Two years ago Saturday, I heard sirens from afar as I awoke at our house in Wantagh. I lifted my head, checked the clock. It was shortly after 6 a.m. and I knew my husband was already on the train to Manhattan and our four children would still be asleep. I put my head back on my pillow.
About 20 minutes later I awoke to banging on my front door. Two police officers asked me if I knew who Brittany Vega was.
"Yes, that's my daughter," I said. "She's in her bed sleeping."
"Ma'am, there's been an accident on Sunrise Highway and your daughter was hit by a car," an officer said.
"No, she's in her room!" I said, and ran to prove them wrong.
But Brittany wasn't there. Her room was empty. The sirens had been for her.
An officer walked over to me with his ear on his cellphone. I looked at him and he said, "I'm sorry, Mrs. Vega, she didn't make it."
Brittany, 14, had gotten up early and instead of taking the bus, decided to walk to school, apparently to meet a teacher before class. Although she was forbidden to do so, she crossed the busy six-lane Sunrise Highway and was hit by a car. The driver, who remained at the scene, was not charged. A bank surveillance video showed Brittany used the crosswalk, but was wearing a hood, blocking her peripheral vision.
Brittany was our first-born, a freshman who was optimistic about attending Wantagh High School. She was a Girl Scout, loved music and was the kind of person who befriended shy, ostracized kids. Others came to her for advice. At home, she was helping her 2-year-old brother recover from burns he suffered when he fell into embers of a dying campfire weeks earlier.
Her loss created a void in our lives that will never be filled. It also opened my eyes to unsafe roads for pedestrians.
I learned about the nonprofit Tri-State Transportation Campaign on Facebook and called to ask questions. They asked if I would use Brittany's passing to publicize the need for safer roads and sidewalks. I said yes.
I collected more than 4,000 signatures on a petition in favor of a policy called Complete Streets, which requires pedestrian and cyclist safety to be considered in road or transportation planning. State Sen. Charles Fuschillo Jr. (R-Merrick) sponsored a bill for the policy to apply to state and federally funded roads. It was passed in Albany and signed by the governor. Some local towns have adopted Complete Streets for their roads, and I will ask Nassau County to do the same.
Now I'm taking my campaign to schools, to speak to students about safety. I also urge all parents to teach their children -- even very young ones -- how to cross the street. It's not enough just to look both ways. Teach them to keep looking around, and not to let hoods block their vision. Teach them about traffic lights and signs, crosswalks, and to push the signal button to get more time to cross. Always cross only at corners -- and never text or talk on a phone while doing so.
Government action and a public information campaign won't bring Brittany back, but they can help others. And I'll sleep a little better knowing my other children will be able to walk along local roads safely and return home at the end of the day.