Community pushes for stoplight at intersection where teen was killed

Yaneth Palencia wrote a petition to the city’s transportation department in 2005, urging officials to install a traffic signal or stop sign at the crosswalk near Normandie Avenue and 42nd Street in her neighborhood, south of downtown.

“We note that cars driving on that street, often, exceed the legal posted speed limit and that accidents have occurred in the past,” wrote Palencia, who was worried that someone would eventually get killed trying to cross the busy street.

“I never thought it would be my nephew,” she said.

Nathaniel Mota, 16, died after being hit by a car while crossing Normandie near 42nd Place in September. He was leaving a Friday night youth group meeting at St. Cecilia Catholic Church, about two miles south of USC. Mota flew about four car lengths after being struck by a white Nissan Maxima; the driver took off, according to witnesses. Mota was pronounced dead at the scene, and police have not found the suspect.

More than 2,000 cars drive through that intersection each hour during peak travel times, according to city officials.


After the accident, church members again petitioned city leaders to put in a stoplight. Department of Transportation engineers recommended installing the light along with signs and pavement markings, but officials say it could take years and cost up to $200,000.

“People are asking me: ‘Father, Father, what is going on?’ And I tell them I don’t know,” Father Jorge Ochoa of St. Cecilia said.

L.A. City Councilman Curren Price’s staff had met with church officials about traffic issues the day of Mota’s death, and Price introduced a motion in October calling for a pedestrian-activated sidewalk with flashing lights at the intersection. Price said he wants the sidewalk to be installed within six months and a full traffic light to be put in as quickly as possible.

“It is absolutely unacceptable to think that people have been asking for assistance with this intersection for years now with no response and I intend to do everything I can to change that,” Price said in a statement. “I do not want to wait any longer than we have to and risk someone else getting hurt.”

According to relatives, Mota enjoyed spending his Friday nights in church.

The senior at Verbum Dei High School had attended services since he was a child and was confirmed two years ago. “His faith was very important to him,” said his mother, Lissette Mota.

At school, the teenager was known for being affectionate, said his friend, Brandon Williams. “Every time he saw you, he’d give you a big hug and wrap you up,” Williams said. “It was cool.”

Mota was an avid reader who went through three books weekly, according to his family. He had read everything in the “Harry Potter” and “Hunger Games” series and enjoyed science fiction books and movies. He was a bit of a Star Wars snob, believing that the original three films were the best, and was wary of the planned movies being produced by Disney.

“He was skeptical they could pull it off,” Williams said.

Mota was beginning to apply to colleges and was considering Cal State Northridge, where he would be close to his aunt, Williams said.

Mota’s family and friends say they are willing to help raise funds for the traffic light. His mother said she has forgiven whoever was driving the car that killed her son and hopes that a stoplight will be part of her son’s legacy.

“I hope his death prevents another,” she said.