrito Way. The two October deaths followed that of Brayan Trejo, 5, who was hit by a truck at the intersection of 10th and Church streets, and focused renewed attention on traffic safety issues in Gilroy.

In February, the district attorney’s office opted not to charge the driver who hit Gonzalez, citing the blinding sunlight at the intersection where he died; the driver who hit Watenpaugh, Stephen Lake, self-surrendered to police on vehicular manslaughter charges Feb. 26. Robertina Franco, who accidentally hit Brayan Trejo, pleaded no contest to vehicular manslaughter charges in January, and is scheduled to be sentenced on May 7 at 9am.

But while the cases go to court, many parents remain frustrated by dangerous intersections, and the perceived inaction of the school district, which has struggled to hire crossing guards. Low pay and odd hours have kept the job from being attractive, noted Reyes.

“It’s not even safe for dogs to walk here,” said Mollinedo, who lives on El Cerrito Way. “There should be lights on every corner of Welburn. There should be crossing guards or flashing lights like they have downtown. Something. Anything … Does a terrible accident have to happen for the district to wake up?”

Interim superintendent Darrel Taylor said the district is “vitally concerned” about traffic safety.

“It certainly is going to stimulate a very serious conversation about how students are going to get to school safely,” Taylor said of the incident. “One [accident] is far, far too many.”

The boy was walking alone when he was struck, but other students witnessed the accident, and were given age-appropriate counseling by the district’s Crisis Intervention Counseling Team and other office personnel when they reached school.

For the Mollinedos, the incident is only the most recent in a series of family traumas. Del Rio’s mother-in-law, Lulu Mollinedo, died a few weeks ago, drawing extended family to Gilroy. Many aunts, uncles and elders were in the area to comfort and support Isaiah Mollinedo-Navarro and his mother. Lopez, Isaiah’s uncle, was about to drive back home to the Southern California town of Indio, when the accident occurred.

“Gilroy is so small, you want to feel secure with kids walking to school,” said Lopez, a father of two whose 12-year-old is a ‘latchkey kid.’ “But this … This is scary.”