The mother of a 13-year-old girl -- severely injured when her bicycle was struck by a car in East Anchorage last week -- is making an appeal to the public tonight (Monday):
If your child rides a bicycle, make sure that he or she is wearing a helmet.
For "Mary -- wearing her bicycling helmet -- absolutely saved her life," Mrs. Robicheaux said at Providence Hospital this afternoon. It's the place where her daughter is being treated. "If she had not been wearing her helmet, we would have lost her."
Young Mary Robicheaux was struck last Tuesday evening -- at the intersection of Northern Lights and Nichols. Mrs. Robicheaux says her daughter had done the right thing. She had stopped her bicycle at the intersection and pressed the button to change the light. Then she crossed when the light was with her. Mrs. Robicheaux says the child was struck when a driver ran right through that red light.
Anchorage police are still investigating the incident. As of publication time, no charges had been filed against the driver. When he saw the teenager, he tried to apply the brakes -- but it was too late.
Mary suffered broken legs in the accident and severe head trauma. For the family, the past week has been a nightmare. But there is one hopeful development. Mary has been slowly recovering. Over the past week, the teen improved from critical, to serious to fair condition. She is now even managing rudimentary communication with family members, who are with her in her hospital room, and Mary can even occasionally manage a whisper.
Even though the family is shattered by Mary's injuries, they care deeply about one thing:
That no other child on a bicycle get killed or injured needlessly.
The family is hoping for a full recovery for Mary, but the teen has a long and difficult road ahead.
But they are grateful that Mary survived the crash. "She has a serioius head-injury," Sarah Robicheaux said at the hospital, "and had she not had that helmet on, it would have killed her."
Emergency Room Physicians at Providence Hospital agree. Helmets are lifesavers. Dr. Jamie Butler has treated injuries from cycling accidents. "A helmet absorbs that shock. It takes away that risk of potential severe trauma."
Butler has seen children come in to the E.R. -- brought there by their parents because they had been ejected over the handle bars, landed on their heads and cracked their helmets. Dr. Butler has found that sometimes, even in such severe accidents, the child may be completely uninjured. That even though the youngster's helmet may have a significant crack in it. In those cases, the helmet ends up with the damage -- not the skull.
But it is not just helmets that are important -- so is watchfulness, on the part of both drivers and cyclists. Among the most common type of accident involves those "right-on-red" intersections, says Anita Shell a spokesman for the Anchorage Police Department. Shell urges drivers to imagine that they were in the vulnerable position of cyclists -- and then behave accordingly -- and show patience.
She also urges cyclists to obey traffic laws -- and stop for red lights.
Nevertheless, intersections remain dangerous places. "I've certainly been hit twice in Anchorage," says adventure-cycling guide Billy Koitzsch. Koitzch's knows about getting hurt on a bicycle. He's frozen part of a toes off in biking competitions, and he's collided with two cars.
His most recent accident occurred just a few days ago -- at the notoriously busy Midtown Anchorage intersection of Tudor and C.
"It's surreal," he says. 'This was last Friday. I was crossing that same intersection. I thought I had contact with a lady (the driver) -- eye contact. There's 3 of us (cyclists), I was crossing -- and she just goes right in front of us," Koitzch says. "I hit the brakes, and hi had to hit her hood, ya know. I mean I 'endo-d (went end-over-end) into her hood. It was that bad," he adds.
Fortunately, Koitzch managed to walk away from that accident.
At the same intersection, others have not been so lucky.
A year ago last April, a cyclist was killed at C and Tudor when he was struck by a driver -- who had been making a right on red. The driver did not see him. The car hit both cyclist and bike, and dragged them 60 feet.
With winter darkness again approaching, the risk of such accidents -- in low visibility -- only rises. Anita Shell urges all cyclists to wear those flashing, battery-operated L.E.D lights. They can be seen for blocks.
In addition, everyone urges wearing a helmet -- for both adults and children.
And finally, there's the issue of watchfulness. Drivers and cyclists need to see each other, and as the A.P.D's Anita Shell suggests, treat each other with respect.