Friday, January 19, 2018
Public safety

Crossing guard's death a grim reminder of job's dangers

CLEARWATER — Crossing guard Mike Buttice stood at the corner of the intersection and waited for the street light to flicker red.

"Give me a second to get out there and get the traffic stopped," he told a boy heading toward Oak Grove Middle School.

As the bustle of traffic halted at Belcher Road and Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard, Buttice strode to the center of the crosswalk, blew his whistle and raised his red stop sign. He motioned toward the boy, who briskly crossed one of the city's busiest intersections.

Buttice knows the danger he and other guards face every day. That message was driven home Tuesday when crossing guard Douglas Carey was killed by a speeding Cadillac.

Despite the danger, But­tice and others said Wednesday that they do their job to keep the city's children safe.

"I love it," he said. "We do get paid for it, but if we didn't I'd still do it."

Every day, they watch as drivers barrel past while talking or texting on phones or running red lights. Last week, a woman turned right onto Belcher from the center lane of Gulf-to-Bay.

"It's the drivers that make it unsafe," Buttice said. "They're doing everything but driving."

Clearwater crossing guard trainer Norm Runkles said an injured guard is rare, though he recalled one whose ear was nipped by the mirror of a truck.

"I know it's a danger, but I don't think about it. I do my job," he said. "I like the kids."

Guards undergo training outlined by the state Department of Transportation. Training includes an eight-hour class, two tests and two evaluations once the guards are stationed at a post.

The Clearwater Police Department employs about 70 guards who work 10 to 20 hours per week for $10.41 per hour.

"They are really the unsung heroes of the community," said Dana Crosby, program administrator for the state's training program. "They're out there trying to keep our babies safe."

On Wednesday, Runkles took one of Carey's posts near Oak Grove Middle and Skycrest Elementary on Cleveland Street.

"He was an awesome guy," Runkles said.

On Tuesday morning, a Cadillac heading west on Gulf-to-Bay ran a red light and collided with a Honda making a left onto Belcher. The impact spun the Cadillac toward Carey, standing at the northwest corner. Carey, a retired Clearwater police officer, died at the scene.

The Cadillac driver, Julious Johnson, ran, leaving behind his injured daughters, ages 2 and 4, police said. He was arrested moments later and remained at the Pinellas County Jail on Wednesday in lieu of $481,000 bail.

His daughters remained at All Children's Hospital, but are expected to recover.

On Wednesday morning, a memorial of flowers, candles, cards and balloons grew at the corner where Carey stood the day before. Drivers tapped their horns and waved at the guards.

"He was just a good guy. He worked with all the kids," said Laney Walker, a mother of three, who added a balloon to the memorial. "He was always smiling, always waving."

A yellow sign at the memorial read: "Thank you to our crossing guard Doug Carey for serving our community and keeping our children safe.

"You are not forgotten."

Times staff researcher Natalie A. Watson contributed to this report. Contact Laura C. Morel at [email protected] or (727) 445-4157.

     
 
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