92-year-old Sonoma man denies striking boys in crosswalk
Published: Monday, October 29, 2012 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, October 30, 2012 at 7:23 a.m.
A 92-year-old Sonoma driver who was cited after police said he struck two boys in a crosswalk, seriously injuring one, said Monday he did not hit anyone and he is fine to continue driving.
“I did not run into these children by any stretch of the imagination,” Leo Arkelian said at his home.
But Sonoma police said Arkelian struck Toby Ragueneau, 13, while he and an eighth-grade classmate at Sonoma Charter School were crossing Fifth Street West at about 12:40 p.m. Saturday. Ragueneau suffered a skull fracture. His friend was treated for abrasions and released.
Numerous pedestrians in crosswalks have been hit by cars in recent years in Sonoma County. In Santa Rosa, 10 have been killed since January 2011, including two in the past two weeks.
Ragueneau on Monday was resting in his bed at his Boyes Hot Springs home after he was released earlier in the day from a Napa hospital.
Two classmates dropped by to deliver a large card signed by students, and on his bed was a football bearing the signatures of several players on the Sonoma Jr. Dragons. Ragueneau, who plays for the team, missed the last game of the season because of the accident.
His parents are grateful the outcome wasn't worse. Andre Ragueneau said he experienced “the longest drive of my life” from San Francisco to Napa on Saturday after his wife phoned him to say their son had been gravely injured.
Andre Ragueneau said he holds no ill will toward Arkelian, only to the state Department of Motor Vehicles for allowing the elderly man to have a driver's license.
“I just had this argument with my own father, and he's not allowed to drive anymore,” said Andre Ragueneau, who works as a commercial fisherman and boatwright.
But Arkelian insisted he did not strike the boys.
Photos of his late wife, other family members and of Arkelian in uniform — he said he participated in the invasion of France during World War II — took up every available inch of his kitchen counter and dining room table.
Asked whether he was putting together a photo album, he said, “No, I just like to wave hi when I walk by.”
He said he was returning home from a trip to a Sonoma market on Saturday when he saw a boy pulling a girl's hair in the middle of Fifth Street West as other children rushed to join the fight.
Arkelian said that when he stopped to investigate, one of the children struck the windshield of his Toyota sedan, shattering the glass.
“I said, ‘My God, what is going on with myself here?' I made up my mind to stop and wait,” he said.
Arkelian said he would have known if he caused a collision because he was an insurance adjuster and accident investigator until he retired “a year-and-a-half ago.”
“I used to wonder how in the hell did these people get licenses,” he said. “This was not my fault. My fault was not keeping going when the fight broke out.”
The “girl” Arkelian referred to actually may have been Ragueneau, whose curly locks hang to his shoulders.
Ragueneau and his friend, identified by Andre Ragueneau as Tyler Malone, 13, were walking to another friend's house when they reached the crosswalk on Fifth Street West in front of Sassarini Elementary School.
The crosswalk was upgraded with lights last year when the city installed controversial bike lanes along Fifth Street West in an effort to ease road congestion and promote environmentally friendly modes of travel.
Toby Ragueneau said he and Malone activated the lights before entering the crosswalk. He said he has no memory of being hit, just waking up in the street afterward in pain.
He was taken to Queen of the Valley Hospital in Napa, where his parents, including his mother, Lisa, kept vigil while doctors administered tests to determine the extent of his head injuries. He does not appear to have suffered permanent damage but as a precaution he will miss the rest of the school week.
Andre Ragueneau said a physical education teacher at Sonoma Charter addressed students on Monday with a message to be aware while crossing the street.
Toby said the crash was a “helpful” reminder in that regard, and that in the future, he will “pay better attention.”
Arkelian was cited for failing to yield to pedestrians in a crosswalk. He has five days to make an appointment with the DMV to be evaluated regarding his ability to drive, police said.
He said a police officer at the scene Saturday told him, “I know how old you are, Leo. I think it's time for you to hang it up.”
He said the officer demanded the keys to his car, which apparently is in police custody, as Arkelian could not say Monday where the vehicle was.
“Would I drive again? Yes, I would drive again,” Arkelian said. “The police don't have my license.”
You can reach Staff Writer Derek Moore at 521-5336 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @deadlinederek.
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