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Street smarts can lead to increased safety for kids

Mary Pickels

Kacie Lakin still dreams about the truck that hit her last summer. She never saw it.

“I see myself above the truck and I see it hit me,” she said. “At one point (after being struck) I woke up in the street and thought it was a dream.”

On June 11, Lakin, 15, of South Greensburg, tried to dodge a rainstorm as she crossed Poplar Street from her grandparents’ to her parents’ home. As she crossed from the eastern side, she was struck by a northbound Ford pickup truck driven by John Sabers, 78, of Greensburg.

Sabers said the girl ran onto the street and hit the front driver’s side of his truck, then bounced off and hit a parked car. No charges were filed in connection with the accident. There was a hard rain at the time and a woman driving behind Sabers’ truck reported that the vehicles were traveling at a slow rate of speed.

That slow rate of speed may have saved Kacie’s life. The daughter of Thomas R. Lakin Jr. and his wife, Susan, was flown by medical helicopter to Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh. She was originally listed in critical but stable condition. Two days later, she returned home, but her recuperation time totaled a month.

According to the National Center for Statistics and Analysis, 25,000 pedestrians, from birth to age 20, were injured in 2002; 717 were killed.

Forty percent of the fatalities came in accidents between 5-9 p.m. Only 18 percent occurred at intersections.

Kacie doesn’t remember much about that night. Her father had asked her to run an errand at his parents’ home. He was upstairs showering when he heard a thud. He immediately sensed something was wrong. Kacie’s boyfriend, Mike Rossi, screamed for her father and he dashed down the stairs. “I don’t know how many I actually touched,” he said.

As the fire chief of the South Greensburg Volunteer Fire Department, Lakin has responded to many accidents. But this was the first time it involved a family member.

Neighbors dialed 911 and carried umbrellas, blankets and tarps out to shield Kacie and those trying to help her.

The family has lived in the residence for a dozen years, and Kacie was used to going back and forth to her grandparents’ home.

“I remember looking both ways,” she said. “It was pouring down rain. I just remember taking one step off the curb and that’s all I remember.”

Her boyfriend, who was rolling up his car windows against the rain, saw the truck strike Kacie. “He said I looked up and my eyes got real big and I said, ‘Oh, my God,'” she said. “I remember looking up at one point and seeing people’s faces. … It’s all like a big blur.”

Kacie suffered a punctured lung, four fractured ribs, a sprained back, a gash in the back of her head, and “a lot of road rash.”

After a few weeks in bed and on the living room sofa, she resumed her normal routine. She worked part time at the nearby Spitfire Grill, and joined her team for volleyball practice in August.

They will practice every day until the season ends in October. The sophomore at Greensburg Salem High School is a defensive specialist and plays in the back row. “I stay low, and sometimes that bothers my back,” she said. “My serves aren’t as strong as they used to be.”

She lifts weights to regain her strength.

“I’m still cautious,” she said. “I still look both ways twice. I get nervous when I see little kids (outside). I’m more careful now.”

Kacie, who turns 16 in November, is thinking about what type of driver she will be when the time comes. “I imagine I’ll be even more cautious,” she said.

Children’s safety needs

Dr. Richard A. Saladino, chief of emergency medicine at Children’s Hospital in Pittsburgh, said the hospital admits approximately 100 pedestrian accident victims each year, and treats approximately 500.

He said the sheer mass of a car hurling against a pedestrian almost always inflicts injuries upon the victim, but it can be particularly brutal for children because they are shorter than adults. “We see a lot of head injuries,” Saladino said, “because the head is lower.”

“Head injuries,” he said, “implies underlying brain injury. That’s the most worrisome.”

Depth perception is generally not well developed until a child reaches the age of 10, said Saladino. Children need to be supervised, and warned about safety precautions, said Saladino, who is a parent.

A child’s age and level of development can sometimes alert parents to potential concerns. Toddlers, he said, tend to play in driveways. Preschoolers like to jump out from between parked cars and from around corners. Children ages 6-12 are much more active, and tend to ride on wheeled toys — bicycles, skates and scooters. It’s also the age where they want to be more independent, and are less likely to hold a hand when crossing the street.

But they don’t have the experience to discern what may be a warning — a shout, a honking horn — and they may not know what an engine sounds like.

“They need to learn left, right, left,” he said, the most effective scanning strategy for pedestrians.

Adolescents, he said, are risk-takers. They also tend to be out later, after dark, when it might be harder for motorists to see them.

Saladino said Pennsylvania’s helmet law, requiring children under age 12 to use the devices, has made a difference.

“Helmets are more accepted,” he said. “They are made to be ‘cool’ now, so kids are proud to wear them.”

But many more kids should be wearing helmets, he said.

“When we ask them why (they were not wearing a helmet),” he said, doctors hear a number of excuses. “They say they don’t have them, they couldn’t find them, they don’t fit.

“The thing I tell parents is, any time they get on a toy with wheels they should be wearing a helmet.”

Additional injury prevention tips are listed on the hospital’s Web site, www.chp.edu.

Motorist advisory

Just before school resumed, the AAA released a tip sheet for motorists on ways to avoid striking young pedestrians.

Children view traffic differently from adults. Whether chasing after a ball, trying to catch a Frisbee, or running to catch up with a friend, their concentration tends to be on the task at hand, rather than on approaching traffic.

“Adults don’t always realize how a child perceives traffic,” said Terri Rae Anthony, AAA safety adviser. “Since children are still developing their ability to observe and react to danger, the responsibility of prevention falls upon the motorist’s shoulders.

“Children behave unpredictably,” Anthony said. “Motorists must be especially cautious at dusk. Areas surrounding parked cars are especially dangerous because the cars block the child’s view and the driver cannot see the child.”

AAA advises motorists to keep in mind the following:

  • A child’s field of vision is narrower than an adult’s.

  • Children misinterpret traffic signs.

  • Children believe that if they can see a car, then the driver can see them.

  • Children cannot accurately judge speed and distance.

  • Children’s hearing is not as acute as an adult’s.

  • Children often have no sense of danger to hold them back or make them hesitate.

  • AAA offers the following tips to keep children safe:

  • Children under age 10 should not cross the street alone. They should be taught to stop at the curb and look left, right, left before crossing.

  • Children should be told to walk, not run, across the street. They should learn to cross at corners, using signals and crosswalks.

  • Pedestrians should face oncoming traffic.

  • Children should not play in driveways, streets, parking lots or unfenced yards by a street.

  • Pedestrians walking at night should wear white clothing or reflectors, or carry flashlights.


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