Not in a car? Be prepared for pain and suffering
Even the fortunate victims must live with injuries, memories
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.
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.