BRENTWOOD -- Child safety is always a timely topic of discussion. Two tragic events in East Contra Costa County this week made Saturday's Child Safety Day at the Brentwood Senior Center especially relevant.
Two children were struck and killed by motorists -- Burgess Hu, 12, as he rode his bike to Excelsior Middle School in Byron on Monday, and Ameeya McDonald, 2, as she chased a ball into a residential street in Pittsburg. Ameeya was hit Monday and died of her injuries Thursday night. Neither motorist has been charged with a crime.
Saturday's safety event, co-sponsored by state Assemblyman Jim Frazier, D-Oakley, and the Brentwood Police Officers Association, offered free child safety car seat inspections, child fingerprinting, and child bicycle safety tips.
"Even before these tragic accidents happened, we just wanted to get tips out there for parents," said BPOA president Eric Huesman. "Especially the car seats. The laws have changed so many times recently. The car seats have become more complicated."
For Frazier, the tragedies hit home. In 2000, his 20-year-old daughter, Stephanie Marie, was killed in a car accident while on a snowboarding trip to Lake Tahoe.
"My heart goes out to the family who lost a child," said Frazier, who said he has long been an active proponent of safe routes to school, especially in rural East County. "As a father who lost a child, I completely understand the pain. It really gets to you."
Jeff and Rebecca Castro of Oakley attended Saturday's event with daughter Madelynne, 4, and son Liam, 10 months, to have their car seats inspected. They agreed that child safety is a never-ending vigil.
"I'm what I call a helicopter mom; I'm always hovering," Rebecca Castro said. "I'm a worrywart."
On a recent trip to Disneyland, the Castros put one of Jeff's business cards in Madelynne's pocket, and told her to give it to anyone wearing a Disneyland badge on their shirt should she got lost.
"I'm always looking for different ideas," Rebecca Castro said.
One of the tips distributed Saturday: Take a cellphone picture of your child before you enter a crowded public place such as a mall or a park. Then you have a current picture of your child dressed in the clothes he or she was last wearing, just in case.
"Young kids, they change their appearances so fast," Huesman said. "You always want to have (a picture) that you can show officers."
Huesman, a father of three, said statistics show this is "not a more dangerous time" for kids. Still, he doesn't give his kids the same latitude his parents afforded him.
As a kid, "I had the rules, finish your homework, you go out there and run around with your friends in the neighborhood, and you better be back by the time the streetlights are on," he said. "And your parents were comfortable with that. My kids, when they go to a friend's house, what do I do? I walk out into the front yard and I look down the block and exchange waves with the other parent. I never had those sort of constraints when I was a kid."
Jeff Castro grew up in San Leandro, near a dirt path that went all the way to the foot of the San Mateo Bridge.
"It had bike jumps and everything," he said. "The cool thing was if you could make it all the way to the bridge. When I was a kid my parents gave us boundaries and told us to come back when the streetlights came on."
He doesn't see himself giving his kids the same freedom.
"I'm not saying it's bad," he said. "Just different."
Contact Gary Peterson at 925-952-5053. Follow him at Twitter.com/garyscribe.