Not in a car? Be pre­pared for pain and suf­fer­ing

Even the for­tu­nate vic­tims must live with in­juries, mem­o­ries

Houston Chronicle Sunday - - OUT OF CONTROL - By St. John Barned-Smith and Dug Be­g­ley STAFF WRITER st.john.smith@chron.com twit­ter.com/stjbs

Across the re­gion, cy­clists, wheel­chair users and pedes­tri­ans share sim­i­lar sto­ries of in­juries and may­hem or near misses.

Like many other wheel­chair users, Vi­vian Lee of­ten must travel on streets with jagged or in­com­plete side­walks or where curb cuts are non-ex­is­tent. That forces her into the road and at the mercy of lo­cal driv­ers.

At least three times in re­cent years, wor­ried by an on­com­ing mo­torist on the road near her house, she’s had to lurch from her mo­tor­ized wheel­chair onto the grassy em­bank­ment next to the road.

“It’s just safer,” said Lee, 62, who lives in west Hous­ton. “In case they hit the chair, they’re just go­ing to get the chair.”

An­gela Panz­ica, 41, of Spring Branch, was born with quadri­pare­sis cere­bral palsy and needs a mo­tor­ized wheel­chair to get around. In 2002, while study­ing for her mas­ter’s of so­cial work at the Uni­ver­sity of Hous­ton, Panz­ica was head­ing back to her dorm one evening and be­gan to cross Cullen Boule­vard.

Mo­ments later, she was fly­ing through the air. An­other stu­dent driv­ing down Cullen ran through a red light and slammed into her wheel­chair. The im­pact cat­a­pulted her out of her chair, frac­tur­ing her pelvis in two places and break­ing her tibia and fibula. Still, she counts her­self lucky — the chair ab­sorbed the im­pact and pro­tected her from even worse in­jury.

The crash forced Panz­ica to with­draw from school for a year and move back in with her mother while she re­cu­per­ated. It robbed her of the lit­tle mo­bil­ity she did have and tight­ened her limbs. She had to have five surg­eries just to set things right.

Panz­ica re­turned to school a year later — she didn’t want to let the crash rule her. It has left its mark, how­ever.

“I was al­ways pretty cau­tious to be­gin with, never crossed against the light,” she said. “But be­cause of what hap­pened, I’m es­pe­cially care­ful cross­ing the street, or even cut­ting through park­ing lots.”

She tries to ride on side­walks. But that’s not al­ways pos­si­ble.

“You only get so far be­fore you have to (en­ter the road­way) and pray and hope they re­spect peo­ple in wheel­chairs,” she said.

An­drés Hen­der­son, 27, was cy­cling in the Mu­seum Dis­trict in Oc­to­ber 2015 when a deputy con­sta­ble re­spond­ing to an emer­gency call blew through a stop sign at Wi­chita and Chen­ev­ert — with­out stop­ping — and plowed into him. The im­pact tossed him 68 feet into a patch of grass be­tween the road and side­walk — al­most surely sav­ing him from more grave in­juries. Still, when he ar­rived at the hospi­tal, he had a bro­ken foot, a lac­er­ated el­bow and glass frag­ments from the deputy con­sta­ble’s car’s shat­tered wind­shield stuck like pins in his face and scalp.

He couldn’t walk for more than a month and was later di­ag­nosed with post-trau­matic stress dis­or­der.

“I def­i­nitely don’t have the mo­ti­va­tion to ride as much as I used to,” he said.

Scars slash across his face and mar his el­bow. Hen­der­son, who man­ages an up­scale bar down­town, still bikes — but avoids the in­ter­sec­tion where he al­most died.

He’s ap­pre­hen­sive every time he hits the road.

“I as­sume ev­ery­one is ba­si­cally a 16-year-old get­ting be­hind the wheel for the first time,” he said.

Jose Acosta was 91. But that didn’t slow him down as he walked around his south Hous­ton neigh­bor­hood.

“He was pretty fast,” his grand­daugh­ter, Marie Flores, said last month. “My grand­fa­ther did it be­cause it was his ex­er­cise. He knew what he was do­ing and had the abil­ity to walk the speed he needed to walk.”

Acosta’s daugh­ter wor­ried, but there was no stop­ping him. It was his neigh­bor­hood, and he knew it well. He’d stroll to the store or other busi­nesses near South Post Oak and the Sam Hous­ton Toll­way.

Many peo­ple make their way around the com­mu­nity on foot, even though it’s not built for it.

Acosta was headed home late last year, stand­ing in the me­dian of Post Oak near In­go­mar when he stepped into the fast lane, right into the path of a woman driv­ing north. He was pro­nounced dead at the hospi­tal.

A slight curve makes the fast lane hard to see for both pedes­tri­ans and driv­ers. That’s why city of­fi­cials never marked the in­ter­sec­tion as a cross­walk, though peo­ple still rou­tinely use it.

“I think they should do some­thing else, but I don’t know what they can do ex­cept close that third lane,” Flores said.

God­ofredo A. Vasquez / Staff pho­tog­ra­pher

An­gela Panz­ica, who re­lies on a wheel­chair, finds it dif­fi­cult to ma­neu­ver on Hous­ton streets.

God­ofredo A. Vasquez / Staff pho­tog­ra­pher An­drés Hen­der­son was hit by an of­fi­cer speed­ing to a call.

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