LeConte Remembers Student Killed in Collision

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Monday March 02, 2009 - 05:26:00 PM
Flowers, photos and stuffed animals have been placed at the intersection of Derby and Warring streets, where Zachary Cruz was struck and killed by a truck Friday.
By Riya Bhattacharjee
Flowers, photos and stuffed animals have been placed at the intersection of Derby and Warring streets, where Zachary Cruz was struck and killed by a truck Friday.

Even as a winter deluge brought Berkeley to a standstill early Monday, community members continued to place flowers, candles and notes at the intersection of Derby and Warring streets, where 5-year-old Zachary Cruz had been hit and killed by a welder’s truck on Friday, just as they had done all through the weekend. 

A laminated picture of Zach, and his parents, Frank and Jodie, along with his baby brother Miles, taken at his kindergarten classroom at LeConte last year, shared the crosswalk with photographs of him rock climbing and posing on the grass, along with dozens of carnations, roses and a Tigger stuffed toy—all dripping wet from the rain, but serving as a gentle reminder of how much he was loved by friends and family, and had touched the heart of those who had never known him. 

As the rain splattered against the windows of Zach’s classroom—room 109—at LeConte, it was easy to see that the tragedy had effected not just his teacher, Jeannie Gee, and his classmates, who spent the better part of the morning talking about him, but the entire school. 

Teachers stressed the importance of traffic safety rules to their students, parents stopped by to speak with the school staff after almost every period—some insisting on being with their children during a concert rehearsal, and principal Cheryl Wilson dropped everything to prepare to meet with Zach’s parents later that afternoon. 

Wilson, who canceled the school’s black history month celebration Friday night after she heard about the accident, said that the outpouring of support from parents and students had been tremendous. 

“We started with Zach’s classroom today morning and then we went to every class answering questions and clarifying misconceptions about what happened to Zach and what had happened to some of their family members who died in the past,” said Wilson, who has been at LeConte for four years and is dealing with the death of a student for the first time. 

“Some of the kindergartners burst into tears but we told them that Zach’s death had made each of us a stronger person. We have learnt to be a better person from Zach, and the importance of showing love, care and respect to the people we love.” 

Wilson said that the most important thing on her mind right now was to help Zach’s family, who she said lived in student housing because Zach’s father is a graduate student at UC Berkeley. 

“My focus is primarily on how the community can support the family,” she said, adding that friends had already set up a meal calendar and that the Cruz’s had set up a website, www.zacharymichaelcruz.com, where they were asking for donations instead of flowers to help pay for funeral costs. 

The website also lists some of Zach’s favorite bands—the Beatles and the Terrible Twos, and his favorite TV shows—Sponge Bob Square Pants and TLC’s How It’s Made. It tells us that the 5-year-old loved to play with Legos, Ray the Racoon and WALL-E toys and was a fan of the Star Wars Trilogy and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. 

It shows him enjoying eating dinner—the web post lists paneer tikka masala and naan from Berkeley’s House of Curries as his favorite food and vanilla milk as his favorite drink. 

Zach liked visiting the Lawrence Hall of Science and the Chabot Space and Science Center and spent a lot of time listening to records, playing with Miles—whom he called “Mr. M”—and visiting San Francisco. 

He wanted to be a scientist, an astronaut or a doctor when he grew up. 

Wilson said that besides the message board in the school’s hallway, which had a picture of a rocket drawn by him titled “I mad a roccit” and other messages and pictures from his friends and teachers, the school would create a temporary altar in the library and keep a place for Zach in his kindergarten classroom permanently, which would be marked by a giant teddy bear. 

Around 15 kindergartners crowded around their teacher, Ms. Gee, Monday afternoon to hear one of Zach’s friends, Ophelia, talk about him. 

“I miss you Zach and I will miss playing ghostbusters with you,” Ophelia said, handing over a “special box” she had made in his memory to Gee. 

“This box has a picture of Zach and me during halloween—Zach was dressed up as a ghostbuster. You see, he loved being a ghostbuster.” 

Gee also read aloud from The Next Place, a children’s book by Warren Hanson, which she said had helped students get through most of the day. 

“It was tough but we survived the first day,” she said, as she led her class into the school’s auditorium to practice for an upcoming concert with the Berkeley Symphony.