Youngster Made the Most of His Too-Short Life : Irrepressible DeAndre Bell worked hard to satisfy his sweet tooth and help out with the family expenses. The 9-year-old was killed when he collided with a bus while skating along a city street.
Nine-year-old DeAndre Bell loved the in-line skates his mother gave him for Christmas last month.
He’d strap them on for trips to school, the store and even his daily treks in search of odd jobs to make the pocket money that helped sustain not only his insatiable sweet tooth but his three-member family as well.
DeAndre was skating east along 60th Street last week to return a library book when he collided with a school bus turning left onto southbound Budlong Avenue.
The quick-witted boy who loved cartoons and bartering suffered massive internal injuries and died a short time later at Martin Luther King-Drew Medical Center.
The bus was carrying students from an East Los Angeles high school, and witnesses reported that the boy skated into the intersection and appeared to have been caught off guard by the school bus.
The county coroner’s office has ruled the collision an accident. Still, state law requires that the bus driver be tested for drugs and alcohol. The results of his blood screening were not yet available.
Meanwhile, the boy’s mother, Cynthia Samuals, continues to grapple with the loss of her youngest son, with whom she’ll never again snuggle on the living room floor to watch TV.
When asked what she’ll miss most about DeAndre, Samuals hung her head and in a hoarse voice said, “Everything.”
DeAndre Bell was born June 16, 1985, one month premature and with poorly developed lungs. He weighed just 4 pounds, 7 ounces, and doctors gave him little hope of survival.
“Everybody thought he was going to die,” said Samuals, who had lost another son to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome 10 years earlier. “But when I went down (to the neonatal unit) and picked him up, I knew he was going to make it. He was tough.”
DeAndre defied the doctors’ prognosis and grew to be a tall, skinny boy with a love for anything chocolate.
A heart murmur kept him from playing sports, so the boy turned to a pastime born from his innate charm and his family’s modest means: hustling work and making money.
“Everybody that looked at him knew he was going to be somebody,” Samuals said.
DeAndre attended Raymond Avenue Elementary School. After school and on weekends, he scoured his South-Central neighborhood for odd jobs. He’d take almost any work, from washing cars to mopping stores.
Nef Juarez, a supervisor at Fairmount Tire & Rubber Co. on Slauson Avenue, remembers paying the boy $5 to fill toilet paper dispensers and help load “baby tires” onto trucks.
“He was a great little kid,” Juarez said. “He was always helpful and had a lot of potential. He was always willing to learn.”
In fact, Juarez frequently helped the boy with schoolwork. The two had a deal to go to Magic Mountain amusement park once the boy had mastered his multiplication tables through 6. The day before his death, DeAndre called Juarez and correctly rattled off scores of equations. The pair’s planned outing for the following Sunday, however, never came to pass.
The boy’s resourcefulness in earning money didn’t stop with odd jobs. According to his family, DeAndre was an aspiring entrepreneur who saw a chance to make a buck just about everywhere he looked.
When he wasn’t charging his mother 100% interest on a $2 loan to buy cigarettes, the boy was out selling 25-cent candies from a grab bag of treats he only paid a quarter for. DeAndre was the only youngster in the area, Samuals said, who had credit with the ice cream man.
Still, his mother remembered she was careful to make sure her son’s eye for a deal didn’t get him into trouble.
“I told him to stay away from drug dealers,” she said. “One time he came up and said, ‘Momma, I want to make some fast money now,’ and I told him, ‘There’s no such thing as fast money. You got to go to school and get a good job. That’s the only way.’ ”
The money the boy earned went for toys and candy for him and frequently food for his family. Samuals recalled that her son was often up and gone by 7 a.m. only to return an hour later with milk and cereal he had earned sweeping out a market.
On the afternoon of his death, DeAndre was skating toward John Muir Library with 50 cents on his mind. Samuals had left the money as a deposit, and it would be his as soon as he returned the V.C. Andrews suspense novel his mother had checked out days earlier. The book, “Dark Angel,” was among the items investigators recovered at the scene.
Meanwhile, the collision shook the 18 students who were riding the bus home after a long day at Bravo Medical Magnet School.
The ninth- through 12th-graders took off more than an hour of class the day after the incident to meet with counselors and a school district psychologist to discuss their feelings.
Also shaken were employees at the Home Base on Slauson Avenue where the boy’s mother works part time.
Brenda Farmer, who handles special orders at the hardware and lumber outlet, remembered that DeAndre called his mother every afternoon. “She was always getting off the phone and telling us something that he did that was just amazing to her.”
To help the family pay the boy’s funeral expenses, Farmer and another employee opened a burial fund at a local bank. Contributions may be made to the DeAndre Bell Trust Fund, c/o Jannie Smith, Great Western Bank, 1027 W. Manchester Ave., Los Angeles 90044.
The boy’s burial was Friday.
Samuals holds tight to the memory of her independent young son. “It’s the world’s loss,” she said. “He sure was something.”
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Safety Tips for Skating
DeAndre Bell was using in-line skates when he was fatally injured Jan. 12 in a collision with a school bus. Although the exact circumstances of the collision remain unclear, police said the boy appeared to have skated into the intersection unaware of the bus. The federal Consumer Product Safety Commission has compiled the following safety tips for in-line skating:
* Beginning skaters should take lessons or get instruction on braking, controlling speed, turning and stopping. Most in-line skates have brake pads in the heel. To stop, place one foot in front of the other, raise the toes of the front foot and push down on the heel brake.
* Wear gloves, elbow and knee pads, wrist guards and helmets intended for use with skateboards or roller skates.
* Don’t skate in traffic.
* Skate on smooth, paved surfaces and avoid streets, driveways or surfaces with water, sand, gravel, oil, debris or dirt.
* Don’t skate at night.
* Never wear anything that restricts hearing or blocks vision.