How the death of a school crossing guard touched me

On the night of January 12, 2015, I pulled the following 29 second clip from my dash cam’s memory card. It was footage I captured earlier that day at 7:30am as I headed home after dropping my son off at school. This incident happened during the morning rush hour in Monterey Park, California, just east of Los Angeles.

Context: Monterey Park is heavily Chinese and at the risk of generalizations (not I, ever), let’s just say Chinese drivers tend to be a little “impatient” and leave it at that. Add a healthy dose of frantic morning rush hour to that brew and you will have a morass of insane motoring to contend with if you’re lucky enough to travel through there.

For instance, a Camry driver so anxious to get a move on that he hallucinated a green light into existence.

The clip amused me  but it was not noteworthy insofar as dash cam chaos (see Reddit) footage is concerned.  I saved it on my hard drive and forgot it.

Until January 27, 15 days later.

I was driving home that evening when I heard a radio news clip about a fatal accident that occurred at Garfield and Elmgate Avenues which caught my attention as that was an intersection I drove through almost every day.  Apparently, the crossing guard from my clip, the old guy standing on that cold, foggy January morning while watching on in amusement as 2 cars nearly collided in “his intersection,” was killed by a wayward car at this very intersection, under faintly similar circumstances but with a horribly different outcome.

The Crossing Guard

Seventy-six-year-old Abel Castellanos, winner of of the prestigious 2015 “Wrong Place, Wrong Time” award, had been sitting in his little crossing guard chair on a normal Tuesday afternoon while he winded down another busy day of guiding children across the busy streets when he was abruptly mowed down by a speeding car whose driver was trying to avoid colliding with a car that threatened to turn left in its path.

California Highway Patrol Officer Doris Peniche said a silver Ford Mustang was heading south on Garfield Avenue at about 50 mph when the driver saw a white Toyota Celica north on Garfield Avenue attempting to make a left turn on Elmgate Street.

She said the Mustang’s driver stepped on the brakes, steered hard to the right and lost control of the car. The Mustang went onto the corner and struck Castellanos who was sitting in a chair.

“The crossing guard died on impact,” Peniche said.

Neighbors told the CHP that no children witnessed the collision, she said.

The CHP identified the Mustang’s driver as 19-year-old Jin Yuan Yang of Monterey Park. Peniche said it’s unknown if Yang has a driver’s license.

A sad story, but it’s the sort of generic, displaced tragedy item we see in the news all the time. Our mind recognizes the horror but it goes no further. Our personal stake in the vast collective society of the world is small and not affected by remote tales of misery.

I have not revisited this incident in the 6 years that have passed. The cascade of developments in the accident’s aftermath are ambiguous and unfulfilling, like watching a television crime series that uses its final episode to taunt you, “Haha, there’s so much we didn’t explain and now you’ll have to wait until next season” leaving you empty, unsated. Except in this case, is there even a “next season?”

Does anyone care about Castellanos or his wife, who had died the previous year?

I did learn from some brief research today:

And all this because during deadlifts this morning I thought about my old blog.

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