A distracted driver changed the life of a school police officer last December.
Officer Bob Keating, a Wellington resident who has spent the past 12 years with the Palm Beach County School District, was hit by a woman driving a Ford F-150 truck Dec. 15 as he was directing traffic at Wellington Landings Middle School.
The 6-foot-2, 240-pound Keating said witnesses later told him he flew into the air upon impact. He said he suffered two broken bones in his left knee, three herniated discs and internal bleeding in the accident.
“She didn’t see me,” Keating said of Danielle Hamilton, the car’s driver. “I don’t know how she didn’t see me. She turned in (to the school), so if she was going any faster, I would have been killed instantly. But because she turned in, when she hit me, I flew in the air. I tried to get up, but I couldn’t.”
According to an accident report filed by the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office, Hamilton said that Keating was distracted by someone else and walked into the path of her car as he was motioning her to turn into the school entrance.
Hamilton also told another officer that her daughter distracted her, and she turned her head for a second, and when she turned her head back, Keating was in front of her car, the report said.
According to the report, Hamilton got out of her car after the accident and hugged Keaton. She told him she did not see him.
The accident report did not specify what Hamilton was distracted by at the time of the accident, but Keating said he was told she was on her cellphone.
Hamilton, 38, a Wellington resident, was cited for careless driving.
When reached Friday, she declined to comment.
Bystanders took immediate action after the accident to aid Keating, a retired New York City homicide detective, who works morning and afternoon shifts directing traffic at Wellington Landings.
One student called 911, and another went to get her dad, a fire rescue captain who was on campus as part of the school’s Watch D.O.G.S. (Dads of Great Students) volunteering program.
“He came out and assessed me,” Keating, 59, said. “He had me stable before fire rescue came for me.”
Keating’s recovery was a long one.
He didn’t return to work until Aug. 1, nearly eight months after the accident. Two weeks later, he was back directing traffic at Wellington Landings.
“I’m lucky to be alive,” said Keating, who continues to nurse a bad back from the accident. “My whole outlook on life has changed, because I had a near-death experience. I was a cop in New York for 23 years. I did homicides. I was shot at. Never got hurt. Now I get run over by a soccer mom in Wellington, Florida.”
Keating took safety precautions before the accident, but he said he’s even more careful now about protecting himself.
“My head is on a swivel, because I don’t want to get hit again,” he said. “But cellphones and inattentive driving is what caused the accident.”
Keating hopes his experience will serve as a cautionary tale for drivers, particularly in school zones.
He wants drivers to put their phones away and pay attention to their surroundings. He says it’s his job to look out for students, but he hopes drivers also look out for him.
“Just be patient,” he said. “I’m a parent first, but I’m also a cop. I want to make sure your kid gets home safe.”