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Our View: In the wake of tragedy, a call for clear thinking

The Signal Editorial Board

Posted: July 10, 2010 7:42 p.m.
Updated: July 11, 2010 4:55 a.m.

However infused with Americana the Fourth of July Parade, however savory the barbecue, however spectacular the fireworks — it was all irrevocably marred by what happened as Independence Day drew to a close. In an instant, a day of celebration was thrown into tragedy.

A woman was killed.

A family lost a wife and mother.

A young motorist will forever live with the weight of contributing to a woman’s death.

The loss of Matilde Garnica cast a pall over the past week. We mourn for our neighbor. Our deepest condolences go out to her husband, children, relatives and friends.

In the wake of tragedy, the community has been gripped by a range of emotions, from grief to anger to outrage.

Many want someone to be responsible for what happened the night of July 4. The person who stands to shoulder that responsibility is the driver who caused the collision.

Many want to brand the 22-year-old driver, who reportedly ran a red light, with a scarlet letter, and pretend they would never be so careless themselves.

But how many of us have been distracted while driving, whether adjusting the radio or fumbling with a cell phone? How many of us — like so many fellow motorists in the Santa Clarita Valley — have raced through a light as it turns from yellow to red?

How many of us have come within a breath of a crash that would have radically changed lives? Probably all of us.

In the midst of this tragedy, we salute the men and women of Santa Clarita who snapped into action when they witnessed calamity. Reports have poured in to The Signal of people rushing to the scene of the collision, banding together to lift the car off Garnica.

A young Marine’s military instincts kicked in and he scooped up a bleeding child he feared might be trampled in the rush of rescuers. It was people at their best, thinking less of themselves and more of someone in trouble.

As a community, we have opportunities to help. Donations to the Garnica family can be made at Wells Fargo branches into memorial account number 8583277168. From 1 p.m. to 7 p.m. today, Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church — where

Matilde Garnica was very active — will hold a food sale, with all proceeds going to the Garnica family.

Myriad questions are being asked, and an official investigation is under way.

Meanwhile, we would be wise to rise above assumptions and accusations about what could (or should) have been done differently to prevent this tragedy, and to wait for the outcome of the Sheriff’s Department investigation.

But that doesn’t feel like enough, does it?

Emotionally, we all feel the need to do something, anything. We are averse to the idea that this mother’s life would be swept up like the so much debris in the street without doing “something.” And so we look for a place to fix blame.

City officials have made few comments, other than to extend their condolences to the Garnica family. In an open letter to the community, the City Council noted that a multi-department task force does extensive planning, including developing and implementing a traffic management plan for the night of July 4.

Those who were in Valencia that night and witnessed the crash may question the efficacy of that plan. There was no reduction in the 45 mph speed limit on Valencia Boulevard, where throngs of men, women and children were walking through crosswalks and practically sitting in the street.

City officials said Valencia Boulevard had to remain open for emergency services. In fact, roads are routinely closed to all but emergency vehicles. A crowded July 4 celebration should have been no exception.

Still, all those precautions couldn’t have prevented this from happening, any more than sheriff’s deputies lining a July 4 parade route can ensure a horse won’t bolt and charge into the crowd. No more than a row of orange cones can ensure that a motorist doesn’t plow into a crowded public event such as a farmer’s market.

The public criticism and conjecture is all coming after the fact.

A car sped through a red light and collided with another vehicle. No amount of finger-pointing and criticism will reverse that chain of events or bring back Matilde Garnica.

But the tragedy can serve as a point of demarcation for public officials; a chance to say, “In eight years we’ve never seen a tragedy at the fireworks show. But now we have, and going forward we will examine what further steps we can take to ensure the safest environment possible.”

In the meantime, let us as a community wait for the SCV Sheriff’s Station to wrap up its investigation and offer what support we can to the Garnica family.

Looking forward, we should be mindful that the only way to guarantee a completely risk-free event is never to hold any events again.


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