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LeConte Remembers Student Killed in Collision

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Wednesday March 04, 2009 - 07:02:00 PM
Community members continue to place flowers, cards and soft toys at the intersection of Warring and Derby streets, where the accident happened Friday.
Riya Bhattacharjee
Community members continue to place flowers, cards and soft toys at the intersection of Warring and Derby streets, where the accident happened Friday.

Community members continued throughout the week to place flowers, candles and notes at the intersection of Derby and Warring streets, where 5-year-old Zachary Cruz was hit and killed by a welder’s truck on Friday, Feb. 27. 

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 beat against the windows of Zach’s classroom—room 109—at LeConte on the Monday following the accident, it was easy to see that the tragedy had affected 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 in the 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 learned 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. 

According to a web post, Zach’s father, Frank Cruz, is a musician working on his Ph.D. in American literature at UC Berkeley. A native of Ventura, Cruz formed a band called The New Deal in 2003 when he started “writing, rehearsing and playing around town” with Joel Levin and John D. Cruz. 

The New Deal, which lists Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan and Calexico among its influences, recorded its first CD, Blueskies Longrides Youreyes, in the spring of 2003. 

After moving to Berkeley that fall to complete his undergraduate degree in English, Cruz relocated to Santa Barbara briefly, and worked with the award-winning alternate country band Far From Kansas, making his studio debut with the band’s 2006 record, the Ghost Inside of You. He returned to Berkeley to finish his Ph.D. and “resurrect” The New Deal, and is now working on a new album. 

In an interview with the Daily Californian in May 2008 for an article about the rising costs of child care programs on campus in light of state budget cuts, Cruz said that he sent his 5-year-old son to day care at the Clark Kerr Infant Center—one of the eight Early Childhood Education Programs run by the university—every week while he taught English class discussions. He said, with a new baby on the way, any increase in program fees would make it “impossible” for them to afford it. 

Cruz and his wife Jodie had their second child, Miles, last August. 

“My focus is primarily on how the community can support the family,” Wilson 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 requesting donations instead of flowers to help pay for funeral costs. 

A video posted on the website shows Zach visiting his brother at the hospital after he was born, smiling as he holds the baby carefully in his arms. Other videos show him playing Wii boxing and enact a scene from Star Wars with Lego blocks, in which he cries out “Powwwww, hey, you shot my helmet off!” 

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. 

A message from Zach’s parents says they are collecting stories and photos of their son to include in a memory book for him. These can be sent to chrispaul.dixon 

Copies of the book will be handed out at his memorial service in Oxnard on Saturday. 

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. 

The birthday graph in the classroom listed Zach’s birthday as March 12, the only one in the class this month. 

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.