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A few weeks after the accident, road workers repainted the crosswalk where Michael died, but the intersection is still dangerous. Like many other busy streets on Long Island, Route 231 and Deer Park Avenue send cars zipping through neighborhoods and past schools and libraries. A crosswalk is situated a few feet beyond the traffic light where the two roads intersect. The police report said Michael was slammed as the drivers' signal showed green.
After Michael's death, the family considered suing over the design of the intersection, but a lawyer advised them it was up to code. Instead, they're suing O'Brien, whom police didn't charge in the incident. New York law isn't in the Fogels' favor, because courts typically award scant damages for the loss of a young person who suffered little before dying.
Bruce Fogel says he knows the value of his son's life can't be measured in dollars, but he wants someone to pay for what's been done to his family. "It's like you take those papers you just wrote, crumple them up and throw them in the garbage," he says. "That's it. He's gone. All the imprinting that you do on the child, all the positive things you give themgone."
When the police showed up at the family's home in the early afternoon, after taking hours to make a positive identification of the body, the first thing Michael's younger brother asked was how he could be expected to grow up without Michael. Now in sixth grade, an only child with dark hair and round cheeks, Peter has begun to look like the brother he lost. Some of his classmates never let him forget it. "In fourth grade, they were asking me about my brother being dead," Peter says. "I would ignore them because I didn't want to talk about it. In fifth grade, it was the same questions. This year at homecoming, the same thing."
The Fogels view Long Island roads differently now. Anna Fogel says she cringes when she sees a bicyclist while she's driving.
Every Wednesday, Bruce Fogel's work as an orthotist takes him to the Nassau County Medical Center, where he picks his way across the six lanes of Hempstead Turnpike, determined not to become the next pedestrian struck there. And every Wednesday, he says, he waits as long as it takes for the traffic to clear. "When I get to the other side," he says, lifting his arms toward heaven in an ancient gesture, "I always say, 'Michael, what was so hard about that?' " LC
...and the agony of the person who hit him
Kelly O'Brien of Deer Park studied to be a respiratory therapist because she wanted to help victims of accidents and disease get back on their feet. But the first time she was faced with a child who'd been run over, she nearly quit her profession.
The summer before, in 1997, O'Brien had struck and killed Michael Fogel, a young cyclist in North Babylon. That fall, she entered a round of training in the pediatric ward. "I almost gave it up," she says. "The first couple of times I had a kid hit by a car, I couldn't handle it."
Like a lot of other drivers who hit pedestrians or bicyclists on Long Island, O'Brien wasn't found in violation of the law. She was heading to a summer job in the medical records department of a hospital when she caught a glimpse of Fogel, 16, cycling through the crosswalk. Witnesses said she had a green light.
O'Brien swerved, but couldn't avoid a collision. She remembers a tremendous thud, followed by the sound of shattering glass. Her medical training took over. She jumped out of the car, knelt over the boy and checked his pulse. His heart had stopped and his eyes were closed. "I just kept thinking, 'What if this was my brother?" she says. "People had to pull me away. I freaked."
For weeks after the accident, O'Brien says, she refused to leave her house. She couldn't eat and she couldn't sleep. When she finally started driving again, her hands would redden from gripping the steering wheel too hard and her heart would pound so fast she thought she might go into cardiac arrest. Nearly three years and countless hours of therapy later, she still thinks about Fogel every day. "I can hear all the sounds in my head," she says. "You're never going to forget it."
O'Brien, a Catholic, sent Michael Fogel's family a Mass card not long after the accident. They returned it with a note that read, "How dare you?" They're suing her, and sometime next spring O'Brien expects to meet the Fogels, for the first time, in court.
"I don't know if they're going to attack me or freak out at me," she says. "The only thing I'm hoping to come out of the court case is his family will see me and meet me."
When she reads reports of people getting run over, O'Brien sympathizes with the loved ones of the pedestrian, but her heart goes out to the motorist, too. "It's very, very traumatic," she says. "I always feel bad for the driver as well as the family. Sometimes I just want to call them and tell them everything will be OKeventually." LC