Where the Sidewalk Ends

Homemade monuments to those we’ve lost are all over town, built by friends and loved ones as reminders to be careful—and as a way of saying good-bye


When we see a shrine, we’re usually on the move. In that, we have something in common with the individuals these pop-up memorials are meant to honor. Those people, too, were on their way somewhere when they reached the ultimate end of the road. And then, suddenly, nothing.

Most of us don’t know the men, women, and children whose points of departure are marked with bouquets and candles and teddy bears. But we feel the loss. Maybe we’ve heard about the accident on the news—the celebrating twentysomethings who drank too much before they got behind the wheel, the mother and her two young daughters who had the bad luck to be in their minivan when a senior citizen with a suspended license lost control and veered into their lane. To read about these tragedies is to realize it could have been you. Which is probably why once a shrine goes up, it can grow quickly with offerings from strangers. Maybe, we think, if we take a moment now to mark the fallen, we’ll be better able to take our foot off the pedal later, to proceed with more care. We point out these shrines to our teenagers as cautionary tales. No texting, we say, barely able to fathom the irreparable loss we are trying to guard against.

No one wants to be the one who—out of grief or anger or a need for closure—assembles the ordinary items that make for such extraordinary public gestures. But when we see a shrine, for a moment we understand the person who built it. Because a shrine is more than a mock headstone. It is a reminder that life can be too short, horrible things can happen to anybody, and—and here’s the important part—when you love someone, sometimes you have to say it out loud to anyone who will slow down long enough to listen.

RIP: Luke Akao, 30
Date: May 20, 2012
What Happened: Akao’s motorcycle struck a pole at the Metro bus stop on Beverly Boulevard, on the southwest corner of Rossmore Avenue, Hancock Park


RIP: Saida Juana Mendez-Bernardino, 27, and her daughters, Hilda and Stephanie Cruz, ages 6 and 4
Date: August 29, 2012
What Happened: Mendez-Bernardino’s minivan collided with a car that swerved into her lane on Highland Avenue at Willoughby, Hollywood


RIP: Armando Villanueva, 40
Date: April 30, 2012
What Happened: Villanueva’s motorcycle smashed into a tree across from 7667 Mulholland Drive, Upper Nichols Canyon (For more details on this shrine, click here.)


RIP: Jason Shmelnik, 23, Pavel “Pasha” Volodkovich, 25, and Ekaterina Botvinieva, 23
Date: September 9, 2012
What Happened: Volodkovich, who was intoxicated, lost control of his vehicle and crashed into 11412 Ventura Boulevard, Studio City


RIP: Julia Cukier Siegler, 13
Date: February 26, 2010
What Happened: Siegler was hit by two cars while walking across Sunset Boulevard at Cliffwood Avenue, Brentwood.

RIP: Jean Carlos Galaviz, 34
Date: August 19, 2012
What Happened: Galaviz’s bicycle hit the curb and crashed into a hillside on Canon Crest near Avenue 45, Mount Washington

Photographs by Damon Casarez

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  • patricia

    Perhaps I may sound insensitive but I am just sharing my thoughts. 3 years ago my husband and i bought a home in Whittier, since then there has been a murder and traffic accidents that have taken the lives of innocent people. I understand that these circumstances are horrible and some family continues to mourn the death of these individuals but it bothers me to continue to see these shrines months and years after the deaths occurred! Down my street there is a shrine for someone who died in 1996! Why do we have to be constantly reminded at every turn that someone died there? It makes the neighborhood appeal go down. I think these shrines should be done at the cemetery.


      Yes, you are being insensitive. Grief is not absolute, some may be done in days, months or it may take many years…even a lifetime. Whatever helps a fellow human to get thru the pain and struggle of daily life…so be it.
      Sorry if it makes your freakin neighborhood appeal go down. I know the shrine at 7667 Mulholland Drive, actually has made the neighbor appeal go up, so maybe its just your neighborhood and not the shrine.

    • Randolph

      No, you’re not being insensitive. Having someone you know die doesn’t give you the permanent right to build a gravesite on someone’s road, in someone’s park or wherever. These things should be taken down eventually.

  • John

    I’ve grown hardened to the visual shows of respect for the fallen which dot the byways in our LA big traffic cat and mouse motordrome which is our daily death race to and from work.

    There are decided daily tides in this metallic ebb and flow, big Monday mornings, big Thursday am’s because Thursday nights are hook-up nights for the week-end, light Friday mornings, then it’s rush hour stretched out, beginning around 2:00 pm and lasting until after 10:00 pm, until the stragglers leave the city for the mountains, the north shore, the south shore, or the deserts.

    But swimming in this noisy noisome fluid of automobiles, motorcycles, gasoline tankers, controversial army shipments, truck trailers hauling chickens and pigs and nuclear materials, and everything in between are trouble makers. Gliding between all these cars and rigs are the remoras: the crooks, the intoxicated drivers, the druggies, drag racers, lamsters, pederasts and gang bangers. And it is the misbehavior of the latter which too often kills the car load of the innocent Citizen Family.

    And as an LA traffic officer I got to surf the metallic flow and pluck the wayward ramoras off society’s back and out of the stream. Often culled from the ceaseless line of moving chariots pulled by far too many horses for the driver to control. So loud I can hear the driver’s music with his windows up, with my helmet on, with my radio calls going through one busy ear of mine, all while riding my motor at speed.

    I was a blue clad shepherd wearing boots and these million autos of the commuters were my flock.