After daughter’s death, Sacramento mother applauds new traffic light

The mother of teenager Michelle Murigi, who died in January 2012 while walking across Fruitridge Road in south Sacramento, declared Friday that a new traffic signal means that “no other child will have to be hit at this spot.”

“The issue of this light has been on the agenda for a decade,” said Mary Murigi after walking from her 16-year-old daughter’s West Campus High School to the fatal intersection at 58th Street and Fruitridge. “To me, I keep seeing that Michelle was a sacrifice.”

Last fall, aided by student activism and a petition drive, the city and the Sacramento City Unified School District agreed to share the $400,000 cost of installing traffic signals at the busy corner. On Friday, the school became the site of a ceremonial nod to the project’s completion.

“This was a true partnership of the school district and the city and the community to make this happen,” City Councilman Kevin McCarty told the small crowd of family and friends. He was joined by school trustees Gustavo Arroyo and Jeff Cuneo and Superintendent Sara Noguchi.

On Jan. 19, 2012, Michelle was mentoring younger children at Mark Twain Elementary School and then headed to a bus stop. To reach the stop, she would have to cross Fruitridge Road.

Sacramento police said a car in the far eastbound lane had stopped to allow Michelle to cross at 58th Street, but a car in the inside eastbound lane continued through the crosswalk and struck her. The second driver had been unable to see Michelle because of the stopped car.

Michelle wasn’t the only teenager to die at the intersection. Also recognized at Friday’s brief ceremony was the mother of 15-year-old Stephen Land, who was struck at the site on Dec. 18, 1964 and died a day later – nearly a half century ago.

Land was an aspiring photographer and had an after-school job at a nearby photo shop. On that night in December, he was due home at 5:30 p.m., said his mother, Barbara Land, now 90.

“When he wasn’t home at 5:30, I got a stomach ache,” his mother recalled. She left the house to look for him, stopping at a Ben Franklin store on Stockton Boulevard not far from Fruitridge Road. Police officers were there, looking for clues about who might know the family of Stephen Land. The youth had been hit at 58th and Fruitridge and taken to a local hospital emergency room.

“He has missed 49 of my birthdays,” she said in an interview. “On June 9, he would have been 65. He would have been able to retire.”

In such fatalities, she said, “It isn’t just the victim. It’s the whole family that suffers.”

Fifty years ago, she said, Fruitridge traffic was far less congested.

Today, the road has two lanes in each direction with a two-way left-turn lane running through the middle. More than 21,000 vehicles travel the route daily, although most stay within the posted 40 mph speed limit, according to officials for the city of Sacramento Public Works/Transportation Division.

The Friday morning gathering outside the West Campus High School started small, with Murigi friends and family, members of the Land family and community supporters. It grew within minutes by several hundred as more and more students walked from classrooms to join what became a walking procession to Fruitridge Road.

Mary Murigi said in an interview that she received a call telling her there had been an accident and that she needed to go to the UC Davis Medical Center. There, Murigi learned her daughter was unresponsive.

She said doctors told her that there was nothing they could do.

Outside West Campus, Murigi told listeners that the pain of losing a child is unbearable.

“I will never touch my baby again, nor hear her sweet words again: ‘Mama, I love you.’ ” she said. “We were very, very close. It still hurts a lot. She was one of the most beautiful and precious souls to ever live on this God-given earth.

“Every time the light goes red,” she told the group, “I will be seeing Michelle’s hand, asking all the drivers to stop. Every time the light goes green, I will be seeing Michelle, waving the drivers and saying it’s OK. You cannot kill another child here now.”