Once upon a time there was an awesome little boy named Zach. I called him “Zachy Pooh.” His dad and mom called him “Buddy.”
Zach loved school, music, the Beatles, outer space, and everything involving transportation — especially trains. He loved his mom, dad, and new little brother Miles, whom he nicknamed “Mr. M.” He called me “Grandma Beverly.”
On the afternoon of Feb. 27, 2009, everything changed. That morning, my own son dropped his little boy off at the bus stop, and they parted with “I love you’s” spoken. Frank waved goodbye to Zach as he got on the bus. That was the last time Frank saw his son alive.
Zach and some classmates were crossing the street, inside a crosswalk and with an after-school teacher, when a man driving a 2.5-ton welding truck hit and killed him.
A world changed forever
That fateful day I was getting ready for a weekend of fun with my granddaughter at Big Bear, a wilderness recreation area here in California. Then the phone rang.
“Mom, there’s been an accident with Zach,” said my son. Thoughts jumped through my mind: How bad is it?... What hospital? And then: “Mom, he’s gone.”
Zach was my first grandson, and that is a very special thing. Any grandparent knows exactly what I’m talking about. Yet in the blink of an eye, the world changed forever. To be sure, it changed my world. It also changed the worlds of my family, Zach’s community, a classroom full of kindergartners, a host of teachers and bus drivers, and now legislators.
It’s been seven years since that day, and Zachary Michael Cruz, my very special grandson, would have turned 13 years old (a teenager!) last March. Every occasion — birthdays, weddings, graduations and holidays — are all celebrations with a piece of our family missing, a silent gray cloud hovering over, and the sadness in his mother’s and father’s eyes is constant. Every crosswalk is a reminder of the violent way he died that awful day.
A time for action
No one set out to hurt Zach. However, there was a great deal of apathy on that day — a lack of attention — and it cost us dearly.
Ours is hardly the only family to suffer from a tragedy like this. Many of us are doing something about it. Debbie Hsiung and Phil Tam lost their son Aidan to a right-turner in Pasadena, Calif. The tragedy unfolded right in front of the family, so even his 3-year-old little brother, Logan, who was at the scene, was crying, “ Why?” over and over again.
That’s a question to which we all want to know the answer — especially those of us who have been through such a tragedy.
Why doesn’t bring anyone back, but the answer can help to lessen the number of people being hit and killed by two-ton bullets. Debbie and I created the A to Z Families for Safe Streets with the help of California Walks, a statewide voice for pedestrian safety and healthy, walkable communities for people of all ages and abilities.
People ask me what I think should happen to begin real change and stop the killing of 32,000-plus men, women and children yearly in America. Nearly 2,000 children under 15 have died since that very sad day, and truly, one life is too many.
Most of these deadly crashes are completely preventable. In a companion blog post by Jana Lynott, senior strategic policy adviser at the AARP Public Policy Institute, discusses policies that can save lives and shows you how to help effect change.
I’ve also developed a list of suggestions that will keep children like Zachary, and people of all ages, safe. Many are centered on what’s known as the Three E’s of Pedestrian Safety: engineering, education and enforcement. They represent a three-legged stool for preventing fatalities, each of equal importance.
Distracted driving kills! What kind of distraction? Does it really matter?
I honor Zachary by urging you to join me in advocating for good policies that will save lives.
Guest blogger Beverly Shelton, is the proud grandmother of Zachary Cruz: would-be astronaut, doctor, scientist, musician, environmentalist. You can connect with her via Grandma Beverly’s Child Pedestrian Safety Facebook page.”