After boy, 5, is hit by car, family and friends plan 'peace walk'

Richard Pagan, 5, was hit by a car June 14. His father gave him a hat in February and he wore it nearly constantly, his family said, including when he was hit.
Richard Pagan, 5, was hit by a car June 14. His father gave him a hat in February and he wore it nearly constantly, his family said, including when he was hit.
Posted: June 28, 2014

Richard Pagan was eager to get back to the fun - the games, the bounce house, the DJ playing music at the family event the day before Father's Day.

Face painted to look like Spider-Man, the 5-year-old was tugging on his mother's hand, she said, to urge her to hurry up so he could get back after a bathroom stop in the Early Childhood Development Center in Camden.

The car came out of nowhere that Saturday afternoon on Pine Street.

"She hit him so hard that she ripped him. Ripped him off my hands," Richard's mother, Leslie Leon, said last week.

She and her son, the youngest of three, had done everything right, Leon said. They were walking through a marked crosswalk, rather than between cars, and she had pulled Richard to a stop, part of her effort to teach her son to check before crossing a street.

They checked, Leon said, but neither saw nor heard a car. So they started walking.

"I picked him up, and then all this blood just started. And I screamed. I mean, I screamed. I ain't never screamed like that before in my life, I screamed so loud," Leon said in the interview at Cooper University Hospital, where Richard remains in "critical but stable" condition.

"I just saw all this blood - coming out of his ears, coming out of his nose, coming out of his mouth. . . . And he screamed, and then he stopped," she said.

At Cooper, Richard underwent surgery for issues centered on trauma to his head and upper body.

"He's still listed as critical but stable, but his doctor says he is improving," Wendy Marano, a hospital spokeswoman, said Thursday afternoon. "He's scheduled for some surgery to repair some of the fractures to his head. Most of his injuries were head trauma."

Richard's doctors will not know the extent of permanent or long-lasting injuries until he begins rehabilitative therapy, Marano said, including physical and cognitive therapy.

No criminal charges have been filed against the driver. She stopped after hitting Richard and stayed on the scene, the family said, screaming, "I hit a kid, I hit a kid." The preliminary investigation showed she did not appear to be using a cellphone or driving above the speed limit, an individual familiar with the investigation said last week. No updates were available Thursday.

A "peace walk" is scheduled to begin at 4 p.m. Friday at Cooper, going to the site where Richard was struck. Family and friends have organized the event to call attention to pedestrian safety.

For days, Leon and her family prayed for a recovery, as things appeared to take a turn for the worse.

Leon slept at her son's side, never leaving the hospital. She cried, rubbed his feet, watched his favorite TV shows with him, sang to the boy she nicknamed "Gordo" because of his weight as a boy.

Richard is talkative, a boy who sometimes sings to his mother in Spanish when she gets upset, who likes to go to Walmart with his father, who always has something to say. Leon has been struggling with his lack of responsiveness since the accident.

When she saw him for the first time in the hospital, after the emergency surgeries, she said, she broke down and cried.

"We were trying to talk to him and see if he understood us," she said, "and that was the first time I never heard my son."

Her husband has taken it even harder, she said.

When Richard's sister, Elizabeth, saw him for the first time, she refused to talk to or touch him, Leon said.

"Mommy, that's not my brother. He doesn't look like Richard," the 7-year-old told her mother.

Richard lay in bed, tubes and wires surrounding him, scars and scratches on his face and torso.

"That's your brother. He's in there. Regardless, that's just he got boo-boos, and the doctor's got to fix him," Leon said she told her daughter.

"She actually finally communicated with him and touched him, and said, 'I love you,' and 'Wake up for me please, and come back to me.' "

This week, the family was rewarded with good news. "He is alert and awake. He's starting to communicate," Marano said.

Leon's other son, 8-year-old Isaiah, had tried to get his brother to wake up. Pleading with Richard to open his eyes, Isaiah plied his brother with offers: "I'll let you play with my cars. I'll let you play with my basketball if you wake up. And you want to go to Disney World?"

Leon tears up when she talks about Isaiah, who she said has ADHD and was recently diagnosed with autism and Asperger's syndrome.

"I'm fighting with him and for him. Now, to have to go and fight for my other son? So now I'm fighting for all my kids," Leon said. "Because this right here, this is basically not going to stay like this. This is basically for every kid in Camden."

Leon's family - a group that includes friends so close they are referred to as family - are active community members, leading volunteer groups and putting on events.

"You think that everything's OK," said Ivelisse Gonzalez, a family friend Leon calls "aunt," "but every now and then, we all have breakthroughs, because this thing is hard. This thing is the hardest thing that we've ever dealt with as a family."

Now, the family is turning its attention to raising awareness of pedestrian safety as part of its larger efforts to uplift the community.

Camden County has had 10 pedestrians die in fatal car accidents this year, according to state police data. The county had 11 pedestrian deaths last year, six in 2012, and 12 in 2011.

At the "peace walk" Friday afternoon, participants will go from the hospital down Haddon Avenue, turning onto Kaighns Avenue and Baird Boulevard, and going past Camden High School to the spot where Richard was hit.

White shirts with Richard's photo will be distributed. Friends will carry a box with Richard's hat, a present from his father in February that he rarely took off and was wearing at the time.

"It's about getting speed bumps, it's about getting a crosswalk, it's about getting security, it's about slowing down, it's about, 'Don't be so in a rush all the time,' it's about the kids," Gonzalez said.

"We're doing it at 4 p.m. because it's a Friday, people are getting out of work. It's not about protesting, it's not about causing any chaos," she said. "It's about letting everybody know, in every route they're coming from, what happened to Richard."


jlai@phillynews.com

856-779-3220 @elaijuh

www.inquirer.com/campusinq

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