Tuesday, February 26, 2002 Volume 67, Issue 101



Accident victim urges safer streets

By Ray Hafner
Daily Cougar Staff

For Angela Panzica, the night of Jan. 27 is a red blur.

There was the red Nissan Sentra that ran the red light and smashed into her red wheelchair as she attempted to cross Cullen Boulevard heading toward her apartment at Cougar Place.

Yvonne Feece/The Daily Cougar

Social work graduate student Angie Panzica, left, and Patrice Pike, a friend, are pictured during better times before Panzica's wheelchair was struck by a car at Entrance 11 on Cullen Boulevard near Cougar Place.

Then there were the red flashes from the ambulance that transported her to Memorial Hermann Hospital with a fractured pelvis and a leg broken in two

"If I had a quarter for every time I've seen (the light) run, I could pay for graduate school," Panzica said three weeks later, after a 10-day stay in the hospital.

Panzica, a sociology graduate student who suffers from cerebral palsy, was crossing the intersection as she did several times a day, and had made it
halfway before she was struck. Doctors said that were it not for the wheelchair, the car, which was traveling at approximately 30 miles per hour, would easily
have killed her.

UH Police Lt. Roger Byars summed up the accident as "inattentiveness to driving."

Siwei Liu, the driver of the car, was tested for alcohol and drugs but came up negative. He was not ticketed because one of the lamps in the crossing may
have malfunctioned. Liu was traveling south on Cullen with his wife when he "suddenly found" the wheelchair in his path, he said.

By that point it was too late.

Because the accident occurred on a city street, the University is not responsible for any malfunctions. That also complicates the ability to make changes on
the street.

"Long before this accident occurred we'd been pursuing some change, specifically at that location," said William McKinney, a project manager for Facilities
Planning and Construction who specializes in accessibility for the disabled.

He was referring to smoothing out the road in the crosswalk, which Panzica called "bumpy."

But a smoother road would not have helped Panzica that night, and she hopes to raise awareness of the dangers of reckless driving, especially at that
location, Entrance 11 on Cullen Boulevard.

"I'm not the only one," she said, referring to the more than a dozen handicapped students who reside at Cougar Place. 

"I see people whip out of those intersections without giving us a second thought," she said. "It needs to be safer for everybody."

Panzica is not sure what steps should be taken, but said she believes that lower speed limits or an overpass would make the area less dangerous.

"We will work with the city (on) any changes they deem necessary," director of Residential Life and Housing Andy Blank said.

But Lt. Byars says he believes the community is "doing a good job in (its) general manner of driving." UH averages one or two of these types of accidents
each semester. Byars, who has been with UHPD for nine years, said he believes the record is good considering the volume of vehicular and pedestrian
traffic, but acknowledges that more can be done.

He also said he believes traffic enforcement has been "enhanced" and said that police have been "stepping up our visual presence in some of these areas."

This is small consolation to Panzica, who had to drop out of classes this semester and faces four to six months of rehabilitation and at least one more
surgery. She said she hopes people will learn from her experience and be more cautious.

The accident has cost her at least a year in the graduation process and her independence, she said, but has not dampened her spirits.

"I'm very resilient," she said. "And the bones will heal and I will overcome this."

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