Holding glow sticks in one hand and tissues in the other, community members’ eyes filled with tears as they stood among tree stumps representing 105 local youth who lost their lives behind the wheel of a car.
The city of Santa Clarita and the Blue Ribbon Task Force held their annual Evening of Remembrance on Wednesday to honor those under 24 years old who were killed in traffic-related incidents.
The event began with a community walk to the Youth Grove in Central Park where the name of each person who died was put on top of a concrete tree stump, each with a flickering tea light candle, to symbolize the lives that were cut short. A center monument encourages people to “Know More” about safe driving so “No More” lives will be lost.
Honoring the person who was named on one of the newest tree stumps, a large group of family and friends came to remember 18-year-old Hart High School graduate Collin Gore who died on July 4.
Gore spent a lot of time at Central Park playing sports when he was growing up, so having this reminder brought back good memories, his mom Daleen Buter said.
“The whole community has been really supportive,” Buter said. “It’s really great to have his name here to have him be remembered.”
Tommy Meadows was one of a group of Gore’s close friends in attendance. He remembers meeting Gore in a video production class their freshman year and Gore immediately making him feel included.
After his passing, Gore’s memory brought the group back together when everyone had gone their separate ways after graduation, according to Meadows.
“He always made sure the group was having a good time,” Meadows said. “When they show that person in the movies that brings everyone together, he was that guy.”
Nina Woodbury has been to nearly all the Evening of Remembrance ceremonies. Her son Nick Archer died in 1979, so she’s seen the event grow with new families each year.
“It’s good they do this,” Woodbury said. “It’s nicer to go here than the cemetery.”
In memory of her grandson Steven Kirk who died in 2016, Carolyn McCool recalled his love of his family and of motocross racing.
“Some days it seems like a long time ago, sometimes it feels like he’s still here,” McCool said.
It has been nine years since Joyce Hall lost her grandson Jesse Suber when he fell asleep at the wheel driving to visit his friend who had just had a baby.
She remembers the small things about him, like his smile and the fact that he loved to dress up for Halloween, but is sad he won’t have any more milestones.
“I think of him every time there is a wedding or a birthday,” Hall said. “I’m reminded that he’ll never have one.”
While offering an opportunity to memorialize those who died, the city used the event as a reminder to drive safely.
“We live in a community that does not ignore our problems, but we acknowledge them and tackle them head on,” Mayor Cameron Smyth said. “These children’s memories live on to serve a greater purpose.”
Walking around the park got the attention of families and teams playing sports, which brings awareness to the lives lost and to the need for safety behind the wheel, the mayor said.
“They at least took that one heartbeat to see what we’re doing,” Smyth said. “It’s important that we’re still here and it’s important that we try.”