It might have been a broad-daylight traffic tragedy.
The light turned red, but the car didn’t stop. The driver, focusing on his cell phone, swung into the intersection to make his left turn — straight into the path of a young boy.
“That’s when I grabbed him and snatched him back,” said crossing guard Daisy Marshall, who was escorting the boy across busy NW 12th Avenue to Boca Raton Middle School. The driver screeched to a stop within 10 inches of Marshall’s leg. “I put my hand on his hood and yelled ‘You almost hit this child!’ ” Mitchell said.
Protective instincts and quick thinking are qualities every local police department looks for in a school crossing guard. In this case, Boca Raton police have been blessed with 19 year’s worth of Marshall’s protective instincts. Her track record — and especially that close call with the cell-phone-distracted driver — earned her a Distinguished Service Award from the Traffic Safety Committee of the Palm Beaches during the organization’s annual service awards luncheon June 2.
Marshall, 57, has bonded with hundreds of school children over the years. When school is in session, she’s on duty at 7:15 a.m. at Mitchell Elementary School, then switches to her post outside Boca Raton Middle School at 8:35 a.m. She comes back later to do the after-school shift at both locations. Then she goes off to her night-shift-supervisor job at a large commercial print shop.
“I like doing it because of the kids,” Marshall says of her crossing-guard duties. “The little kids always have a story to tell me or something going on. I had this one kid, his mom yelled at him before school, and I told him, ‘OK, don’t worry, take a deep breath, dry your eyes, and let’s go to school.’ He looked at my uniform and said ‘Are you gonna lock my mom up?’ I said, ‘Well next time she hollers at you, you let me know.’
“His mom came the next day and he said, ‘Can you please lock her up now?’ and I said ‘noooooo … but maybe next time she yells at you, I’ll do it then.’ ” She winks and laughs.
After gripping her hand-held stop sign at the same schools for so many years, Marshall has watched students grow up, become parents themselves, and send their own children to her crosswalks. And she has seen a lot of change in the way kids behave.
“Ten years ago, kids were more laid back. They’d tease me, do silly stuff like tap me on the shoulder. But now they act like big kids. They have cell phones and they don’t like to stop and walk their bikes across the street,” Marshall says. She makes them do it anyway. If they disobey, she makes sure they miss the traffic signal and have to wait for the next one.
“I think I make a good impression on the kids because they listen to me … even though they get upset when I tell them to do something right, you know,” she says.
“This one kid, his friends were telling him to say the D word — damn — and I said no! That’s a bad word. I told his mom he was using bad language around me, and she made him go home and write ‘I’m sorry Miss Daisy’ 300 times on a piece of paper. I felt bad for him! He’s a nice kid.”
And then there was the not-so-nice kid who was fooling around in the middle of the road, being deliberately dangerous as his friends egged him on.
She followed him home.
“I watched to see where he went, and at the end of my shift I drove over there and knocked on the door,” she says. “He came to the door and his eyes got so big! He said ‘Please go — I’m sorry, I won’t do it again’ and I heard his mom say ‘Who’s down there?’ and the kid said ‘Please, Miss Crossing Guard, please, I promise you, just go!’ Well, I left ’cause I didn’t want him to get in trouble.
“I had no more problems with him,” Marshall says. “He became my best friend. When he went into eighth grade, he gave me a $5 Dunkin’ Donuts gift card.”
What’s next for Marshall? Retirement?
“No, I’m a workaholic. I don’t like being home doing nothing,” she says. “I’ll be doing this until God says I can’t do it any more.”
Other Boca Raton honorees at the Traffic Safety Committee of the Palm Beaches’ 26th annual Distinguished Service Awards included a police DUI-testing inspector and a Boca-based nonprofit devoted to traffic fatality reduction.
• Boca Raton police officer John Brock, who primarily does traffic law enforcement, was recognized for his “side job”: keeping the department’s Intoxilizer 8000 functioning according to state specifications. The Intoxilizer is Florida’s standard evidentiary breath-testing instrument used in DUI arrests. A reading of .08 or higher is evidence of unlawful intoxication behind the wheel.
“In the city of Boca Raton, we make a lot of DUI arrests,” said Brock. “So I’d like to say, hey, if you’re going to come to Boca, you better get a designated driver or call a cab. Don’t drink and drive.”
Brock says the average DUI arrest costs defendants about $5,000 when all is said and done.
“It’s gonna cost you a night in jail, your car’s gonna get towed, you’ll need to hire an attorney, there’ll be fines to pay, and you’ll lose some work time going to court.” DUI arrestees who refuse to provide a breath sample via the Intoxilizer automatically lose their driver’s licenses for one year.
• The Dori Slosberg Foundation was recognized for its efforts to get teenagers to buckle up. The foundation sponsored a seat belt compliance contest called “In the Click” that counted the number of students, parents and teachers wearing their seat belts both before and after being exposed to seat belt safety messages. The school that showed the most improvement in usage (Boca Raton High School) was awarded a cash prize to put toward “safe graduation” parties designed to keep partying teens off the road.
The foundation was established in Boca Raton seven years ago to reduce fatalities and serious injuries on Florida roadways. It is named after the daughter of state Rep. Irving Slosberg, D-Boca Raton, who died in a car accident while unbuckled.