Elle's Law signed after near death of toddler

September 24, 2010 3:41:04 AM PDT
Four-year-old Elle Vandenberghe's near death experience after being hit by a car has prompted a law to punish reckless drivers.

Elle Vandenberghe is up front with people about her age. She's not 4. She's 4 1/2, and she's feisty about the paparazzi. It's a far cry from a year ago.

Elle was riding her scooter on 82nd Street near York Avenue last September, just inches in front of her babysitter.

They looked both ways to cross the Upper East Side street.

Witnesses say a driver doing 20 miles per hour slammed into three-year-old Elle. Police say he was reversing the wrong way down a one-way street trying to get an open parking spot.

"Our lives were ruined. His wasn't. He wasn't affected hardly at all. He got a ticket," said Elle's mother, Heather Vandenberghe.

As Elle spent four months in intensive care and underwent eleven surgeries, her mother learned the driver only got a traffic citation.

Elle suffered multiple skull fractures from the crash- one caused a stroke that destroyed two thirds of the left side of her brain.

"We didn't know if she was going to live," Vandenberghe said. "She spent over two weeks in a coma. It was a medically induced coma. There were a lot of drugs being pumped into her to keep her alive and heal her brain."

She continued, "The neurologist told me she would never walk again, that she would never talk again and would never be able to move her right side. And they said this is the reality you should prepare yourself for."

In the middle of this crisis, Vandenberghe channeled her anger into change- working in Albany to push for Elle's law.

Under Elle's Law, if a driver flouts a traffic law and hurts a pedestrian they can lose their license for six months. If it's a repeat offense, they're looking at up to a year.

Three weeks ago, the governor signed it into law- putting up public service announcements showing Elle's picture and saying, "She almost died for a parking space."

Pedestrians say it's about time.

Jamaica queens pedestrian Noel Gayle said, "Yesterday I seen somebody get into an accident. They bust a u-turn real quick to get a parking spot and another car almost ran into them and hit them."

Upper East Side pedestrian Matt O'Neill said, "It's an everyday thing. I guess I'm lucky to be alive after all the times I could have been hit."

Pedestrian Alan Levine said, "You have to have eyes on the back of your head. You have to have eyes on the side of your head. You have to be so careful."

Elle is back in school, and cognitive tests show she's an average healthy four and a half year old with some physical limitations.

"She walks with a brace on her leg and she has trouble moving her right hand, but I got my daughter back," said Vandenberghe. "That's better than anything."