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