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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.

He heard an eastbound car stop short of the crosswalk and he figured it was safe to proceed. But as he reached the center of the first lane, a westbound Saturn slammed into him with the driver not even touching the brakes.

Rossi was mangled. The inventory of horrible injuries included fractures to his skull, facial bones, pelvis, leg and hip, and damage to his spine.

His recovery, though remarkable, will never be complete as long as he continues to hurt. "I forgot what it's like not to be in pain," he said matter of factly.

The man who'd been driving the Saturn with an expired license, and who didn't stop after slamming into Rossi, offered as a legal defense that he'd suffered a diabetic episode at the wheel.

Rossi said, "I was hoping for a felony hit-and-run (conviction) but he got just a misdemeanor failure-to-yield."

The crash and the long, painful recovery transported Rossi back to a crossroads he'd encountered in his life twice before -- first when he lost his vision and then when he found he could no longer walk.

Would he let the collision break his spirit and cause him to sit at home "and be miserable the rest of my life?"

He would not. Once he was physically able, Rossi took again to the sidewalks, where the sun's in his face and his muscles are working and he's out in his town and among fellow human beings.

"I think we all have something to be thankful for," he said. "I'm happy to have people I love. I belong to a good church and I live in a good community."

He doesn't deny that it was another setback when a driver pulling out of a business on Farmers Lane bumped him and damaged his wheelchair three weeks ago. He'd heard the car stop and he thought the woman driving was pausing to let him pass in front of her, but apparently she didn't notice him.

"I'm glad she apologized, but I hope she pays more attention when she drives," Rossi said.

He is well aware that he's just one of many vulnerable souls on foot or small wheels who hope to be seen as their travels place them in the path of automobiles.

"Drivers have to realize that where they're going is not as important as a human life," Rossi said. In the world he'd like to see, nobody would drive across a crosswalk or sidewalk before making perfectly certain they won't feel a thump that may shatter a life.

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