We become accustomed to the landmarks in our neighborhood after navigating the streets on a regular basis.
The corner market that houses one of the best taquerias in town, the weathered red truck that perpetually sits along Florin Road, advertising hauling services, and the picnic bench that doubles most days as a card table in the grassy park across the street from the library.
We take these familiarities for granted, and only when a shop closes or a building is torn down do we stop and consider how their existence added to the life of the community.
Lately, I’ve been pondering the presence of a different type of neighborhood landmark. One that appears overnight, but can be lovingly maintained for years. They typically mark the occurrence of a tragedy. More often than not, they memorialize a life ended too soon.
In 2012, I witnessed a motorcycle accident at the intersection of 24th Street and 47th Avenue near Sacramento Executive Airport. The first responders arrived within a few minutes, but the motorcycle rider, Phillip Montiero, 45, had sustained fatal injuries. He died at the hospital.
Each time I pass that spot, I glance over at the memorial placed for him on the edge of the lawn by the house where he passed. I’ve considered the fact that the homeowner, whose lawn the cross and flowers were placed on, has obviously left the memorial undisturbed, more than likely out of respect for the family.
Along Florin Road, between Amherst and 24th Street, there is another memorial for the victim of a vehicle accident. She was Marleni Baza, 17, who had just graduated from Calvine High School in Elk Grove. On June 10, 2014, Baza was the passenger in a car that hit a parked flatbed truck. The car’s driver was under the influence and fled on foot. Baza was declared dead at the scene. Her family has tended to a small memorial where the accident occurred.
On another street corner, about a mile away from Baza’s memorial, there is a large wooden cross alongside a fence, adorned with flowers and surrounded by candles. It marks the place where Asencion Herrera, 17, was shot on July 7, 2012, after struggling with two police officers who approached Herrera as he and his friend were walking along Teekay Way.
Police say Herrera was shot after appearing to point an assault rifle in their direction. The young man’s family has kept his memorial. Neighbors say the site is often visited by young people who bring flowers and other offerings.
They serve a purpose for loved ones in mourning, providing a visible manifestation of a life cut short. Their arrangements of plush toys, photographs, t-shirts, liquor bottles and handwritten notes are testaments to the wounds of a community.
The memories of these tragic events linger in a neighborhood long after the candles burn out, the photographs fade, and the crosses grow weathered in the elements.