Following more than 100 days in the hospital after being struck by an SUV in a crosswalk, Glen Cove crossing guard Carlos “Charlie” Vazquez finally went home Tuesday.
Vazquez left Glen Cove Hospital in a wheelchair, wiping away tears as more than 100 students, teachers, police, firefighters, doctors and nurses clapped and cheered for his recovery.
He said he doesn’t remember the Oct. 6 crash on Dosoris Lane, outside Deasy Elementary School, when he was struck by an 82-year-old Bayville man, who remained at the scene and was not charged.
Of course, he doesn't remember the two weeks he spent in a medically induced coma at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset and the two weeks after he was moved to the brain injury unit in Glen Cove, at the hospital that employs him as an environmental services worker. His wife and his daughter work there, too, in the brain injury unit that cared for him.
“I’m happy I’m alive,” he said on Tuesday, dabbing his eyes. “I don’t remember anything from the day before until two weeks in here.”
Greg Smith, a volunteer Locust Valley firefighter, was at the crosswalk at the time of the crash. He saw Vazquez knocked unconscious and called 911.
Smith returned to the hospital Tuesday with his 9-year-old son Jack to see Vazquez go home.
“He was in the crosswalk stopping traffic for me and the next thing I knew he was down on the ground,” Smith said. “I was grateful I was there to help in a tragedy."
Glen Cove Mayor Pamela Panzenbeck said she watched as they loaded Vazquez into an ambulance before he was airlifted in critical condition.
“I never anticipated an outcome like this,” she said. “it's a miracle and a blessing.”
Waiting outside the hospital were students from the elementary school and Robert Finley Middle School, where Vazquez would also guide students across the street.
He said he knew he'd eventually go home.
"I’m so amazed by the kids. I’m overwhelmed they came here," Vazquez said. "I know people were asking for me. I think it helped a lot and got me to work harder and get healthier quicker. I knew this day would come eventually and it finally came today."
It was the second time Vazquez was struck by a vehicle. In 1985, while training for distance running in the Olympics, he was hit by a 40-ton Mack truck. He had to get a prosthetic leg.
Vazquez's wife called him “a man of steel.”
“It’s a miracle he’s here and I had faith in his friends in the community and I had faith in him to pull through,” Elizabeth Martino Vazquez said.
Vazquez left Glen Cove Hospital to a fanfare of clapping, pompoms and cheers of "Charlie!" as he was led out of the hospital in a wheelchair.
Vazquez said he hopes to ride his motorcycle again and return to the crosswalk where he greeted students.
His doctors said he still has major recovery steps before him, including learning to walk again. But he has made great strides from suffering two heart attacks after the crash, spending weeks on a ventilator and a feeding tube.
His internist, Dr. Michael De Angelis, summed it up: "I saw Charlie at his worst and through his dedication and determination, I can honestly say Charlie, you are a miracle."