TURLOCK — Turlock Unified School District is facing a $2.8 million lawsuit from the family of an elementary school student struck by a car on Geer Road last year.
On Oct. 3, Rachel McClure, 7, and her sister, Rebecca McClure, 8, stepped into the crosswalk where Pedras Road meets Geer just as a 1991 Toyota Camry traveling north tried to beat a red light, said Turlock police Lt. Fin Johnson.
For the girls' mother, Tonya McClure, a parental nightmare unfolded.
She heard her oldest daughter, Rebecca, screaming. Tonya ran to the door and the child was standing there with two police detectives.
"Are you the mother?" she remembers the men asking. "Ma'am, come with us. Your daughter's been in an accident."
Police rushed her to the helipad at Emanuel Medical Center, but the helicopter already had whisked Rachel to the University of California at Davis Medical Center in Sacramento.
The 7-year-old suffered a broken leg, broken hip in three places, two skull fractures and a traumatic brain injury. She spent a week in a coma and four weeks in the hospital. Today, a 2-inch-wide, 9-inch-long scar runs up her left leg. Her family says she has brain damage, but the extent is unknown.
"She's not the same kid," her mother said. "She just doesn't get it. I can yell till I'm blue in the face about something and she just doesn't get it."
Unlicensed and uninsured, the Camry driver, 30-year-old Imelda Maldonado, was cited on the scene. The McClure family's attorney believes she was here illegally or on an expired work visa and has fled to Mexico.
The school bus dropped the girls off at Crowell Elementary School, on North Avenue near Geer, and required them to walk home, according to the complaint filed in Stanislaus County Superior Court. There was no crossing guard, the documents read.
Last year, the McClure girls attended Crowell, but before the start of this school year, the family was told they'd have to attend Brown Elementary School — about 1½ miles north on Georgetown Avenue. No bus service was provided.
Disabled and without a driver's license, Tonya McClure petitioned the school district for a bus pickup and was told that her children could attend the new Sandra Tovar Medeiros Elementary School in north Turlock. They could catch a bus before school at Crowell Elementary and be bused back there after classes ended.
"Why wasn't a crossing guard posted?" asked Frank Correnti, the girls' stepfather. "That's the whole issue right there."
Assistant Superintendent of Business Services Pat McGuire said school principals determine how many crossing guards are needed and for how long. Crowell Elementary, she said, has two crossing guards: one to cross Geer Road at Hawkeye Avenue and another to cross Hawkeye.
She wouldn't say whether they were on duty when Rachel was hit.
"The bigger component is the fact that the district undertook to bus Rachel and Rebecca from Medeiros to Crowell knowing full well the girls live west of Geer Road," said the family's attorney, Brad Swingle of Modesto-based law firm Curtis & Arata.
Swingle points to the attendance area map on the district's Web site that shows Geer Road and other major streets such as Monte Vista Avenue and Golden State Boulevard as boundary lines. The layout suggests, Swingle said, that the district worked to prevent students from crossing major thoroughfares.
"Forcing them to walk across Geer Road 20 to 40 minutes after Crowell has closed," he said, "you're putting the students at an unusually increased risk of harm."
Education Code 44808
The nut of the case, he said, is California Education Code 44808, which says a school district is not responsible for students off-campus unless the district undertakes to transport them, and while students are or should be under direct supervision of a district employee.
The district, in a response to the complaint, claims that crossing guards were not present and shouldn't have been, therefore the school district is not liable. The response claims that the McClures "assumed the risk" and the district seeks repayment for any associated court costs.
"The facts and the law are in dispute of the case," said the school district's attorney, Jeff Olsen of the Modesto office of McCormick Barstow. "I can tell you it's very early in the discovery stage, no depositions have been taken. There are allegations out there and my job is to investigate them."
The first court appearance is slated for June 9. In the meantime, shiny new signs indicating a school crossing have gone up at Geer and Pedras roads. Still, the McClure family avoids the intersection.
"Emotionally," Tonya McClure stumbled on her words Wednesday, tears building in her eyes, "emotionally, it tears me up every time I walk by that road."
Bee staff writer Michael R. Shea can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2391.