Just a few feet in front of Desiderio “Des” de Castro’s home in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood is a school-zone crosswalk. He’s been committed to walking neighbors and schoolchildren across it since 2001.
That’s the year a pickup struck his daughter there, at Northwest 65th Street and 18th Avenue Northwest, lacerating 14-year-old DessaMonica de Castro’s liver. The injury kept her in intensive care for three days and required bed rest for weeks.
It also scared her father.
“I have to do this for the kids, but also for the parents,” de Castro said Wednesday. “I don’t want any other parents to feel what I did when my daughter was hit.”
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But Monday, it was de Castro’s family, neighbors and friends who were scared to death for him: That afternoon, while the 67-year-old was guiding children across Northwest 65th Street, de Castro himself was hit by a car in the very same crosswalk.
Even though he was wearing a bright orange vest and carrying a crosswalk flag, a red Buick rammed into him. De Castro said he thought the car was slowing to a stop along with other cars after he had entered the crosswalk.
De Castro first landed on the car’s hood, where his head broke the windshield. He wound up in the street face down and unconscious.
He came to by the time medics arrived to put him in a neck brace and take him,to Harborview Medical Center.
CT scans showed that a small bone at the base of his neck was broken. Doctors said if a bone chip had been any closer to his spinal cord, he could have been paralyzed.
“We’re very thankful that it wasn’t any worse,” said his daughter, now 25.
The driver, whom witnesses described to police as a woman in her 90s, stopped at the scene. The crash remains under investigation.
As de Castro overcomes dizzy spells, head bruises and swollen legs, Salmon Bay School’s assistant principal, Brett Joachim, is working to make the crosswalk near his school safer.
In addition to asking for better signage — an overhead flashing beacon, for example — he’s asking the city about speed cameras, recently installed in four other Seattle school zones.
People caught exceeding the 20 mph school-zone limit while beacons are flashing are mailed $189 tickets.
“I think our street would be perfect for that,” said Joachim, who met Wednesday with the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT). “It’s an arterial full of drivers just focused on getting home and don’t realize a school is nearby.”
Though Joachim’s meeting with SDOT made it clear city funding for any significant sign improvements won’t come quickly, he’s searching for community grants that might allow for safety upgrades sooner.
The department said it doesn’t track how many pedestrian injuries and fatalities specifically occur in school zones. But citywide, SDOT records show, hundreds of pedestrians are injured or killed in Seattle every year.
Between 2001 and 2011, 86 pedestrians were killed and 4,657 injured in vehicle-pedestrian accidents.
De Castro says something like speed camerasmight be necessary to finally get people to slow down in the area. He and his wife, Monette de Castro, who also was a crossing guard in front of their house for nine years, have experienced several close calls on the busy street.
Both say that stepping into the middle of a traffic lane is necessary most of the time to get vehicles to stop. And even then, vehicles in the next lane try to race through the intersection before the guard reaches the middle of the road.
But that never deterred Des de Castro from the commitment he made 12 years ago.
“He can barely walk and he wants to be back out there on the crosswalk — that’s him. He’s very committed to his job,” said his wife.
“He said to me, ‘If a driver wouldn’t even stop for me, how would they stop for the kids?’ ”
Alexa Vaughn: 206-464-2515 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @AlexaVaughn.