At first they were shocked, than they grew angry.
How could someone just drive away after fatally hitting 24-year-old Steven Garcia as he rode his bike in Montebello, family, friends and concerned neighbors wanted to know.
“Someone had to have seen something, Whittier Boulevard is a heavily traveled street,” said Steven’s father, Oscar Garcia.
On the eve of Steven’s burial, nine speakers, most of them family and friends, took the podium during the Montebello City Council meeting. They were there to ask for justice for Steven. Speaker after speaker urged the board to approve a reward to help find the hit-and-run driver responsible for ending his life.
“Steven was my brother, he didn’t deserve to die like this,” said a tearful and shaken Oscar Garcia-Vasquez. “I watched him die … and for the person responsible to be out there like nothing happened, it’s an injustice.”
The council unanimously approved a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of anyone involved in the hit and run accident.
“Unfortunately, it takes reward money for [witnesses]to come forward,” Mayor Jack Hadjinian said during the meeting.
“If we can make a difference, this is how we can,” said Councilwoman Christina Cortez before the vote.
According to Montebello police, Steven was riding his bike down Bluff Road near the intersection of Whittier Boulevard on July 8 when an unidentified vehicle struck him. The driver of the vehicle fled the scene without stopping or rendering assistance to the victim, police said. Officers were dispatched to the scene at 9:57 p.m. that night; Steven was still alive.
He was transported to Los Angeles County/USC Medical Center but died two days later.
As of Wednesday, the only information police have is from a nearby surveillance camera, which has led them to think the vehicle involved may be a white Ford truck. It is not clear whether the vehicle ran a red light or if the driver was under the influence.
Garcia told EGP his son was at his home in Whittier just hours before he was killed. He said they talked about buying car for Steven, who lived in Montebello.
“His bicycle was his form of transportation,” the distraught father said in Spanish. “I wanted to buy him a car because I feared something would happen to him … and it did.”
After returning home that evening, Steven decided to ride his bike to buy food, Garcia told EGP. That’s when he was hit.
Jose Vasquez, Steven’s uncle and a business owner in the city, asked the police department to go a step further and hold a press conference to bring more attention to the reward. He hopes that it will motivate someone with information to come forward.
“We must make it clear that hit-and-runs will not be tolerated in our city,” he said. “Two weeks ago it was my nephew, we can’t wait around to see who will be next.”
Steven’s tragic death has sparked concern about the safety of pedestrians and bicyclists on Montebello streets.
“I am concerned for the safety of all of the residents in our city,” said Celeste Vasquez, Steven’s cousin.
His niece, Alisa Ayala, said she’s narrowly missed being hit by a car while crossing the street and riding her bike.
“I don’t want anybody else to be a victim.”
Alex Rodriguez is not a family member but spoke in support of the reward.
“I’m tired of seeing how often these things happen,” he said. “We need to let others know that the city of Montebello will not let criminals get away with anything.”
He reasoned that the driver of the vehicle might have fled because he or she did not have insurance or a driver’s license, but said all those excuses are “unacceptable and inexcusable.”
“I’ve notice it’s become more and more dangerous to cross the street,” said Rodriguez’s daughter Michelle.
Hit-and-runs in the city have increased, echoed Gloria Gallegos. “I’m a parent too and I’m concerned,” she told the council. “Please put a stop to this”
According to police, bicycle and pedestrian fatalities are rising all across the state. In the last three years alone, Montebello police have investigated 212 fatal and injury collisions involving pedestrians and bicyclists.
On Saturday, the police department conducted a bicyclist and pedestrian safety enforcement campaign throughout the city.
Councilmembers Cortez and Bill Molinari asked for the reward to be placed on the agenda and for city staff to look into what size reward is customary in these situations.
Police Chief Kevin McClure told the council that most cities have policies regarding the issuing of rewards, however, City Attorney Arnold Glassman said there is no such policy in Montebello.
Glassman said he and the city clerk looked at past rewards issued and determined $10,000 was standard.
Hadjinian said he and Councilwoman Vivian Romero contacted Los Angeles County officials to ask for additional funds but were not successful.
Romero instead urged local businesses and residents to contribute to the reward fund.
“A reward will do nothing to bring back his life, but hopefully it will bring justice to the situation,” said Mayor Pro Tem Art Barajas.
Sometimes people with information wait to come forward because they know a reward is around the corner, said Steven’s father, who hopes the driver will just turn his or herself into police.
Steven would have turned 25 on Aug. 23.
“My son’s death can’t be just another statistic. this cannot end like this.”Posted - Copyright © 2022 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.