After 2 accidents, Rossi still getting around Santa Rosa in his wheelchair

Ken Rossi seldom sits around his small apartment a block from Santa Rosa's Montgomery High School. This day was no exception.

"I'm just not a stay-at-home person," he declared shortly before he needed to get off to a lunch with friends at the Round Table Pizza at Montgomery Village. The distance to the restaurant is maybe a mile, but covering that mile is perilous because he cannot see or walk.

He sometimes rides city buses or a paratransit van. But most often, as on this day, the tanned and toned Rossi, 45, pulls on one of those bright-bright fluorescent vests that highway workers wear and takes to the sidewalk in his manual wheelchair.

To get to Montgomery Village, a relatively short jaunt for him, he has to cross several busy streets. Venturing into a crosswalk is anxious, dangerous business even for able-bodied people who can look drivers in the eye and perhaps take evasive action should an errant vehicle cross the line.

Neither is possible for Rossi. The 1985 Piner High grad was born with glaucoma and experienced vision loss until he went entirely blind during his first year of high school. He could walk as a teen -- in fact, with a little help from legendary Piner coach Jim Underhill, he ran track. But shortly after graduation, a mysterious onset of a sensory motor disorder deprived him of the use of his legs.

So he enters every crosswalk blindly, and seated. You bet it's frightening for him. Every time it is.

"I had a near miss yesterday," he said. "I have to tell you, crossing streets is way scarier nowadays."

"Nowadays" means since he was twice struck by cars. The first crash, in January of 2006, was by far the worst.

"They weren't expecting me to make it to the hospital," he said.

Rossi, who savors being outdoors and getting exercise, spent that day in '06 wheeling himself on the paved trail along Brush Creek. His return home required crossing Montgomery Drive at Franquette Avenue. He paused before the crosswalk to listen for cars and, he hoped, to make himself visible to approaching drivers.

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