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Posted Thursday, October 23, 2008
Man who hit crossing guard says he'll never drive again
By John R. Ellement
and Andrew Ryan
A despondent 86-year-old man vowed yesterday never to drive again after critically injuring a school crossing guard outside a elementary school, as relatives of the popular Dorchester guard called for tougher rules for elderly drivers.

"I feel so bad. I feel so bad. I cry all night," the driver, Anis G. Cazeau, said in an interview outside his Dorchester home.

Despite his sorrow, Cazeau maintained the collision was not his fault, saying he never saw 58-year-old Marie Conley step into the crosswalk in front of his 1995 Nissan Maxima on Tuesday morning in Dorchester.

"Nothing was in front of me," Cazeau said in an accent and dialect that recalls his native Haiti. "My car was so slow, and I heard a bang on my right side. . . . I see the lady on the floor, and I call the police. I don't ever see her in the front."

Conley has worked for Boston police as a school traffic supervisor assigned to Mather Elementary School on Parish Street for the past eight years. Yesterday, the mother of four remained in critical condition at Boston Medical Center.

Three of her children met briefly with reporters at the hospital, where her oldest son, Jim, spoke for the family. The fourth child, Marine Lance Corporal Christopher Conley, is stationed in Iraq and is expected to return to Boston this week to be with his family.

"We need everybody to say prayers for my mother," said Jim Conley, a firefighter and paramedic from Florida. "It's day by day. And that's how we are taking it."

He was asked what he thought about the age of the driver who struck his mother. "I have a lot of thoughts on that, but age is a big thing with driving," he said. "I see it down in Florida. Obviously, they just need to tighten up on the laws, the rules, for driving at a certain age."

Cazeau has a lengthy driving record, with infractions that date to at least 1985, the limit of the Registry of Motor Vehicles' computer records. It includes six citations for failing to stop, including an incident on June 6, 2002, in which he did not yield for a pedestrian in Dorchester.

Cazeau has also been deemed at least 50 percent responsible for five accidents since 1988 in which there was a minimum of $1,000 in damage or significant injury, records show.

He said that on Tuesday morning he was driving 7 to 10 miles per hour on Winter Street and that he believes Conley walked backward into the side of his car while she was looking toward the children on the sidewalk.

But Police Deputy Superintendent Thomas Lee, commander of detectives and school traffic supervisors, told reporters at the hospital that forensic tests and eyewitnesses contradict Cazeau's account. He said police, in consultation with Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley's office, will be seeking criminal charges of negligent operation of a motor vehicle against Cazeau in the near future. Marie Conley was in full uniform with a reflective vest and standing in the middle of the crosswalk when hit.

"She was in the act of crossing a 10-year-old child. She had placed her hand up to stop the oncoming car," Lee said. "She held off the child, and was struck by the vehicle."

Conley loves children, according to her son, who said the family believes that her actions saved the student's life.

Students remain concerned about the crossing guard's well-being and have been making her get-well cards, said Christopher Horan, a school district spokesman. Counselors have been meeting with students who witnessed the accident and other upset children, he said.

Cazeau, a retired building contractor with bifocals, said that he has been driving since 1962, when he emigrated from Haiti. After a slight stroke last year, he said, the city issued him a handicapped parking permit for a space in front of his home.

On Tuesday morning, Cazeau said, he was clear-headed, noting that the only medication he takes is for high blood pressure.

Mayor Thomas M. Menino praised Conley and expressed hope for a quick recovery.

"For an individual who has given so much in service to their community, this is devastating," Menino said. "We need to pray for Mrs. Conley so that she is back out on the street directing traffic and helping kids."

James Vaznis of the Globe staff contributed to this report.

Copyright 2008 Globe Newspaper Company. Reprinted from the Boston Globe, Metro Section, of Thursday, October 23, 2008.
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