She Had Never Considered Kansas City's Streets Dangerous. Then, A Car Hit Her.
LaShanda Temple remembers how quiet the street was that night. It was about 4 a.m. on a Sunday morning this June, and she was leaving a gathering of friends near 31st Street and Benton Boulevard in Kansas City.
"It was real mellow, you know. Not a lot going on. Not a lot of traffic," she says.
LaShanda, 36, was about to get into the driver's side of a friend's car to go home when suddenly she heard the squeal of tires and saw headlights coming straight at her.
"I didn't even get the keys in the door, and I got hit. Not even hit. I got beat up," she says.
A police report would later say a brown-and-gold 1972 Chevy Caprice was attempting to do a "burn out" acceleration when the driver lost control. The Caprice slammed into LaShanda, pinning her against her friend's car, pushing it and her up onto the curb.
"I woke up on the ground, and I didn't really understand what was going on," LaShanda says. "I was asking my friend to pick me up, and she was crying and telling me I couldn't get up."
'My new life'
The crash crushed LaShanda's legs. Her right leg below the knee was "hanging by a string," as she says her friends described it. It would eventually be amputated. Her left leg was broken in several places and would need to be reconstructed with metal rods and plates.
In the weeks since the wreck, LaShanda has endured eight surgeries. She now uses a wheelchair and has had to quit her job at an auto parts warehouse. As she watches a stack of medical bills pile up, she is applying for Medicaid.
Worse than all that, though, is the pain she feels knowing she's now dependent on her family — her wife and three teenage children.
"This is my new life," she says. "Learning how to walk, how to stand up again. I never saw myself in this position, having to have my kids — my sons — help me pull up my pants."
For LaShanda's mother, Rosilyn Temple, it's another unthinkable tragedy.
Seven years ago, Rosilyn Temple's son, Antonio Thompson, was shot and killed. In the years since, Rosilyn has become well known around Kansas City as an anti-violence activist. She founded the group KC Mothers in Charge, and she often shows up at scenes of shootings to counsel victims' families and talk to police.
Still, none of that could prepare her to pick up another late-night phone call with a frantic voice on the other end. This time, it was LaShanda's wife.
"She was screaming, 'It's Shanda. Shanda's gone.' And I couldn't believe that this was happening again," Rosilyn says.
Wrecks like the one that nearly killed LaShanda are another form of violence, Rosilyn says. Maybe not as deadly and publicized as gun violence, but it's hurting Kansas City all the same.
"This community is dangerous," she says.
A dangerous trend
Since the start of June, at least six pedestrians and cyclists have been killed or seriously injured in incidents on Kansas City roadways. The trend has prompted renewed calls for the city to do something to make its streets safer for non-drivers.
"We're alarmed by these incidents," says Michael Kelley, the policy coordinator for BikeWalkKC, a group that advocates for bike- and pedestrian-friendly policies. "If we're willing to make changes, make the investments, they don't have to happen."
Data collected by the Mid-America Regional Council shows a steady climb over the past five years in vechicle crashes that have left pedestrians and cyclists either seriously injured or dead in Kansas City. The number topped out at 65 last year.
Kansas City Police spokesperson Sgt. Jake Becchina says the department's own data suggests this summer hasn't been any worse than previous years.
"I don't think there are any overwhelming environmental factors that contribute to pedestrian safety being more in danger, "he says.
New Kansas City Councilman Eric Bunch disagrees. The co-founder of BikeWalkKC, Bunch and other advocates have long complained that Kansas City's streets are designed to make driving easier with little mind to accommodating pedestrians and cyclists.
And whenever there is a crash that kills or injures a pedestrian, he says, there is often a lack of sympathy for the victim.
"We tend to blame a pedestrian or cyclist for getting hit by a car," he says. "But that's a very shortsighed approach. Often the design of streets means there is no safe way for them to get around."
In 2017, the Kansas City Council unanimously passed the "Complete Streets" ordinance, which aims to make city's streets and sidewalks more accommodating for pedestrians, cyclists and people using wheelchairs. And city leaders, including Bunch and new Mayor Quinton Lucas, are pushing to make public transit in the metro free, a move advocates say could help non-drivers get around the city more safely.
But this summer's incidents, Bunch says, show just how far the city still has to go.
"We're finally getting to the point where we're really paying attention to this, and we should be working now for more meaningful change," he says.
Ready to 'speak up'
Lashanda Temple says she had never given much thought to how treacherous the streets in her neighborhood could be until the wreck that put her in a wheelchair.
But since she's made her first tentative forays out onto the sidewalks near her townhome off of 18th Street, she says she understands how difficult it can be to get around this city without a car.
"It's not safe for people like me: people in wheelchairs, or people walking, trying to cross streets, riding a bike or trying to catch a bus," she says. "It's just hard."
She says her neighborhood is getting better. The street immediately outside her townhome, for instance, has a bike lane. But once she heals more, she says, she is considering how she can use her voice through tragedy, much like her mother has.
"I do want to speak up about this," she says. "I want to be something like my mother. Be a voice for others who can't speak up. Because this needs to get better."
Kyle Palmer is KCUR's morning newscaster and a reporter. You can follow him on Twitter @kcurkyle.