Debra Richter is one of those mothers who instinctively extends her right arm across her child’s body when she hits the brakes. It’s just what moms do.
Richter put those maternal instincts to good use — many are saying heroic use — Monday afternoon when the 57-year-old crossing guard pushed an intermediate school student from the path of an oncoming SUV at a busy crosswalk and was struck by the vehicle.
The black SUV knocked Richter to the ground, dragged her a bit and came to a stop with its right front tire on top of Richter’s left leg.
Richter, who was working at the intersection of Hewitt Drive and Panther Way, suffered a broken ankle and went to see a specialist Tuesday afternoon to determine whether her injury will require surgery.
Like many praised with the accolade “hero,” Richter doesn’t see herself that way and seemed more concerned Monday night about raising money to pay for a new bicycle for the boy she saved because his was damaged in the 3:30 p.m. incident.
“No, I don’t think I am a hero, really,” she said. “If it was you, you would push a child out of the way, too. It’s a child. His mom and the boy came to the hospital to see me. He was really shaken up and really sad. His mother was extremely appreciative and very upset, too. But that’s why I do that job — to protect the kids — and that is what I was doing.”
Richter, who said she has had a few near-misses in the past, won’t let the incident deter her from getting back out at the busy intersection as soon as she is able.
Jerry Hamar, stepfather of the 12-year-old sixth-grader, thinks Richter is a hero and said he wants to use the close call as a reminder to others to pay attention while they are driving.
“The woman saved my stepson’s life,” Hamar said, choking back his emotions as he spoke. “If she hadn’t been there or only thought about herself and getting herself out of the way, the SUV would have kept going and run over my stepson and he would be badly hurt or dead. I would never be able to live with that. She is an absolute hero in every sense of the word.”
Hewitt Police Chief Jim Devlin and Midway school officials also view Richter as a hero.
“I think that is fantastic,” Devlin said. “I think that is an instinct that she possesses based on her training as a crossing guard. They are out there to protect those kiddos as they go back and forth. I just think it is fantastic and it speaks a lot about her character.”
The incident remains under investigation and the results will determine if charges will be filed or citations issued against the driver of the SUV, a 44-year-old woman, Devlin said.
Richter, a New York native who hasn’t lost much of her Brooklyn accent despite living in Waco for 25 years, also works in the cafeteria at Castleman Creek Elementary School, 755 S. Hewitt Drive. Besides her afternoon duties as a crossing guard, she also is, in her words, “a lunchroom lady.”
According to Castleman Creek Principal Shelley Polk, Richter is much more than just a lunchroom lady.
“She is a very dedicated staff member and totally devoted to our kids,” Polk said. “She works in our cafeteria and serves kids lunch every day, but she also makes it a goal for herself that she doesn’t stay in the cafeteria but moves out where they are seated and she sits and visits with the kids and builds relationships with our kids. She loves our students and really wants to be there for them, and the kids love her. She makes them feel valued and makes them feel special.”
Richter, who has worked for Midway Independent School District since 2003, has been a crossing guard for about eight years, she said. Polk said Richter won the district’s Extra Mile Award in 2014, which recognizes employees who go above and beyond the call of duty. She won the award for buying books with her own money that Castleman Creek officials used as student incentives and awards, Polk said.
Hamar said he had picked up his 8-year-old stepdaughter and was on Panther Way when they saw police cars blocking the intersection. As they neared, they saw Richter lying on the ground and his stepdaughter yelled that she saw her brother with his bent and broken bicycle.
His stepson told him that Richter saved his life by pushing him back. After the accident, the boy told him Richter was beating on the hood of the SUV with her stop sign and yelling for her to stop. The boy ran over to the car and starting hitting the window, yelling for the driver to back up because the tire was on Richter’s left leg, Hamar said.
“First, that intersection needs to be addressed. It is dangerous,” Hamar said. “Second, I think people are in a hurry and need to drive with more grace. All people need to do is put the graphic thought of a dead child in their minds and that will make them think twice about not paying attention while they are driving.”
Midway school officials and parents invite those who would like to contribute restaurant gift cards to Richter and her family during her recovery or contribute to buy the boy a new bicycle to send donations to Castleman Creek Elementary School or Woodgate Intermediate School, respectively.