CALIFORNIA

To celebrate an 'irreplaceable' music teacher, grieving students hold a playground party

When 11-year-old Thalia Brown last saw her music teacher, Benny Golbin, a week ago, she asked him a question: "Do you remember me?"

Thalia, a soft-spoken sixth-grader at Children of Promise Preparatory Academy in Inglewood, saw Golbin just once a week, and school had only just started back up after the winter holiday. But he gave her the assurance she was looking for.

"Of course I remember you," Golbin told her, smiling.

At Children of Promise, a charter school where Golbin taught trumpet and clarinet to fourth- through seventh-graders on Fridays, he was known as the kind of teacher who always made time for every kid. He'd show up early. He'd stay late.

But on Friday, Golbin's students were trying to adjust to his absence.

One week before, the 36-year-old teacher was killed instantly when a suspected street racer lost control of his car in midday traffic on Crenshaw Boulevard and sheared off the top of Golbin's Honda CR-V.

Golbin had left the Inglewood campus and was on his way to teach another class in Palos Verdes. He had driven less than two miles when, just before 1 p.m., the car came hurtling through the air.

Students heard the ambulances rushing past the school and learned with shock this week what happened. On Friday, a third-grader brought in the homework Golbin assigned her last week and asked if he was going to take it. She didn't realize death was permanent.

The Inglewood school started its music program three years ago, and Golbin had been with it since the beginning, said Carleton Lincoln, the school's founder and chief executive. The school will rename its music laboratory the Golbin Arts Center, he said.

"We are really excited about our music program, so this is a big hit," Lincoln said. "Benny is irreplaceable."

It was a thought shared by many of Golbin's other friends and colleagues. In addition to his classes at Children of Promise, Golbin taught woodwind ensembles at elementary schools in the Palos Verdes Peninsula Unified School District, and he taught private and group lessons at AMUSE, the Palos Verdes Music Center.

Sandra Clay, the president of AMUSE, said Golbin, whom she hired right out of college a decade ago, was "one of our most beloved teachers" and always had a waiting list.

Hawthorne police said a silver Chevrolet Cobalt and a red Camaro were racing northbound on Crenshaw when the driver of the Cobalt lost control and swerved across several lanes of traffic before striking the center median and going airborne, colliding with Golbin, who was southbound.

The driver of the Cobalt, Alfredo Perez Davila, 23, of Hawthorne, suffered no injuries and was arrested at the scene. On Tuesday, Anthony Leon Holley, 40, of Lynwood, turned himself in, saying he was the driver of the Camaro who fled after the crash, Hawthorne police said.

Both men have been charged with one count each of murder, gross vehicular manslaughter and engaging in a speed contest on a highway causing injury. Both are being held in lieu of $1-million bail.

Golbin, friends and colleagues said this week, was a gifted musician with a contagious smile.

A professional saxophonist who performed at home and abroad for more than 15 years, Golbin recorded a solo jazz album and a holiday album. He had nearly finished recording his first album of contemporary music.

At Children of Promise on Friday, after a week of sadness, students were told they could choose the best way to celebrate Golbin. They picked an afternoon on the playground, dancing and eating Popsicles. Golbin was fun, they told Principal Trena Thompson, and he would have liked to have a party.

As their classmates sat cross-legged on the concrete, a group of students sang: "So I'm gonna love you, like I'm gonna lose you. I'm gonna hold you like I'm saying goodbye wherever we're standing."

"We love you, Mr. Golbin!" they shouted at the end.

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Afterward, a tiny, bespectacled boy who said he played the trumpet, said of his teacher: "He wasn't just, like, strict. He was nice."

Thalia also played the trumpet and said Golbin had taught her the best song, Queen's "We Will Rock You."

"He was nice and kind and he was persistent," she said during the playground party. "He never gave up on us."

Thalia said she wrote Golbin's family a letter that morning, saying she was sorry he died so senselessly. Describing the letter, she couldn't hold back her tears.

As students were led back to their classrooms, saxophone music played through a loudspeaker. It was Golbin.

hailey.branson@latimes.com

Twitter: @haileybranson

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Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times
A version of this article appeared in print on January 23, 2016, in the News section of the Los Angeles Times with the headline "Dancing grief away - Playground party honors an `irreplaceable' teacher" — Today's paperToday's paper | Subscribe
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