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Idyllic spring day turns to tragedy in an instant at Delaware Park

More than 24 hours after a deadly accident in Delaware Park killed a 3-year-old boy and left a 5-year-old girl critically injured, Buffalo police have still not publicly identified the children, their mother or the driver of the car that jumped a curb on the Scajaquada Expressway, crossed a grassy median and struck the family.

The noontime accident on a sunny spring Saturday shocked onlookers, including a visiting emergency room physician from North Carolina and a nurse practioner from Erie County Medical Center who rushed to help. The doctors sought to revive the boy, but he was pronounced dead at Sisters Hospital at 12:15 p.m. The girl was taken to Women & Children’s Hospital, where she was in critical condition late Saturday. The mother in her 30s, who had momentarily stopped pushing her stroller on the Ring Road in the park so the children could switch places, suffered bumps and bruises.

The male driver, who was seen kneeling and sobbing outside his Chevy Malibu after the accident, was taken into custody. Police said he was cooperating, but have said nothing more despite the fact that the accident happened in one of Buffalo’s most popular summer gathering places.

Witnesses said that the horror of the morning occurred in an instant but will stay with them for a long time.

“It was coming toward us,” said Chanel Fulgham, recalling the moment she saw the car cross Ring Road. “I saw the babies rolling out from under the car. It seems unreal. At first I just fell to the ground because I felt bad for the mom. I could her scream. I’ll never forget that scream.”

Many at the park tried to help the two children, who came to a rest on the grass. Among them was Dr. Cheryl Perry Colvin, an emergency room physician visiting from Fayetteville, N.C.

“The car had already stopped when I saw a little person’s legs,” Colvin said. “I knew I needed to offer my assistance. I assessed his pulse. He didn’t have one, so I began CPR along with a nurse practitioner from ECMC. There were people working on the girl, too.”

Colvin said she lost track of time while attempting to revive the little boy.

“When you’re doing something like that, it seems like a long time, but it may have only been 10 minutes,” she said.

The boy was taken to Sisters Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 12:15 p.m., said Lt. Thomas J. Leatherbarrow, who heads the Buffalo Police Accident Investigation Unit.

His sister was taken to Women & Children’s Hospital, where she was being treated in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit. Her condition was reported as critical Saturday evening.

The mother suffered bumps and bruises.

After the accident, the driver of the gray Chevrolet Malibu was seen kneeling outside his car, weeping.

“As I started walking to where the kids were, there was an altercation,” said Fulgham, who had been walking with a friend. “This guy was upset after he saw the children on the ground, and he started to hit the driver, but he left. The driver just sat there and cried.”

Police eventually escorted the driver to the back seat of a police cruiser and were observed talking to him before he was driven away.

“The driver is cooperating with us, and we have him in custody,” Leatherbarrow said in a news conference at the park attended by Mayor Byron W. Brown and police spokesman Michael J. DeGeorge.

No sobriety tests were administered at the scene, according to Leatherbarrow.

“I don’t have any information on the condition of the driver at this point,” he said. “It’s early in the investigation.”

Leatherbarrow said investigators will focus on the speed of the vehicle, whether the driver was impaired and if the driver was at fault. “We also will be looking to determine what caused the accident, whether it was environmental or mechanical,” Leatherbarrow said.

Shortly after the crash, children’s sneakers, toys and a baby stroller were lying in and near Ring Road. The Malibu came to a stop about 30 yards from where the impact occurred.

“This is a real tragedy,” Brown said. “A mother and her two children walking the park were struck by a vehicle. Our hearts are very heavy today.”

The westbound Scajaquada and Ring Road are separated by a grassy median of about 15 feet. The posted speed on the heavily traveled Scajaquada is 50 mph.

“Like many other residents, I walk in Delaware Park all the time and have been doing so for years,” Brown said. “This is the first time in my memory that anyone has been struck (by a car) in the park. For years, studies have suggested we return this into a parkway setting. I think it makes sense to do that.”

Colvin, the emergency room physician who came to the aid of the boy, also questioned the safety of the expressway that is so close to the park and Ring Road, which is popular for walkers.

“It was a wonderful day. Why aren’t there guardrails out there? Well, maybe they need them now,” said Colvin, who originally is from Lackawanna.

Fulgham also recounted how the day turned so quickly.

“It affected me more than I thought it would,” the county worker added. “I keep replaying the memory of the little boy in my head. As a mom, its going to make be even more protective of my little girl. It’s going to take me a long time to let her be anywhere near traffic.”

email: jkwiatkowski@buffnews.com