By Shelby Lofton
The intersections of Granada Hills Charter High School’s (GHCHS) main thoroughfare, Zelzah Ave. with Kingsbury St., San Jose St., and Devonshire St. have been locations of terror, risk-taking, and near-tragic moments for drivers and pedestrians alike.
Death-defying moments of leaping off the sidewalk into heavy traffic occur each day at Los Angeles high schools. Whether it’s the rumor mill at GHCHS or a NBC 5 o’clock newscast, local stories of broken bones, hit-and-runs, and even fatalities are not out of the ordinary.
Most recently, Kennedy High School senior Philo Ragni was tragically killed by a Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) vehicle a block away from his high school in Granada Hills on February 18. Parents at the scene expressed their concern for the lack of street safety at schools.
“These kids don’t have helmets or brakes, and it scares the hell out of me,” Kennedy parent Vera Rabadi said to KTLA.
Though many GHCHS students had connections to this tragedy, accidents have occurred much closer to home. GHCHS junior Nathalia Gatdula was involved in a hit-and-run on January 21, 2015 after stepping out on to San Jose St.
After an ordinary school day, the cheerleader was hit by an unidentified male driver and suffered a broken pelvic bone and a minor concussion. Friends walking close behind were the first to alert 911 of the accident. Due to the severity of her wounds, Gatdula went on a month long absence from school and had to complete her assignments with an in-home teacher.
“It was hard. I realized how important school was. I realized how hard it is to not to be able to go to school, see your classmates or to interact with others,” Gatdula said.
Besides trauma, Gatdula had some important take-always from the accident.
“Since I drive, I understand a pedestrian’s view and a driver’s view, and pedestrians shouldn’t be stupid enough to jaywalk. If you’re in a crosswalk, it’s the driver’s fault, because it’s your right of way. And, look both ways!” Gatdula said.
Nathalia Gatdula is one of several students at GHCHS who have experienced trauma at the traffic stop. Seniors Justine Phan and Matthew De Belen were also involved in a crash at the student crosswalk on Zelzah Ave. and Kingsbury St. on November 14, 2013.
“We were at the volleyball game and we left to get food. There were no cars on one side. The light started flashing, so we started walking. Then when we were almost halfway across, a car on the left started honking. Then I just got hit,” De Belen said.
Thankfully for Phan, De Belen’s instincts kicked in at the moment of the collision and he pushed Justine out of the way.
“I may have punched Justine on accident!” De Belen sheepishly admitted.
A moment of last minute reflexes may have saved the pair from more extensive injuries. Phan ended up with a minor bruise and bloody nose from the accidental punch while De Belen suffered a concussion and extensive bruising.
“I don’t remember anything. I just remember laying on the floor thinking, ‘My mom is going to kill me!’” Phan added. Unlike Gatdula, the man behind the wheel at Kingsbury St. and Zelzah Ave. came to Phan and De Belen’s side moments after. Several witnesses rushed to the victims’ sides and provided blankets and wet rags. An ambulance arrived almost immediately.
Such swift action taken by GHCHS students and community members allowed medical personnel to deal with the victims accordingly. Phan and De Belen, juniors at the time, also experienced troubles with schoolwork when they returned to school.
“The problem was, it was during November. When I came back, it was finals week, and I still had to take the final tests. It was pretty bad.”
These students advise their peers to avoid Zelzah Ave., especially when it’s busy. Phan and De Belen, along with several other members of the GHCHS student body argue that the student crosswalk at Zelzah Ave. and Kingsbury St. is not at all safe because it does not have a stop light, therefore drivers are likely to blaze through it.
“Slow down. Be aware. Someone is going to make a mistake but it’s going to cost you your life,” De Belen warns.
“Don’t assume people are going to stop for you,” Phan cautions. We often automatically villainze the driver in an acccident, but pedestrians need to pay just as much attention to their surroundings to keep themselves safe. So pay attention and be safe, GHCHS.