First published in the Aug. 6 print issue of the Burbank Leader.
Aug. 3 marked the one-year anniversary of the fatal Glenoaks Boulevard car accident that took the lives of three young adults in Burbank last summer.
It was the end of summer break for Luther Burbank Middle School teacher Lisa Martinez. She and her family had decided to see a movie that Tuesday night. As they were driving, she told her husband not to take Glenoaks Boulevard because there were always speeders and she worried it was too dangerous.
It was not until the next morning that she received the news.
Just a short distance from her home, three young adults had been killed at a traffic light when a vehicle with a pair of teenagers inside was torn in half by other vehicles with drivers who were street racing. The victims were 19, 20, and 21 years old.
For days, people gathered at the accident site to hold candlelight vigils for Natalee Moghaddam, Jaiden Johnson and Cerain Baker.
A memorial was painted in the likeness of the three passengers.
“This is what I drive by every day,” Martinez told the Leader. “That memorial will continue to age while the three passengers won’t.”
In the days following the accident, Martinez took to the social media app Next Door. She organized a rally with her neighbors in front of Burbank City Hall. Concerned community members and families of the victims filled the sidewalks.
“It was powerful, and it was the beginning of something,” she said.
Just over a week after the accident, Martinez and her close friend Yolanda Wu passed by a pair of smashed cars on Bel Air Drive, a few blocks north from the scene of the Glenoaks Boulevard accident. That was when they met Dory Foster. Both of her family cars had been totaled in one accident.
The three decided to take action. They formed the organization Together We Can Burbank, or TWCB. Its mission is to work with the community to create a better city, starting with bettering Burbank’s unsafe streets.
They knocked on doors, spoke with their neighbors and held a town hall event — this time with the support of the Burbank Police Department and State Assemblywoman Laura Friedman, who represents Burbank in the California State Assembly.
As a result, TWCB was successful in getting the Burbank Unified School District to implement a driver’s education program with the help of BPD. The program is titled “Mindfulness for Young Drivers.”
“We all had full-time jobs, and we spent a ton of time setting up meetings and organizing. … We had all this excitement in the beginning, but you know how things go. They lose momentum, so the three of us have to continually add to the fire,” Martinez said.
Then, last month, Foster’s two cars were hit by a speeder again. One was totaled, and the other had $16,000 in damages. So, the three continued on — they held a booth this past Tuesday at the National Night Out event hosted by BPD and were able to engage with residents, police and local officials about issues affecting Burbank.
The group is making progress with getting the city to install speed bumps on Bel Air Drive and additional stop signs have been added throughout Burbank. Additionally, BPD has adjusted patrol schedules later into the evening in hopes of deterring street racing. The group is also developing a PSA with West Coast Customs, a local body shop famous for its reality television show.
Martinez said that education is a good start, but more opportunities to appeal emotionally to young drivers would have a deeper impact on their decision-making.
The “Mindfulness for Young Drivers” program is currently only available to 9th-grade students. Mayor Jess Talamantes endorsed the idea of a refresher course for older high school students during a joint meeting between the Burbank City Council and the Burbank Unified School District last month.
Martinez encouraged Burbank residents to speak up at City Council meetings and other public forums and to go out and vote.
“I’ve lived in Burbank my entire life, and I would love to see it become the community that I think it can be,” Martinez said. “We can’t sit back any longer, and, with many voices, comes change.”