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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS

Boy Struck by Car While Running to Catch School Bus

Accident: Teen remains unconscious in critical condition. Police say he crossed street against light. Driver apparently not at fault.

November 07, 2000|ANNA GORMAN and HOLLY J. WOLCOTT | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

VENTURA — A Buena High School freshman is in critical condition after being hit by a car as he rushed to catch his school bus Monday morning, police said.

Billie Brooks, 14, ran across Telephone Road shortly after 7:20 a.m. to jump on the bus, which was stopped on Petit Avenue. Billie had a red light, and cars were coming. But the bus, driven by a substitute driver, was waiting at the stop, so he darted out into the street, officials said.

The driver, 36-year-old Steven Ennis, was driving westbound on Telephone when his car struck Billie, said Ventura Police Lt. Quinn Fenwick. Although police are still investigating the accident, Fenwick said he believes Ennis isn't at fault because he had the green light and did not appear to be speeding.

Ennis "did nothing wrong," Fenwick said. "It was a terrible tragedy. People should be looking out for children, but there's only so much you can do."

The force of the accident threw Billie into the street. He was unconscious and wasn't breathing when emergency personnel arrived. He was taken to Ventura County Medical Center, where he remains unconscious, suffering from severe head injuries and bleeding in his abdomen. Though he underwent surgery throughout the day Monday, hospital officials said his condition had not improved by Monday night.

Billie's parents, Scott Graves and Leslie Markell, huddled with their immediate family in a small waiting room outside the intensive care unit Monday night.

Billie, they said, relishes the limelight in groups of people and proudly expresses himself with his hair, clothes and favorite activities, which include skateboarding and wrestling.

"He loves being the center of attention. He makes friends instantly," said Graves, his eyes filled with tears after visiting his son for a few minutes.

Short, with blue eyes and spiky blond hair, Billie prefers baggy clothes, hip shoes, skateboards, scooters and hard rock music like Metallica, Nirvana and Green Day. Billie, his parents said, is an only child who also loves acting and drawing cartoons.

Since his family moved to Ventura a couple of years ago from Temecula, Billie has become fascinated with the wild, sometimes dangerous, hobby of extreme wrestling. Billie sometimes referees matches with a local group called the Real Wrestling Federation, and he also practices with some of the competitors.

"We always thought he'd get hurt doing that, not crossing the street," Graves said.

Some Buena students said Monday that the bus was earlier than normal, and that was why Billie was dashing across the busy street. But Assistant Supt. Joe Richards said the bus driver was on time and was not leaving the stop early.

The bus driver arrived at the stop at 7:20 a.m., Richards said, and was scheduled to leave three or four minutes later. School district policy is to wait for any students who are heading for the bus while it is at the stop.

Robert Mejia, 14, who boards the bus at the same stop as Billie, said he thought it was a joke when someone yelled that Billie was lying on the ground. Then Robert, who was already on the bus, saw cars screeching to a stop, and he knew something had happened.

Robert said he sees students running across Telephone Road and other major streets all the time. "Billie just should have taken the time to cross the street with the walk button," he said. "If he would have pressed the button, he wouldn't have gotten hurt."

Tommy Navarette, 14, was also on the bus that Billie was trying to catch Monday morning. Tommy said the accident scared him and made him think twice about trying to beat oncoming traffic. "I'd just run across the street," Tommy said. "Now, I'm going to be a little more careful."

Fenwick of the Ventura police said there have been accidents at Petit and Telephone, but it is not among the most dangerous intersections in the city.

Ventura Unified School District Supt. Joseph Spirito said Monday that he is encouraging principals and teachers to review traffic safety rules with their students. He is also urging parents and drivers to keep their eyes out for students in the morning and the afternoon. About 20% of the 17,400 students in the district take the bus to school.

According to state law, cars are required to stop if a school bus is flashing its red lights, signaling that students are getting on and off the bus. But in the case of Monday's accident, the bus was stopped on Petit Avenue, so the cars on Telephone Road did not have to stop, officials said. The speed limit on that stretch of Telephone is 50 mph.

Cynthia De Leon, whose 15-year-old daughter, Cassandra, attends Buena, said drivers should always slow down around schools and bus stops. Like most parents, De Leon has been telling her daughter since she was a toddler not to run across the street. "But these are kids, and they don't always remember the rules," she said.

Buena High Principal Mike Johnson said the accident shows the dangers of crossing the street against the light. "We preach that 100 times a day," Johnson said. "Don't jaywalk. Don't run across the street. But they do."

Johnson sent a note to teachers about the accident Monday morning, and spoke to at least one class about what happened. In some classes, the students had a moment of silence for Billie and his family. In others, they talked about traffic safety. A few students came to the office to talk to counselors or to have their parents take them to the hospital.

By late afternoon, nearly a dozen of Billie's friends had gathered at the hospital, where they passed around a giant get-well card. They said the card, emblazoned with a cartoon character, epitomizes their pal.

"He's hilarious," said 14-year-old Glenn Collins, Billie's best friend and classmate. "He's the funniest guy I know."

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