Diocesan News

Crossing Guard Hit and Seriously Hurt Outside Queens Catholic School Is Back on the Job

Serving Middle Village for years, Liliana D’Onofrio is back working at the intersection of Eliot Avenue and 71st Street. (Photo: Alicia Venter)

By Alicia Venter, Staff Writer

MIDDLE VILLAGE — The students and their parents at Our Lady of Hope Catholic Academy got a welcome surprise when they showed up for school on Monday morning, June 10: After a nine-month absence, their beloved crossing guard, Liliana D’Onofrio, was back on her usual corner.

D’Onofrio needed the time away to rest and recover after she was seriously injured by a motorist who was driving while intoxicated and struck her as she was doing the job she has loved for 16 years — seeing that the students at Our Lady of Hope Academy make it to and from school safely.

On Monday, much to the delight of students and their parents, D’Onofrio, 64, was there, in her bright yellow crossing guard jacket, at the corner of Eliot Avenue and 71st Street, the same intersection where she was struck in September. 

She hadn’t told anyone in advance she was returning, and was humbly overjoyed at the warm welcome she received from the grateful school community.

“I’m so happy I took the time to get better and I was welcomed back by the community, by the parents, and by the kids. I got hugs and kisses, and it just made me so happy,” D’Onofrio said.

The accident that injured D’Onofrio was during dismissal on Sept. 26, as parents, students, and faculty watched in horror as she was struck by a Mercedes driven by a woman identified as Sinead Welsh, 51. 

The crossing guard suffered head trauma and was transported to NYC Health + Hospitals/Elmhurst by EMS, where she was listed in critical but stable condition. Welsh was arrested at the scene by police, and charged with reckless endangerment and DWI.

Our Lady of Hope student Aidan Moylan was being picked up by his mother when the incident occurred and remembers the aftermath of the crash. He was happy to see D’Onofrio back on the job, saying he was unsure if she would return.

Liliana D’Onofrio greets her Middle Village community on Thursday, June 13. (Photo: Alicia Venter)

“We love her, so it was very scary,” Aidan said.

D’Onofrio’s recovery included six weeks of physical therapy, but happily noted that now, back on the job, “I feel like I’m alive again.” 

Families and children stopped during their morning commutes and afternoon pickups to hug D’Onofrio and celebrate her return. Some drivers slowed down at the light, rolling down their windows to welcome back the familiar face. 

The Middle Village resident has been a crossing guard at the corner since 2008, has watched countless Our Lady of Hope Academy students grow up, and has become an integral part of the community.

D’Onofrio was struck at an intersection many careless drivers take at high speeds, yet, unlike other nearby streets, lacks a speed bump. 

A few years ago, Jennifer Limberg, the mother of a second grade student, was rear-ended on the street outside the school. She was seven months pregnant at the time, and remembers that D’Onofrio rushed to the car and comforted her. 

“Lilly just makes [my daughter’s] day extra special. She is the pillar of the community. She connects everybody,” Limberg said.

D’Onofrio is not the only crossing guard hit by a motorist while on the job this school year. In October, 63-year-old Krystyna Naprawa was in the crosswalk at Woodhaven Boulevard and Atlantic Avenue when she was struck and killed by a vehicle.

Despite the implementation of the much-touted Vision Zero initiative a decade ago, New York City still continues to battle with traffic safety issues. The city recorded 60 traffic deaths in the first three months of the year — the deadliest start to a calendar year in 10 years, the Gothamist reported.

D’Onofrio is thankful that she can return to her job. So are her students.

“I was glad. Lilly made a lot of kids happy,” said fifth grade student Nathan Jamison. Nathan’s  grandmother, Evangeline Roca was ecstatic when she saw that D’Onofrio had returned, and greeted her with a warm hug. 

“My day is always very bright if I can see her,” Roca said. “She’s really very good. Nobody can replace her.”