“I know it wasn’t even his fuckin’ fault!” railed Daniela, 19.
She was unsuccessfully fighting back tears yesterday as she stood alongside the light pole serving as the unofficial memorial site for bicyclist Oscar Toledo, Jr., killed in a hit-and-run at 47th and Normandie in South L.A. less than 24 hours earlier.
Toledo had “always [been] chillin’ on his mountain bike; always safe,” she said. And, because he had grown up on the streets and had always had to watch his back, he was hyper-aware of what was around him, careful about safety, and “always on his toes.”
So, when she got the call from Toledo’s younger brother at 3 a.m. Thursday morning, she couldn’t believe it.
He had just been at her house earlier that night. She had just seen him — it didn’t make any sense.
She and Toledo’s best friend agreed to go to the hospital first thing in the morning to “see if it was real.”
Seeing him laying there, bloody and hooked up to so many tubes had been overwhelming. It denied her one last chance to hold him in her arms.
“I told him, ‘I really couldn’t imagine life without you,'” she said of a recent conversation they had had.
Hugging herself, she leaned against the exterior of a building and stared at the small memorial they had set up.
“Now, I don’t know what I’m going to do.”
The site of the growing memorial — a light pole adorned with signage encouraging motorists to “Share the Road” with bicyclists — only added insult to injury for his friends.
“It’s not enough!” spluttered Jasmine, angrily. “They need a bike lane here!”
Better lighting, too, she added, noting that the street lights did little to enhance visibility at night.
Traffic on Normandie moved way too fast, they said, making the corridor unsafe for bicyclists and pedestrians alike, especially at night.
That had already been proven tragically true just months earlier, when 16-year-old Nathaniel Mota was killed in a marked (although yellow and unlit) crosswalk five blocks north of where they were standing. The driver that mowed Mota down never looked back, instead leaving the young man to die in front of his horrified family members and youth from the church group he had just spent the evening with.
While the traffic signals Mota’s family had lobbied for are in the process of being installed and will help slow traffic to a degree, it is too little too late for Toledo.
Toledo had been turning left from W. 47th St. onto Normandie on his mountain bike at around 9:40 Wednesday night when he was struck by a vehicle traveling southbound at a high rate of speed.
“The bike went one way and he flew another,” said a neighbor whose family members had witnessed the aftermath of the collision from the parked car where they were sitting.
They had immediately run over to Toledo to see if they could help and stayed with him until they were finally overcome by the horror of the scene, she said.
The car apparently left the scene so quickly no one was even sure what it looked like or which direction it had gone.
NBC reports that the car was either a red Toyota Corolla or a burgundy Pontiac and that police are examining security footage from nearby businesses for more clues.
But, little evidence seems to have been left at the scene — skid marks at that intersection have been there for years and are not linked to the case, and I was unable to verify rumors that the car was one often seen parked in the area.
All of which is incredibly frustrating for his friends and family, who could not comprehend how someone could just leave a person to die in the street. Especially someone they loved so much and who was working so hard to get his life on track.
“Once he turned 18, he wanted a nice life, a clean record,” said Daniela, who described him as loyal, a good friend, the life of the party, and someone who loved people and who wanted to do right by his family.
“He was such a good person,” agreed another.
Then, someone asked the heartbreaking question you inevitably hear after every hit-and-run, as loved ones search for answers they almost never get: “What happened to human decency?”
There will be a ghost bike installed at the memorial site this evening at 47th and Normandie. The East Side Riders and Los Ryderz will be leading a ride from the WLCAC in Watts at 7 p.m. to join up with the folks from Ghost Bike Documentary, who are bringing the memorial bike to the site. If you’d like to join in the ride, check the event page here. Or, meet the group at 47th and Normandie some time after 8 p.m.
Learn more about the bill recently introduced by Assemblyman Mike Gatto regarding an alert system focusing on hit-and-run drivers, here. Or, follow/support the efforts of friends of (and survivors of the incident that killed) Andy Garcia as they petition for harsher penalties for hit-and-run drivers, here.