Thirty-three-year-old Cindy Gonzales on Monday morning crossed the intersection of Sichel Street and North Broadway in Lincoln Heights for the first time since that fateful day in 1993 when she was hit by a drunk driver while crossing the street.
As she and her mother Beatrice Gonzales crossed the street, two women exited Sloan’s Dry Cleaners and Laundry to cheer on Cindy. Their eyes full of tears, they reached out and hugged Cindy and her mother.
“A lot of bodies have been picked up here,” said Erica Gallo, 34, who was attending Sacred Heart Elementary with Cindy at the time of her accident. She was referring to the intersection where on Monday morning Cindy and Beatrice Gonzales joined Los Angeles Councilmember Ed Reyes and members of the Sacred Heart Elementary School community to flip on the switch for a new traffic signal where previously only white lines marked the crosswalk.
Over the last couple of decades, Gallo and her mother, who owns the dry cleaning business adjacent to the intersection, have watched as paramedics take away pedestrians hit by cars. They signed the petition for a traffic light started by Beatrice a few years ago after a car there fatally struck an elderly man.
Cindy made a full recovery but not before spending three weeks in a coma and suffering a broken femur, fractured pelvis, hemorrhaging in her brain as well as paralysis and nerve damage on the right side of her limbs, she told EGP. That experience left her terrified, until Monday when for the first time in a long time she felt safe crossing the street.
“About five years after my accident I drove by this street and a girl had just been hit by a car,” said Cindy, adding she stayed with the girl who ended up not being seriously hurt. She gave the girl’s family her phone number in case they needed anything, she said. The hit and run driver in that incident was later arrested, Cindy said.
Beatrice and her supporters gathered over 1,8000 signatures on their petition demanding that the city install a traffic light at the dangerous intersection.
“I am not the one who did it, the community did this,” she said after receiving a commendation from Reyes.
The councilman reminded the children present to look both ways before they cross the street because crosswalk markings and traffic lights don’t always stop cars.
That’s something Reyes understands first hand.
When he was in the first grade he was struck by a car at the intersection of Daly and Broadway. His sister Letty was hit by a car at the same intersection in the 1970s and like Cindy, she too spent three weeks in a coma.
“So pedestrian safety is a very personal thing for me,” Reyes told the children.
He told EGP that during his last 12 years as a councilman, five traffic lights have been installed along the North Broadway corridor in Lincoln Heights. The Sichel Street intersection was one of the last scheduled to be cued up, but the petition helped speed up the bureaucracy, Reyes said.
He said it took about two years to get the signal, which cost $200,000 to $250,000, approved. Like the installation of historic streetlights, the process was slowed by budget cuts, he told EGP.
“The culture of the Department of Transportation has always prioritized the automobile. It’s been a tug-o-war and a fight to prioritize pedestrians. Especially when we have such a high number of transit dependent people because of their income, especially the seniors,” Reyes said.