Quarterback, 15, loses leg to stranger's bullet Street violence cuts lives, careers short

October 11, 1992|By Linda Yglesias | Linda Yglesias,New York Daily News

NEW YORK -- The bullet shattered his lower back and knifed through his pelvis, drowning his stomach in blood. He lay bleeding in the street for 40 minutes before paramedics got to him.

Twenty minutes later, 20 blocks away, the ambulance pulled into Kings County Hospital.

Ralph Green, 15 -- a good kid, a mother's pride and joy, a football coach's dream -- lost five liters of blood, his body's total volume, during his first seven hours on the operating table. A stranger's .38-caliber bullet had shattered the major blood vessel in his left leg and his hopes of being a professional football player.

This fall, the 5-foot-9, 170-pound sophomore from Bedford-Stuyvesant would have been the starting quarterback for Boys and Girls High School. But surgeons had to amputate his leg, first at the knee, then at the hip. He has survived nine operations. He needs a 10th to close the wound. A tube feeds him. Another tube helps him breathe.

Shortly after midnight Aug. 14, his mother, Grace, was watching television when a neighbor called and told her that her only son had been shot. She raced to the hospital.

"They were rolling him in by the elevator," she said. "'Where's Mommy?' he asked. My daughter fell on him to hug him, to tell him to stay strong. He told us he loved us. I stood there crying as they took him in to operate. They told me he was dying."

It wasn't supposed to be this way. He was fiercely determined to play pro ball so he could take his family away from the boulevards of violence where this year at least 351 kids age 16 and under have been shot, 46 killed.

"This isn't middle America," said Barry O'Connor, head football coach at Boys and Girls. "Every time I go to the Kings County trauma center I think about quitting. I don't even need directions any more. Usually at night I get a phone call. They tell me where one of my kids are. I jump in the car and go."

Ralph was among many inner city scholastic stars in New York who didn't hang out on the streets, but who ran into violence.

* Damian Ennis, 15, sophomore fullback/middle guard for South Shore High School in Brooklyn, was stabbed to death Sept. 21 during an argument with another student.

* Todd Tolson, a defensive back and Ralph's teammate, left a football banquet planning meeting about 9 p.m. last March. When he crossed the street, three guys followed. Todd handed over the two quarters in his pocket, but one robber shot him in the back with a .38. He's had two operations to remove parts of his colon.

* LaQuan Grant, 15, a fleet-footed defensive end and fullback, was walking home from a weightlifting workout at Thomas Jefferson High School in August and stopped at the White Castle on Pennsylvania Avenue. He was caught in a cross-fire between two rival gangs. A bullet tore through his right knee.

* Leonard Nelson, 17, star quarterback and captain of the baseball team at Truman High School, was trampled to death in January during a stampede at a charity basketball game at City College.

* In 1990, Kenya Smith, 16, receiver and strong safety for Boys and Girls, accidentally bumped into a 15-year-old at a bus stop a block from the football field. A 15-year-old stabbed him repeatedly in the head and chest.

* That same year, Brian Waters, 15, a Boys and Girls linebacker, was wearing his school jacket on a city bus when some students from a rival high school jumped him. He fought his way off before realizing he'd been stabbed in the back.

* Ralph Green, No. 9, ran a 4.6 40-yard --. He could flawlessly execute the option, throw off the run, call out audibles and scramble. He had hoped to go to college on an athletic scholarship. He had a 92 average in computers.

His bedroom ceiling is covered with a Bo Jackson poster. The walls hold 30 athletic award plaques and trophies from the time he was 10.

"I get flashbacks of my son telling me how he was going to play professional football and move me out of the projects to some place safe, buy me a big house and a nice car," Grace Green said.

According to police, Ralph's family, friends and neighbors, he was on his way home from his grandmother's house with a friend, Willie Harley, 16, a short walk Ralph regularly made before his nightly curfew. On Aug. 13, he and Harley were passing a TTC Chinese restaurant when someone inside yelled "Yo" and stared them down.

"Yo, you heard me calling you," the man snapped at the two teen-agers, who were trying to ease away. The man darted from the restaurant and started shooting, hitting Willie in the side and Ralph in the back. Willie was also taken to Kings County but was later released. Ralph wasn't so lucky.

"Funny," said Grace Green, "you teach your kids not to talk to strangers and they still wind up getting hurt. . . . I was home watching TV, about midnight, when a neighbor called and said, 'Your son got shot.' I knew it wasn't my son. He's not a troublemaker in the street."

When she finally found him at the hospital, he could not feel or move his left leg. He could barely whisper.

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