On Saturday, Nov. 13, several hundred members of the community gathered as a utility box mural was unveiled at the corner of Glenoaks Blvd. and Andover Dr. in honor of the victims of the car accident that took place at this site on Aug. 3, 2021.
The three victims of the tragic accident, which was a result of illegal street racing, were 21-year-old Cerain Baker, 20-year-old Jaiden Johnson, and 19-year-old Natalee Moghaddam.
During the unveiling, a moment of silence took place, followed by speeches from family members and close friends of the victims. Each family was also given a framed personalized art piece that contained a recreation of the memorial artwork. Among those in attendance were Burbank Police Department Chief of Police Mike Albanese and BPD Command Staff, Burbank Parks and Recreation Department Director Marisa Garcia, Burbank City Council Members Nick Schultz, Konstantine Anthony, and Sharon Springer, and Vice Mayor Jess Talamantes.
Directly after the gathering, a reception followed at McCambridge Park with music, balloons, and food to celebrate the lives of Cerain, Jaiden, and Natalee.
This utility box mural is a project that was carried out through the committed efforts of local resident Shemika Jones, who is a close friend of Cerain Baker’s family. Jones first met Cerain’s father, comedian, and actor Tony Baker, while the two together attended middle school in Chicago, and she later became close friends with both Tony and Cerain’s mother, Cherie Whitehead. Jones says Cerain was “like a nephew to [her],” and with the devastation of his passing, she felt the need to do something to remember his life and legacy.
“It was really important for me to step up and try to contribute in some way because Cerain’s life mattered. So did Natalee’s and Jaiden’s,” Jones said. “I just wanted to have something there at that intersection which brought so much devastation to all the families, but to have it turn into something that could be hopefully a peaceful place.”
Initially, Jones wanted to implement an “In Memorial” street sign to honor the victims but was told by the city that a tribute project would need to have precedence in order to be considered. Jones, who has been a Burbank resident for 19 years and often walks her dog locally, then took notice of utility box artwork in Burbank and approached the city with the idea of doing an art piece using the box at the corner of Glenoaks and Andover.
City personnel next connected Jones with Burbank Parks and Recreation Director Marisa Garcia, who alerted Recreation Services Manager Erin Barrows, Recreation Supervisor Noah Altman, and Recreation Coordinator Doug Fowler of the homage artwork. Meetings began to plan this venture, and once a week since the third week of August, Jones has spoken with Barrows, Altman, and Fowler to move the project forward.
Five artists were selected by Jones for consideration to be the one to create the artwork. Four of the five artists made the deadline for consideration, and each sent in a drawing of their vision for the picture they’d replicate on the utility box. Two of the three families of the accident victims have parents who have remarried, and, after a deliberation process, all five sets of families chose the same artist as their top choice for the job.
Rix Cerezo is the artist who was chosen by the families to design the utility box mural. Cerezo has made a total of 17 artistic utility box art pieces throughout Los Angeles, including two previous ones in Burbank. While he normally spends two or three days decorating each utility box, for this project Cerezo dedicated six days to ensure the mural came together just as he envisioned it.
Entitled “Sunset,” the finished utility box mural includes a soft sunset scene displayed behind three portraits; one of Cerain, another of Jaiden, and a final one of Natalee. Brushstrokes were used to add to the realism and artistic value of the mural, and rather than using a colorful palette, Cerezo worked with predominantly blue and orange color schemes. For each portrait, the names of the victims are written underneath their image. As Cerain was devoted to his religious beliefs, Jaiden was a musician, and Natalee was a healer, Cerezo implemented symbols to represent each victim’s passions in life. Doves are painted on the box as a sign of peace, and three hearts are on the front of the box to represent unity and their friendships.
As he is originally from Panama and has held dreams of exploration during his life, Cerezo says he found a connection to the young victims through their hopeful ambitions as he painted the mural.
“I had dreams about doing things, visiting places, and exploring the world,” Cerezo said. “Maybe like them, because as I understand, they were young with big dreams. And I have accomplished many of those challenges that I have proposed [while] dreaming before. The difference with them is that their lives were cut off by this tragedy.”
Now that the artwork is completed, Cerezo says he is optimistic it will bring positivity to the victims’ families and the Burbank community. He expressed his great honor in being the artist chosen for the memorable proposal that will be an enduring homage in the city.
“This has been a great experience,” Cerezo said. “I usually like to do this because you interact with the community and feel a part of the community, but this time has been different because it’s a little more sensible. The neighbors that have witnessed the tragedy, they still have this on their hearts and they are trying to express all their feelings and emotions. I think this is going to be a good piece to bring them a little bit of hope and peace.”
Aside from this project, Jones is also a member of the Together We Can group, who has been advocating for ways to put a stop to dangerous street racing throughout the city. This utility box tribute is an extension of their message to the community that all drivers must be cautious and never engage in dangerous road behaviors.
“It also is going to be a piece that will remind the community of our loss, our collective loss, whether we knew them or not,” Jones said. “It’s going to help…bring increased awareness to street racing and reckless driving, and the dangers of it. It’ll serve as a reminder to other young folks and older folks, because it’s not just a young person’s problem, to drive more safely, be more aware and drive less recklessly.”
For the relatives of Cerain Baker, Jaiden Johnson, and Natalee Moghaddam, Jones hopes the unveiling will ultimately provide feelings of comfort in knowing that the three will always be remembered in the Burbank community and beyond.
“I think that it will remind them of their losses, so it will be sad for them initially,” Jones said of the victims’ families witnessing the unveiling. “But I believe that…over time, [although] that intersection represented something terrible in the flesh and the physical, having that utility box reflect the likeness and images of their loved ones in such a spot-on manner, I think it’s going to bring them peace. And that’s all that one can hope for.”