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Kids in traffic: Dangerous mistakes

Orlando teen killed, Mandarin athlete injured crossing roads

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – On Feb. 2, a 16-year-old walking to school in Orlando was hit and killed when he walked into traffic.  It happened at 6:45 a.m. about 15-feet away from the crosswalk. 

He was at least the 12th student struck by vehicles in Florida since the 2011-12 school year began.

For weeks prior to the latest fatal accident, Channel 4's cameras watched what children in Jacksonville were doing on their way to and from class, when parents weren't looking. 

On a foggy January morning in Arlington, a WJXT photojournalist saw a group of girls decide not to use the crosswalk to get to school, opting to chance it instead with the driver trying to predict what the children would do.  One girl darted right out in front.

In another instance, middle school kids walk casually in the road and out of nowhere three others run right in front of an SUV, assuming the driver sees them.  Thankfully, he does.

Channel 4's camera wa rolling when another group of girls, not really paying attention, walk into oncoming traffic, start to change their minds, but then run right back into the road.

JENNIFER WAUGH'S VIDEO REPORT: Kids in traffic: A hidden camera investigation

While every school we visited had some kind of crosswalk, seldom do our cameras catch any student actually using them.

On one foggy morning, a bike rider rides right in front of a Jeep.  As each morning and afternoon passes, we see a lot of middle school bikers not wearing helmets.  Kids 15 and younger are required by Florida law to wear one. 

While we never expect anything bad to happen, one local family says their son's bike ride to Mandarin High School has changed his life forever. 

Richard Bellett says it was a text message that alerted him that his 16-year-old son, Sam, was hit while riding his bike to cross country practice at Mandarin High around 6:15 a.m. one August morning, a few days before the start of the school year. 

"How could this happen?  How could a child get hit on his bike?  He's just going, not that far away from home," asks Maisie Bellett, Sam's mom. "You see your child lay there lifeless-looking.  He's not breathing on his own."

Sam had a frontal lobe injury, injuries to his pancreas and his kidney.  Both of Sam's legs where broken.  He spent five days in a coma, eight weeks in the hospital and then 10 more weeks in rehab. 

Sam was working to become an eagle scout, looking forward to getting his driver's license and aspiring to attend M.I.T.  He is a different teenager now.

"He doesn't have much personality now.  It's hard to get a smile out of him.  It's hard to get a conversation out of him."  

Sam now takes classes from home because he can't keep up right now in class.  But, his father says they are not giving up on Sam's dream to one day attend M.I.T. to earn a degree in engineering.

Sam was not wearing a helmet that day. At 16 years old, he is not required to.

While police say Sam is at fault for riding into traffic without looking, attorney Curry Pajcic says the driver of the SUV who hit him, shares responsibility for what happened to Sam.

"Drivers driving through school zones need to be careful. They need to look out for kids.  Kids are kids. When you're driving through a neighborhood and kids are playing on the grass in their yards, you slow down to five maybe 10 miles per hour because kids are kids. When you're going past a school, past the one entrance to the school, and the speed limit is 45 miles per hour, you don't go 45, you slow down," says Pajcic.

Sam doesn't have much memory of that day.  We do know from the crash report that he was riding on the sidewalk and was crossing at the crosswalk when he was hit.  In fact, the yellow lights were flashing that morning to warn drivers. 

Photos of Sam's bike show he even had a light on his handle bars and one on the back too, along with a reflector. 

No charges were filed against the driver who hit Sam.  His family is suing the driver because they accuse him of being negligent. 

Perhaps Sam, like so many other kids seen walking and riding their bikes to school, assumed the driver saw him and would stop.  Sam's parents hope their son's story will get drivers in school zones to pay more attention and slow down.
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