Advertisement

Vote Paves the Way for Memorial : Tribute: Panel OKs cultural hall. Crash victim’s parents say the center will fulfill the dream of daughter to ‘help the children.’

Share
TIMES STAFF WRITER

Out of the black ashes of the fiery plane crash that killed their 17-year-old daughter, a Lancaster physician and his wife wanted to pull something positive. They decided to use money from her death settlement to build a cultural hall in her memory.

They thought their dream was dashed last month when the Lancaster Planning Commission denied permission for the project after neighbors complained about potential noise and traffic problems.

But last week, the Lancaster City Council unanimously overturned that decision. For Thillaiampalam Srijaerajah and his wife, Sita, the vote means they can put the money from a tragic accident into a center for music and dance lessons, community gatherings and religious meditation--all in the name of their daughter Krishani.

Advertisement

“We were thinking right from the start that we wanted to do something for the community,” said Sita. “This is for the children, mainly. It’s good for them to spend their time with dancing and music.”

Above all, by building this center, the couple believe they will fulfill their daughter’s dream of doing something to make the world a better place.

At age 16, in an essay written 10 months before the February, 1991, plane crash, Krishani said: “I don’t want to live the rest of my life knowing that I did not do anything to help the children. I want to leave a mark, a legacy, after I die, which is that I helped the next generation in some way become the best generation so far created.”

Friends and family members say that, despite her youth, Krishani was deeply concerned about social issues and world conflicts.

She served as a volunteer in the emergency room at Antelope Valley Hospital and was determined to become a pediatrician. She was angry when the Persian Gulf War erupted because she feared that many innocent children would be hurt.

“My daughter was an extraordinary human being,” said her father, who is known to his patients and friends as Dr. Sri. “She was a selfless, dedicated person. She always respected others. She never said a bad word about anybody. If she got mad, she’d go in her room and cry for a little bit and come out smiling.”

Advertisement

Her grades placed her among the top students at Paraclete High School in Lancaster, and she was a talented pianist who performed at several conferences for music teachers.

Krishani was a voracious reader, which led to one of the few bad habits her parents can recall: She sometimes brought a book to the table and continued reading during a meal.

In an October, 1990, school essay, she wrote: “From childhood I was termed as ‘quietly aggressive’ and ‘silently intelligent.’ I was brought up to do nothing short of success.”

Her academic counselor at Paraclete, Judy Sterr Steinberg, recalls that Krishani was “very bright, very persistent. She was very goal-oriented. She was applying to the best schools.”

Among the college campuses on Krishani’s list was Mount St. Mary’s College in Los Angeles, a small Catholic women’s school with a strong premedical program. She arranged to fly from Palmdale to Los Angeles on Feb. 1, 1991, aboard a small commuter plane for interviews with the Mount St. Mary’s faculty.

Her parents did not join her because they had to fly to a relative’s wedding in Toronto.

Krishani’s younger sister, Dilani, questioned the wisdom of three family members taking airline trips at the same time, her mother recalls. At first, Krishani scoffed at the notion. But later she removed a religious medal she had worn around her neck for the previous two years and put it in her mother’s bag, apparently to protect her parents.

Advertisement

“I don’t need this anymore,” Sita Srijaerajah remembers Krishani saying. “God will protect me.”

The next day, after visiting the college, Krishani boarded the 19-seat SkyWest Flight 5569 to return to Palmdale. That evening, in an accident that raised grave questions about safety conditions at Los Angeles International Airport, a USAir Boeing 737 arriving from Columbus, Ohio, slammed into the SkyWest plane on the runway, killing all 12 people on board.

Krishani’s parents quickly returned home. Hundreds of friends and relatives attended her funeral.

Three years later, her parents continue to grieve. “For us, it never dies,” Krishani’s father said. “It’s like yesterday for us. We’ve relived the experience a hundred times.”

Krishani’s parents received just over $500,000 to settle a claim they filed against a federal agency in connection with her death.

As a tribute to their daughter, the Srijaerajahs, who are natives of Sri Lanka, decided to use the money to build a meeting and meditation place for the Antelope Valley’s small Sri Lankan community. Members of this group now must gather in private homes.

Advertisement

The family purchased a 2.3-acre parcel on 25th Street West between avenues K-4 and K-8. The proposed construction called for a 13,500-square-foot cultural hall for classes and social gatherings and a 1,500-square-foot meditation hall for the spiritual chanting practiced in the Hindu religion.

But on June 13, in a 3-2 vote, the Lancaster Planning Commission rejected the project, saying it would disrupt a residential area and increase traffic--objections raised by several people living near the site. City zoning laws allow houses of worship in residential areas, but only with a permit that the commission refused to grant.

*

Thillaiampalam Srijaerajah said he was shocked and considered abandoning the project. “I’m here throwing half a million dollars into the community,” he said, “and they didn’t want it.”

But several friends urged him to appeal. “I said that it was a fitting tribute to Krishani,” recalled Sri Ramanathan, a family friend. “I felt that, deep in my heart, if the Planning Commission understood what the project was really all about, they would have approved it.”

At the City Council meeting Tuesday, Krishani’s father explained that the cultural hall would not be restricted to any ethnic or religious group and could be rented by a range of community organizations. He also agreed to surround the project with thick landscaping to decrease the noise impact on neighbors.

After a brief discussion, the council overturned the Planning Commission’s decision, allowing construction to proceed.

Advertisement

“I believe this is a compatible use in a residential area,” Councilman George Runner said at the meeting. “I don’t think the traffic is an issue at all. . . . I think this is an important contribution to the community, and it needs to be encouraged.”

“This proposal is wonderful,” added Councilman Michael Singer. “That’s an appropriate memorial to his daughter.”

Advertisement