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Toddler Hit by Taxi Becomes Rallying Point for Pedestrian Safety Upgrades

 Liam Seiden and his longtime nanny Lucy Alberto are still reeling from the car crash that fractured Alberto's back a year ago this month.
Liam Seiden
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GREENWICH VILLAGE — For months after a taxi slammed into his stroller and knocked him to the ground, Liam Seiden was afraid to get back into it, insisting to his mother that it was a "bad stroller."

Liam, who is now 3, became extra cautious about crossing the street after the June 2013 crash, which occurred as he and his babysitter, Lucy Alberto, were crossing West 11th Street in the crosswalk to pick up his older sister at P.S. 41.

"He still brings it up," Karen Haberberg, Liam's mother, said recently. "He remembers it well. He'll say, 'The stroller went over, it was raining.'"

Nearly a year after the June 10 crash, Liam's scrapes and bruises have healed, but Alberto, 54, whose back was fractured, is still in pain and often needs to wear a brace. Liam's parents, who covered thousands of dollars in medical bills for Liam and Alberto, are still fighting to get reimbursed by the taxi's insurance company.

The crash has become a rallying point for local parents and P.S. 41 principal Kelly Shannon, who were so shaken by the incident at the school's doorstep that they launched a campaign to improve pedestrian safety in the area.

"We want to make sure all of the children in our neighborhood are safe walking to and from school," Shannon said last month. "We're responsible for each and every one of them, and if we can do anything in our power to see that they get safely to and from school, we want to do that."

The school community is pushing the city to extend an already-approved West Village Slow Zone one block to the east, to encompass Sixth Avenue and several schools, including P.S. 41. After hearing from worried parents, Community Board 2 recently voted unanimously in favor of extending the slow zone, and a Department of Transportation spokesman said the agency is "reviewing the request."

The crash that set the pedestrian safety campaign in motion occurred on a rainy Monday afternoon, as Alberto pushed Liam in a stroller toward his older sister Maya's school.

Alberto didn't see the taxi, which was turning from Sixth Avenue onto 11th Street, until the last moment. She turned her back to it, trying to protect the stroller, and Liam, with her body.

"When I saw the taxi, it was very late, impossible to do something," Alberto recalled while visiting Liam in his family's Chelsea home. "It was so scary."

The taxi slammed into Alberto, leaving her lying on the road, unable to get up.

Liam was pitched face-first onto the pavement, where he was trapped beneath his stroller. One of his teeth was chipped and one side of his face was scraped and bruised.

He screamed for Alberto, but she couldn't comfort him.

"Lucy couldn't move," Liam recalled, sitting on Alberto's lap as she told the story recently.

Horrified parents who witnessed the crash raced over to help, while others ran inside the school to get Shannon. When the ambulance arrived, Shannon got in and rode with Alberto and Liam to Bellevue Hospital. Liam grabbed Alberto's hand and held it the whole time.

Meanwhile, Haberberg and Liam's father, Bob Seiden, had gotten word of the crash from the school and rushed to the hospital to be with their son and Alberto, whom Haberberg has known for decades because she also babysat for relatives.

"It was horrible," Haberberg said. "It was the worst moment of my life."

Police filled out a report on the accident and interviewed a witness but decided not to charge the taxi driver, records show.

Alberto believes that the driver simply didn't see her in the pouring rain, even though she was in the crosswalk, according to the police report.

"You have to check, and go slow," she said.

"It's sort of a wakeup call, in terms of just the safety of your kids in the city and what they're exposed to and how reckless people can be," Haberberg said. "It's pouring rain out — you'd think [drivers] would be a little more careful."

After the accident, Alberto was nearly immobile for three months and was not able to return to work for six months. Caring for young Liam was too much for her physically, so she began working for a family with older children.

Liam's parents covered Alberto's medical bills and have been battling the taxi's insurance company, American Transit Insurance Company, for help in paying them.

A company representative said American Transit paid $4,100 for Alberto's medical care in September, but Liam's parents said that was less than the total cost.

While Liam recovered from his physical injuries quickly, his emotional healing took longer, partly because he missed getting to see the woman who had spent nearly every day with him since he was born. He called Alberto his "best friend."

Now a chatty, friendly toddler, Liam has mostly adjusted to his new caregiver. And he has a new stroller, which he is no longer afraid to use.

Sometimes, though, when crossing the street, he reminds his mother that they need to stop and look both ways first, "so Lucy doesn't get hit by a car."