As crossing guard recovers, crosswalk remains dangerous

By Christy Wolyniak

Desiderio “Des” de Castro was no stranger to the dangers of the crosswalk by Salmon Bay K-8 the day he got hit.

It sits squarely in front of his house and just about every day for the past 12 years, he has helped children and adults alike cross the street as a crossing guard.

But even though he wore a bright orange and yellow vest and waved a flag, that did not stop a 93-year-old driver from striking Salmon Bay’s crossing guard, de Castro last week.

De Castro was helping children cross NW 65th St when the red Buick was approaching. He said the car was slowing down and that he thought it was going to stop. Instead, as De Castro proceeded to the middle of the intersection, the vehicle sped up and hit him, sending his head through the windshield and knocking him unconscious.

After he arrived at Harborview Medical Center, de Castro was told that a small bone in his neck had broken. But he was lucky -- if a bone had broken any closer to his spinal cord, it could have resulted in paralysis. Days following the accident, de Castro felt tremendous pain radiating from his hips down to his legs. Currently, he struggles to walk and must use crutches to get around his small home.

He has not gone without love, though.

“Some of the parents and kids brought flowers, pictures and drawings. Kids from Grade 2 to Grade 4 send me little cards that they made themselves, thanking me for doing this job, hoping that I will get well as soon possible. The support for me makes me forget all this pain,” de Castro said.

In spite of his debilitation, de Castro speaks of returning to his duties protecting the children and parents in his community.

“After all this, once this pain is gone and all this swelling is healed, I will be very willing to go back to my job,” de Castro said.

The doctor has given him three weeks off work, but if he does not recover soon, he may need more.

A beloved and recognized face at the school, de Castro became a crossing guard after his own daughter, Dessamonica de Castro, now 25, was hit 12 years ago at the same crosswalk. The impact lacerated her liver and put her on bed rest for weeks.

“It’s really hard to see your daughter in that condition, [which is] why I said that I should be doing this job, so that this doesn’t happen to other children,” de Castro said.

De Castro’s daughter has been visiting her father every day while Salmon Bay students and parents are eager to see their much-loved protector return to a full recovery.

“As a parent, I feel a tremendous appreciation for him taking on that role. Many schools in the district are on busy streets. Ours is certainly on a busy street. It’s great to know somebody else out there is watching out for the students to make sure they get across the street safely,” said Judith Russell, Co-Chair of the patent group, Friends of Salmon Bay.

Salmon Bay Assistant Principal, Brett Joachim met up with Seattle Department of Transportation last Wednesday in hopes to find a solution to the hazard.

“It’s a wonderful street that provides access to a lot of great homes, but people are tired coming home from work down 65th and fail to see how dense traffic is in the street. Our big focus is that we need people to be more aware and vigilant,” Joachim said.

Joachim spoke of moving the 30 mph speed limit sign out of the school zone, as it is difficult for approaching cars to see pedestrians due to trees that line the street and parked vehicles.

“Our concern is visibility. Our big goal, though with tight budgets, would be installing an overhead sign for the crosswalk that would be illuminated with flashing lights so people can see that this is an active crosswalk,” Joachim said.

Speeding in a school zone awards offenders a hefty $189 ticket.

“Currently the city has eight traffic cameras in school zones, producing revenue; it would be nice to honor additional school safety with [these additions],” Joachim said.

De Castro is recovering slowly, marking the third injury to happen at the same crosswalk. He is also an active crossing guard for Adams Elementary School, on 24th Ave NW and NW 65th St in Ballard.

“We hope this will bring some attention to fact that Ballard become a lot more busy past few years, more traffic passing through that street, hopefully something will be done to make crosswalk safer,” Dessamonica said.

“I think we’re just doing our best within our parent community to provide info both about Des and his recovery, and to parents about the need to be vigilant, that we all do our part. Which means, reminding parent s go slowly, parents pay attention, parents remind kids cross safely,” Russell said.

In the meantime, crossing the street still remains a peril.

As a crossing guard, de Castro is often left waiting a long time for cars to stop whizzing by so that he can cross -- sometimes waving his flag and putting himself out into the middle of the street. He spoke of the carelessness of drivers who are using their cell phones or blasting music, paying little attention to their surroundings.

Recently, de Castro went to revisit the scene of his injury. As he crossed, and even on crutches and with two people escorting him, cars would not slow down or stop for him.

“Did you see that? A handicapped man is trying to cross and still they will not stop,” he said.

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