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Trucker recalls night girl,10, was killed |

Trucker recalls night girl,10, was killed

| Saturday, December 30, 2006 12:00 p.m

Truck driver James Nabozny was headed south on Freeport Road in O’Hara early Sept. 30 when he saw what he assumed was a deer on the side of the dark road.

But as his tractor-trailer crested a small rise, the headlights illuminated a terrifying sight: Children were scattered across the four-lane road, running in all directions.

Nabozny, a driver for Daily Juice Products Inc. in Verona, slammed on his brakes and tried to steer the big rig away from the children, but he couldn’t avoid Leona Ford, 10, of Garfield. She was standing on the center yellow line at 12:34 a.m., when the truck struck and killed her.

Three adult chaperones were walking with the children along the unlit four-lane road, which lacks sidewalks and shoulders, shortly after the group missed a Port Authority bus home from a birthday party at FunFest in nearby Harmar. They were held for court Friday on charges of reckless endangerment and endangering the welfare of children.

“I didn’t have anywhere to go,” Nabozny testified yesterday at the preliminary hearings of Melissa Cooks, 37, Eric Martin, 43 and Almikka George, 28. “The kids were running left, right, straight, back. They were everywhere.”

A 14-year-old girl who was with the birthday party group testified in Pittsburgh Municipal Court that the group missed its bus home to Garfield shortly after midnight. Another bus driver told them they could either wait for about 45 minutes for another bus or walk to Waterworks Mall near Aspinwall to catch another bus.

Two people in the group had cell phones, the girl testified, but she didn’t see any adults call for an alternate ride home or call the parents of any of the children. The kids ranged in age from 8 to 17, she said.

When the children and adults were walking in two separate groups several feet apart on a stretch of Freeport Road between the Hulton Bridge and Powers Run Road, Cooks spotted Nabozny’s tractor trailer and screamed for the kids to get out of way, the 14-year-old girl testified. But some children became scared and began running across the road.

An elementary school teacher who was traveling behind Nabozny said he heard the tractor-trailer’s brakes screeching and saw the group of children.

“A lot of them were on the center line and they were running across all lanes screaming,” said the teacher, Robert Ruffolo, of Bridgeville.

Cooks’ defense attorney, Richard Narvin, said it’s easy to criticize his client and the other adults there that night for not calling someone to pick up the children and give them a ride home.

“This is a classic case of the privileged in this county thinking that everyone has a car or has access to a car and can get someone to pick them up at that time of night,” Narvin said. “That’s not the case when you’re poor. Then you have to take the bus.”

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