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Scary event puts focus on child safety

Wendy Hernandez was shaken at the sight of an unattended toddler riding a tricycle in the middle of a side street off busy Manatee Avenue East.

It would be easy for a distracted driver, fiddling with the radio, an iPod or cell phone to run right over the child.

Hernandez, the mother of three and a kindergarten teacher at Kinnan Elementary School, was en route to Manatee Elementary School to teach a class to other teachers Friday, when she stopped at a convenience store to buy a soft drink.

That’s when she saw the youngster in the street with no adult supervision in sight.

She picked the youngster up out of harm’s way and went in to one of the businesses. A few minutes later, a very worried-looking family member came and got the child.

Some of the people who work in the area said they frequently see the youngster in the street. Hernandez decided to report the incident to the police. Minutes later, officers came to get her information and then presumably go look for the family.

Helen Abernathy, principal of Manatee Elementary School, located just a few blocks west, applauded Hernandez’s actions.

“She did the right thing,” Abernathy said.

Manatee Elementary, a beautifully preserved school dating from 1926, is one of several local schools with crosswalks on busy streets. Oneco Elementary and Braden River Elementary, both on State Road 70, are others that come to mind.

On Friday, the Bradenton Police Department had one of those radar signs set up near the Manatee Elementary crosswalk.

As I drove past, I noticed the sign and that I was driving faster than I should be. I immediately slowed down to the 35-mph limit.

Smart move, I thought. BPD is trying to wake drivers up and get them to slow down with school starting Monday.

Abernathy welcomed efforts by the police department to slow traffic down around the school.

“When you call the police department, they are very helpful. I am very pleased with their response,” she said.

Local police helped the school implement a 15-mph speed limit on Seventh Avenue. On another occasion, officers responded to school officials’ concerns that too many parents were failing to put children in safety seats or make sure they were buckled up. A little attention from officers made a big difference in child safety.

Abernathy, who is starting her third year at Manatee Elementary, is proud of the conscientious care with which the school’s crossing guard conducts children safely through the cross walk.

“We’re just looking for a very good school year. We want to keep our kids safe,” Abernathy said.

We’ve all heard it before. Monday’s the first day of school. We all need to practice our defensive driving skills, particularly around school crossing zones.

James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee editor, can be contacted at 708-7916.