October 3, 2004
Crossing guard Kelley Frazier scans four lanes of Monday morning traffic while partner Shannon Smith stands on the other side of Guadalupe Road in Gilbert, waiting for a group of ponytailed little girls to reach her.
Bumper-to-bumper westbound traffic creeps through the crosswalk. A woman in a green Honda Civic is chatting on her cell phone; two cars in front of her, a bearded man chomps into what looks like a Sausage McMuffin. From behind her black Ray-Ban sunglasses, Frazier spots a red Dodge Caravan with Minnesota license plates.
"That’s her," Frazier says, pointing. The driver habitually sped through the crosswalk until Frazier and Smith set up a sting with Gilbert police; a motorcycle cop lay in wait one day at Patterson Elementary School and caught her in the act.
"We were jumping up and down that day," Frazier says. The driver "gave me the big wave the next day. That’s OK. I can take it."
About eight miles away, in Mesa, crossing guard Amy Ramirez is dismayed by what she sees.
"Hey, Cheetos is not a good breakfast," Ramirez yells to a group of students on their way to Lincoln Elementary School.
"Yeah, but it’s good," fifth-grader Robert Holck says. He licks the bright orange tips of his fingers before putting the bag away.
"You’ve still got time to get to the cafeteria for a good breakfast," Ramirez says before leading them across Center Street.
Years ago, stopping traffic was all anyone expected from a crossing guard. Nowadays they’re putting themselves at risk to bust speeders and admonishing kids for their breakfast choices — all for about $6 an hour.
WELCOME TO SCHOOL
Crossing guards "are the first contact with kids," says Nonda Chomokos, principal of Patterson Elementary School. "Kids don’t always come to school happy. They come to school with issues. There are a whole range of issues they have to be aware of. Wouldn’t it be nice if stopping traffic was all (crossing guards) did?"
While Frazier is still savoring the memory of busting the red Dodge Caravan, a silver BMW slides through the crosswalk at 20 mph. The driver spots Frazier and slows down. It’s too little, too late: Frazier whips out a worn 3-by-5-inch notebook and jots down the BMW’s license plate number. Smith crosses over for a quick consultation.
"Do you think he saw the sign?" Smith asks, pointing to the 35 mph sign west of the school. "There’s no way he was going 35 back there."
The notebook is Frazier and Smith’s brand of vigilante justice: Page after page is filled with license plate numbers scrawled in Frazier’s handwriting. When the book is full, it’ll be turned over to the police, but these drivers won’t end up in traffic court. They’ll get a letter from Gilbert police admonishing their driving behavior in a school zone.
Most of the license plates belong to parents of Patterson pupils.
"I recognize some of these people when I see them at the school," says Frazier, who says when she has confronted parents in person, some sheepishly acknowledge their guilt, while others choose the notso-higher ground.
"One woman cursed me out right in front of her secondgrader," she says. "He just stood there looking scared. Some people are really nice, and some are just hateful."
When Patterson opened its doors in 1979, Guadalupe Road was the edge of civilization in the East Valley. Pastoral acres surrounded the school for miles; there were no sidewalks on either side of the road. Now, four lanes of traffic are crammed with commuters twice a day.
"We have a West Coast mentality in Gilbert," says Anthony Anger, president of Citizens for Child School Safety. "It’s a very frustrating situation." (In what might be an ironic twist, he takes the interview on his cell phone while driving his car.)
Anger, who has three children enrolled in Gilbert schools, is lobbying the district for more crossing guards at major intersections such as Lindsay and Ray roads. Pedestrian incidents are the secondleading cause of death in children age 5 to 18, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Most of those deaths occurred before and after school outside of crosswalks.
"What you see is unbelievable," Chomokos says. "One morning I saw a woman flossing her teeth and driving with her knees."
The children Ramirez guides face multiple threats on their way to and from Lincoln: They have to cross a set of railroad tracks before they wander through industrial businesses and wait for Ramirez to stop speeding cars and tractor-trailers loaded with lumber.
"They just fly through here," Ramirez says.
The tardy bell rings at 8:30 a.m., and the usual group of stragglers crosses the railroad tracks.
"Did you wake up late, or were you busy watching TV and didn’t want to go to school?" Ramirez asks a first-grader.
"Miss Amy" became a crossing guard eight years ago, when her daughter enrolled at Lincoln. Her daughter is now in junior high school, but Ramirez, 35, can’t bring herself to leave.
"I’m their friend, and I’m always here," she says. "I wish I would have had someone make that effort to get to know me when I was a kid."