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'Why leave a little boy lying on the street like that?' : At 12, His Life Was Shattered

September 21, 1986|LORENA OROPEZA | Times Staff Writer

As the afternoon sun warms the immobile right side of Kevin Tantzen's partly paralyzed body, he struggles to extend the fingers of his good left hand. Almost playfully, Kevin lifts some keys out of his mother's pocket.

Kevin, 15, who used to talk "a mile a minute," no longer speaks at all. Nor can he walk, sit or stand. Most of the time, he is braced into his wheelchair at the Mountain View Child Care Center in Loma Linda.

On March 8, 1984, Kevin, accompanied by a friend, was making subscription calls on his newspaper route in Anaheim. They were beginning to cross Brookhurst Street just north of Palais Road when Kevin darted out and was hit by a van. The van slowed for a moment, then rapidly accelerated down the street, witnesses said. According to Dianne Horton, Kevin's mother, his friend ran to her house and she arrived at the scene before the ambulance did, she said. The accident left Kevin with severe brain damage, spastic and partly paralyzed.

Horton still becomes tearful and angry when she speaks of the accident.

"It's so terribly common," she said. "Why don't people just stop? Why leave a little boy lying on the street like that? I can't believe it. It really bothers me that there's someone out there who took away my son's future."

In her wallet, Horton carries two newspaper accounts of the accident. The description, gathered from police reports, of the vehicle that hit her son is still vivid in her mind: "It was a van, a brand-new Dodge, with a brown stripe going around it and a chrome ladder going up one side. The driver was in his late 20s and had sandy-colored hair."

Ironically, Horton is looking for another van--one that would make her son's life easier. On weekends, Kevin visits his mother and brother, Brian, 17, at the Fontana home where they moved last August from Anaheim. Each excursion means placing Kevin in the front seat of the family's Ford Escort and lifting his 70-pound wheelchair into the car's hatchback. She is seeking help from government and private agencies to provide the money needed for a van and the special transport equipment required for her son. (At the time that her son was injured, Horton, a nurse, was changing jobs. Kevin's insurance from the newspaper delivery job covered the first $250,000 in medical bills, she said. Since then, the family has qualified for Social Security and Medi-Cal assistance.)

Horton has not taken on the search alone. For more than a year, she has been working with Mary Ferris of the Orange County North Court Victim-Witness Assistance program, a multifaceted county program that offers support to crime victims. The North Court branch handles cases from Fullerton and surrounding municipalities, including Anaheim.

During this period, Ferris called at least 20 social service agencies on Horton's behalf, including Project Lift, Advocates of the Quiet Minority, Goodwill, Shriners and Help for Brain Injured Children. None of the organizations could finance a van.

"I'm frustrated," Ferris said. "There are all these agencies to help the disabled and no one thought of transportation." She estimates that a van, either new or a reliable used one, would cost about $10,000.

Peg Hall, of the Dayle McIntosh Center for the Disabled in Garden Grove, said: "People have a misconception that the disabled are taken care of. But that isn't true. Some of the assistance they need just doesn't exist."

On Monday, Horton will go before the state Board of Control in a hearing in Los Angeles in an effort to get money from the state Victims of Crime Fund to underwrite the cost of the transport equipment, estimated at $2,500. Ferris said she did not advise Horton to ask the state victim fund for the entire cost of a van and the transport equipment--because the Board of Control might reject such a large single request.

Horton feels that her son would improve more rapidly if he had more interaction with people outside the care center.

"Kevin smiles when we come in the house," she said of his visits home. "He responds a lot to his brother. He always stares at him when he's home and he likes to lie on the bed and hold Brian's hand."

Doctors aren't always so optimistic.

"But what do they know?" she said. "They told me he was going to die."

Although Horton does not how she is going to get a van, she said Kevin is counting on her to keep trying.

As she strokes his back in the yard of the Mountain View Center, Kevin lets out a low whine of pleasure. "I can't wait until he talks," Horton said. "I have a feeling he won't ever shut up."

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