on July 21, 2014 - 9:10 PM
, updated July 21, 2014 at 10:17 PM
She may have been running for her green sippy cup filled with cranberry juice, darting into the street away from a makeshift park filled with other children when the speeding car slammed into her Sunday night and then sped away.
A week shy of her third birthday, Xayeliz Alicea was apparently without adult supervision at 9 p.m., police said, when the car on Buffalo’s East Side hit her.
An older child said she was trying to keep an eye on the toddler and had previously warned her not to cross the street without her permission.
“The car had come out of nowhere and Xayeliz was again crossing the street,” 11-year-old Maria Morales said. “I put my hands up and yelled, ‘Wait, wait, stop.’ ”
But it was too late. Xayeliz flew about 25 feet through the air on the first block of Floss Avenue, just south of Genesee Street, witnesses said.
The girl was rushed to Erie County Medical Center by another motorist and later transferred to Women & Children’s Hospital where she was listed in critical condition Monday night. She suffered a severe brain injury and is believed to be paralyzed, according to authorities and friends of her family.
Buffalo Police Department Accident Investigation Unit officers were continuing their search for an older-style, white Chevrolet Impala with tinted windows they say struck the girl while driving southbound on Floss Avenue, a narrow street known for speeders cutting over from East Delavan Avenue to Genesee.
“The investigation is making progress, but we need the public to step forward with any information,” Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda said, asking anyone with details on the accident to call or text the confidential tip line at 847-2255.
Maria, in retelling what happened, said that before the accident, Xayeliz had run across the street to take a drink from her sippy cup and then returned unscathed to resume playing with the other neighborhood children on the west side of the street.
“When she came back over, I said, ‘Don’t cross no more without my permission.’ She said, ‘OK.’ Then a few minutes later, she started to go back across the street,” Maria said. “I tried to stop both of them, her and the car, but I couldn’t.”
Besides Maria’s account offered Monday afternoon in the company of her parents, there were plenty of other reminders of the tragedy – a 100-foot-long stretch of tire skid marks, fluorescent orange paint showing where the child had come to rest on the street pavement, Xayeliz’s green sippy cup still half filled with juice, and one of her tiny purple sneakers.
A loud noise
Jose Felix, Maria’s father, recalled hearing a bang from the impact of the accident and looking out from his Floss Avenue front porch. The girl, he said, was “flying and tumbling” through the air.
Springing into action, he ran toward the child and the Impala, which had briefly stopped.
“The driver was looking out the window at the child. There were four men in the car, between 25 and 35 years old, and the passenger sitting behind the driver started shouting, ‘Go, go, go!’ and the driver took off up to Genesee and turned left toward Cheektowaga,” Felix said.
A woman in a northbound black car, he said, had stopped and urged him and his wife, Maria Escalera, to place the child in her vehicle. Rather than wait for an ambulance, Felix said his wife climbed into the car’s front seat and he placed the girl into his wife’s arms. The child was not breathing but her heart was beating, he said.
The woman then drove to ECMC, about two miles away.
“If it wasn’t for that lady in the black car, the little girl would be dead,” Felix said. “The doctors put a tube down her throat at the hospital and she started breathing again.”
Felix drove Xayeliz’s mother, Zuhellice Alicea, to ECMC, and Luis Alicea, the girl’s father, drove in his vehicle to the hospital.
Later, after the child had been transferred to Women & Children’s Hospital, an uncle of the toddler was placed under arrest there. Jesus Santiago, 22, was charged with obstructing emergency medical personnel and resisting arrest for allegedly refusing to allow doctors and nurses to move the girl’s bed into the intensive care unit.
Before tragedy struck
For Felix and his wife, how Sunday evening could turn into such a nightmare was hard for them to process.
Three hours earlier at 6 p.m., the couple had invited the Aliceas, fellow immigrants from Puerto Rico who live around the corner on Genesee Street, over for a swim in a small backyard pool and a cookout. After that, Xayeliz and the other children joined more than a dozen other neighborhood kids across the street at the makeshift park, a wide and long swath of grass with trees low enough for children to climb.
Parents on Floss explained that the children play there rather than try to cross busy Genesee Street to play in nearby Schiller Park.
Felix said there were adults nearby Sunday evening and they had only been absent briefly when Xayeliz crossed the street unattended.
“Her dad had gone inside to the bathroom when it happened, and I was just coming onto the porch,” he said.
Neighbors blame drivers for creating the dangerous conditions, saying motorists disregard the 30 mph speed limit on a street that is too narrow to accommodate its two-way traffic.
Lovejoy Councilman Richard A. Fontana, whose district takes in this Schiller Park neighborhood, said that he plans to revive a proposal he unsuccessfully introduced several years ago – lowering the speed limit on city side streets to 20 or 25 mph.
“This is a parent’s worst nightmare and it’s come to fruition here on Floss Avenue due to a hit-and-run driver,” Fontana said. “I want everyone in Western New York to know we want the driver of this Impala found and brought to justice.”
In the past when helping cut lawns on Floss Avenue, Fontana said he has yelled at speeders.
“I’ve yelled, ‘What are you nuts? This is a narrow street.’ They drive by slouched at a 45-degree angle and keep going,’ ” Fontana said, adding that police have followed through on previous requests by him to set up radar speed traps on Floss, but more needs to be done.
“I was told five years ago it would be too costly for all the new signage if we lowered the speed limit,” he said. “In honor of this child, I will try to re-initiate the effort. Sometimes 30 mph is just too fast.”
Anyone who would leave an injured child in the street, he said, “doesn’t have a heart and is not a human being.”