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Community gathers at Garfield Elementary to call for more traffic safety after fatal accident

on October 7, 2019

Early last week, a woman and her niece walking home from Garfield Elementary were both hit by a car while crossing 22nd Avenue and Foothill Boulevard. The niece was injured, but survived. The woman, Huong Truong, passed away at the scene.

Twice on Friday, Garfield teachers, students, their families and members of the nearby community gathered at the intersection next to the school to protest—once before classes began and again after classes let out—to draw attention to traffic safety and to push for improvements to make the streets safer. Protestors carried signs, many of which were made by Garfield students, with slogans such as “Slow down,” “Watch where you’re going,” and “Kids walking to school, don’t drive like a fool.”

One demonstrator held a megaphone and led chants:
“What do we want?”
“Safer streets!”
“When do we want them?”

Cars passing by honked to show their support, and students sometimes yelled to get further attention from drivers. “I don’t want to get run over!” called out one student.

Students proudly hold up their signs on the corner of 22nd Avenue and Foothill Boulevard.

“Most of our population of students are walking to school,” said second grade teacher Alexandra Brandenburg while demonstrating during the afternoon. “The solution that we’re arguing for is that we demand flashing lights on the crosswalks and we also demand a designated turning signal.”

According to an Oakland Unified School District press release, Foothill Boulevard is notorious for car collisions, speeding, and pedestrian injuries and fatalities. Fewer than six months ago, a kindergartener from the International Community School and his mother were hit and killed by a car while walking through a crosswalk on Foothill just a few blocks from where Truong was struck.

“You notice all these cars out here, like this blue car right here, is turning on its own accord with no signal,” Brandenburg said, indicating the intersection. “And right now the crossing guard is out there guarding the crosswalk and directing them. But if there was a designated turning lane or signal, then I think it would prevent a lot of these collisions happening.”

During the afternoon demonstration, several crossing guards were working the four crosswalks at the intersection, but most days that isn’t the case. “We aren’t allowed to have a crossing guard on this street,” said Brandenburg. “I guess if there’s traffic lights, OUSD and the city will not provide a traffic guard.”

In an email sent Monday, OUSD Director of Communications John Sasaki said his understanding is that the Oakland Police Department (OPD) traffic division determines crossing guard assignments. An OPD spokesperson did not return a request for comment by publication time.

The guards that afternoon were volunteers, including Demofila Enciso, the Garfield Elementary schoolyard supervisor. “I’m doing this because I live a block away and this is my neighborhood,” said Enciso, who helped guide pedestrians and protestors as they trekked across the street.

The majority of the protestors were Garfield students and their families, and many said the issue hit close to home. “I think it’s so wrong that somebody did that to the little child and her [Truong],” said Yolanda Monroe while protesting with her two children. Monroe is the parent of a pre-kindergarten student and remembers passing by Truong at school the day of the incident. “If I had seen who’d done it, they would be in jail right now,” she said.

The OPD investigation is still ongoing. According to an OPD press release sent last Tuesday evening, the case appears to be a hit and run and it is unknown whether drugs or alcohol were involved. The department is offering a $15,000 reward for information leading to an arrest.

Councilmember Nikki Fortunato Bas, who represents District 2, which includes Garfield Elementary, attended the protest as well. “It’s a real tragedy,” said Bas while standing at the intersection with the protesters during the afternoon. Bas attended the 8 a.m. demonstration as well, where she said she had met Truong’s daughter. “My daughter is about her age,” said Bas. “It’s really tragic to have lost a mother and a member of our community in such a senseless tragedy.”

After the demonstration outside, members of Garfield faculty and families filed into the school cafeteria for a private meeting between the community and city officials. Bas said she pulled this meeting together to include the head of the city’s Department of Transportation, representatives from the OPD, and the mayor’s transportation director.

“I don’t want the community to wait any longer to feel like their streets are safe,” said Bas.

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Photo by Basil D Soufi
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