A march took place in Burbank on Tuesday, Sept. 14, to raise awareness on illegal street racing and reckless driving in the city.
Participants started the walk at the intersection of Glenoaks Blvd. and Andover Dr., the scene of the Aug. 3 fatal accident that took the lives of three innocent victims: 21-year-old Cerain Baker, 20-year-old Jaiden Johnson, and 19-year-old Natalee Moghaddam. 19-year-old Hamlet Arseni Aghajanyan has since been charged with three counts of murder and one count of reckless driving for his involvement in the accident, while a 17-year-old driver remains in custody.
From this initial location, demonstrators marched to City Hall, where a Burbank City Council meeting was simultaneously in session. The group of about 60 participants held signs with written phrases such as “Enough is enough. Street racers deserve handcuffs,” and displayed large photos of the three young victims of the accident.
The march was coordinated by leaders of Together We Can, an organization that was recently formed to focus on advocating for local road safety. Three Burbank mothers, Yolanda Woo, Lisa Martinez and Dory Foster together formed the group after the fatal car crash took place. The women planned the march to maintain awareness of the problem of dangerous driving in Burbank.
“We wanted to make sure that we keep the momentum going,” Foster said. “We decided, let’s just keep it going so that the city knows we’re not going to stay quiet and we’re not going to stop until we see a change.”
At their City Hall destination, people took turns giving passionate speeches about dangerous local speeding at the front steps of the building. Some speakers amongst the group were parents of the victims of the accident, including Tony Baker, father of Cerain Baker, and Cerain’s mother, who spoke until she was overcome with emotion. Cerain’s stepfather and Natalee Moghaddam’s mother also attended and spoke. Foster says their words inspired her even further to continue the mission of ending dangerous road habits throughout the city.
“The fact that these people had the strength to come out a month later after they’ve lost their babies was so moving to me,” Foster said as she held back tears. “It was heartbreaking, and it was motivating. And it just was so inspirational, because really, it continues to give you that drive to make sure that nobody ever has to go through this again.”
During the council meeting on Tuesday, City Councilmembers Nick Schultz and Konstantine Anthony together met with community members taking part in the demonstration and gave individual speeches assuring the locals that their voices are being heard.
“It was so important to me personally to go out there and talk to them because these folks are organizing, they are upset,” Schultz said. “They want to see change, they want to be heard …I just felt that someone from the council had to be out there to let them know: We hear you. We understand you. We feel your pain. They need to hear that now, and they need to know that we are listening attentively and we’re working for them and with them.”
Following the fatal street racing accident, Foster herself experienced the hazards of this issue when her two large SUVs were totaled in front of her home on Bel Air Dr. This took place in the middle of the night at the hands of an irresponsible local driver just a week after the crash on Glenoaks.
“I was beside myself because we were all shaken by what had happened,” Foster. “And then to see that this happened like a week later, and I had been outside walking my dog 15 minutes before it happened. It could have been me.”
After this experience, Foster began conversing with neighbors about this issue. Through these discussions, she learned of the prominence of local speeding as others shared their encounters with reckless drivers. She subsequently decided to join forces with Woo and Martinez, and they have since begun a concise plan to address the problem.
With participation from volunteers, the three are each leading an individual group with the goal of ensuring Burbank street safety. One is focused on education, another dedicated to law enforcement solutions, and a third devoted to addressing the Burbank City Council’s involvement in the issue.
Together We Can thus far has begun to campaign for a return of driver’s education and weekly drivers safety awareness to Burbank schools. In addition, they will continue to report to the Burbank City Council and advocate for making changes to Burbank roads that may prevent street racing opportunities for reckless drivers, such as altering the timing of street lights. Kenneth Rd., Alameda Ave., Glenoaks Blvd., and Bel Air Dr. are some of the streets Foster hopes are re-examined by the city.
“We’ve asked…for the budget to be prioritized to change the engineering of our streets, so they’re not like raceways anymore for the streets where this is happening,” Foster said.
The group has already begun to receive support from local dignitaries such as Assemblymember Laura Friedman, Vice President of the Burbank Unified School District Charlene Tabet, and Schultz. He cites the three areas where the issue can be addressed as short-term, intermediate, and long-term solutions.
Among the city’s short-term solutions is increasing patrol on Burbank streets that are more often facing dangerous driving behaviors. This has begun since the Aug. 3 accident through Burbank Police Department motor officers working overtime on Friday and Saturday nights to ensure road safety during busy weekend hours. In addition, officers have been diligently patrolling the area of the accident nightly.
“Traffic enforcement by the Traffic Bureau since the fatal collision of Glenoaks is consistent with our primary focus of enforcement and education, as well as collision investigation, that we do on a daily basis,” BPD Lieutenant John Pfrommer said.
Schultz was also recently invited by Tabet to collaborate with Burbank police personnel on methods that may be used to inform students on the importance of driving safely. Educational opportunities fall under the category of intermediate solutions for vehicular speeding, and the Burbank Police Department extends this education through videos and social media posts that make the community aware of the dangers of speeding. Implementing the powerful two-day Every 15 minutes program and kickstarting a public awareness campaign are two potential informative tools that Schultz has explored thus far to further keep residents informed.
Lastly, Schultz presented numerous possible investments as long-term solutions that will prevent another similar tragedy from again occurring in Burbank. While the council will engage in discussions on the matter, Schultz is also prioritizing listening to locals and taking their input seriously as the city moves forward with a focus on road safety measures.
“Those [investments] are the things I think that you’re going to hear all of council talking about, whether that is investments in increased pedestrian safeguards, crossings, street narrowing medians, changing the timing of traffic lights, the physical improvements to our roadway and infrastructure,” Schultz said. “Those are things that take time to study and they take money. And we want to do it in a way that involves the community, especially the neighborhoods that would be impacted the most by the potential changes.”
As the problem of dangerous speeding in Burbank warrants a combination of solutions, Schultz notes the complexity of the subject while acknowledging that the council’s collective dedication in addressing the problem will yield optimistic results.
“I don’t think there’s anyone answer. It’s a combination of all of it,” Schultz said. “There’s the quick things we can do, which we have done. But if there’s anything I’d like the community to know that I can tell you from knowing these people personally, every single person on council and the school board…feels the pain that the families are feeling. And we’re all committed to finding answers.”
To find out more about Together We Can or join the group as a volunteer, email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.