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Girl, 11, is killed in crosswalk accident

The sixth-grader is struck by SUV at school in Glendale.

October 31, 2008|James Wagner and Jia-Rui Chong | Wagner and Chong are Times staff writers.

The woman in the sport utility vehicle looked one way. The child looked another. In an instant, a school crosswalk became a scene of horror.

A day after a Glendale sixth-grader was struck and killed in front of her mother and classmates, school officials, parents and students struggled to make sense of the tragedy Thursday.

"It's every parent's nightmare," said one mother still shaken by the sight of 11-year-old Meri Nalbandyan lying dead on the street outside Eleanor J. Toll Middle School. "What if it were my child? I'd go crazy."

Questions came more easily than answers -- even to the police investigating the driver, a mother who had just dropped off her own child.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday, November 01, 2008 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 2 inches; 71 words Type of Material: Correction
Crosswalk: An article in Friday's California section about 11-year-old Meri Nalbandyan, who was struck by a car and killed in a Glendale school crosswalk, said her father, Grigor, "returned repeatedly to the crosswalk where the eldest of the family's two daughters lighted candles and lay flowers." In fact, he returned repeatedly to the crosswalk where the eldest of his two daughters died to light candles and lay flowers in her memory.

"How come the student didn't stop or get out of the way or see the car coming," asked Glendale Police Sgt. Tom Lorenz. "As fate would have it, she too was looking in the wrong direction."

Through a cousin, Meri's parents said they were devastated.

Her mother, Lilit, dropped Meri off at school moments before the accident. She called her daughter "an angel."

Meri's father, Grigor, has returned repeatedly to the crosswalk where the eldest of the family's two daughters lighted candles and lay flowers.

"When we remember Meri, we envision a bright, luminous smile covering her face. She was the embodiment of innocence and purity for us. Now we drown in tears of sorrow," her family said in a statement.

Inside the foyer of the school, Meri's classmates -- some in tears -- scribbled notes on a large, pink poster.

"Dear Meri, you are and always will be my best friend," one girl wrote. "We ♥ u so much. I hope you are watching us in heaven!"

The first poster was already so full by midmorning that another blank board had to be added.

Principal Paula Nelson said Meri's death was a reminder to parents "to slow down, leave 15 minutes earlier and stop."

She said parents should "be defensive drivers and tell their children to be defensive walkers."

After Meri was hit about 8 a.m. by a sport utility vehicle, she was taken to Glendale Adventist Hospital, where she was pronounced dead.

A number of children witnessed the accident, but Nelson said she wasn't sure how many.

She said more than 20 children have met with grief counselors.

All classes spent first period talking about the accident, with students sharing their thoughts. Sixth-graders wrote essays about Meri and drew pictures.

Nelson remembered how excited Meri was to be starting middle school and how enthusiastically she participated in lunchtime activities, such as balloon tosses.

"It was so devastating to me," the principal said. "She was a wonderful bright spot."

The crosswalk where Meri was killed is on Glenwood Road, between the middle school and Herbert Hoover High School, and near Mark Keppel Elementary School.

The Glendale Police Department, which is investigating the accident, said the 38-year-old driver of the SUV was looking away from the crosswalk and driving about 10 mph when she hit Meri.

The driver, who was extremely distressed when she realized what happened, has been cooperating with investigators and was not taken into custody, Lorenz said.

Meri was the third pedestrian killed this year in Glendale. Officials said they knew of no recent accidents at that particular crosswalk. But at least two other pedestrians have been injured by cars several blocks to the east and west on Glenwood Road since 1997, a statewide traffic database shows.

The city provides crossing guards for major intersections around schools, but there was no guard at Meri's crosswalk Wednesday because it is in the middle of the block, Lorenz said.

At the crosswalk Thursday morning, an extra crossing guard helped manage traffic. Near the collection of flowers and candles that sprang up as a memorial, a cluster of parents spoke with concern about the erratic way some parents drive down Glenwood.

Debbie Miller said her two daughters, who are in the fourth and sixth grades, were so frightened by the incident that they spent the night in her bed.

She said parents often double-park as they let their children out in the street, and she often sees drivers impatiently zoom around stopped cars.

"They cause a lot of problems," she said. "I'm . . . surprised it didn't come up earlier."

Some students left notes in crayon or hastily written poems at the memorial. A teacher who had rushed to Meri to try to stop the bleeding taped a card emblazoned with a lion to the memorial:

"Hi Meri, you don't know me but I'm the teacher from Hoover High that tried to help you at the accident. I tried really hard to save you. I wish you peace and your family comfort at this time."

--

james.wagner@latimes.com

jia-rui.chong@latimes.com

Times data analyst Sandra Poindexter and Times staff writer Harriet Ryan contributed to this report.

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