The balmy summer evening and a chance to patronize art galleries, shops and restaurants had drawn hundreds to the Downtown Art Walk on Thursday. Much of the crowd was shoulder to shoulder along Spring near 4th Street where dozens of food trucks had congregated.
Among the masses were Jimmy and Natasha Vasquez of Montebello. In a stroller was their son, Marcello, barely 2 months old. His aunt, uncle and four cousins were nearby.
About 9:15 p.m., a silver Cadillac DeVille crept down Spring and driver tried to park in front of the El Dorado Lofts on the left-hand side of the one-way street. The sedan smacked the curb, then the driver hit the accelerator.
The car sheered off a parking meter and plowed into Marcello’s stroller, which was thrown on its side.
“The guy was trying to park his girlfriend’s car so he’s trying to pull headfirst into a parking spot and going back and forth. He thought he was in reverse, but he was actually going forward, he hit the gas and boom he goes up over the curb onto the sidewalk,” Los Angeles Police Sgt. Jeffrey Siggers said.
The child possibly hit his head on the concrete, said Siggers, who said the stroller was “severely whacked and pushed.” The motorist also struck a car that was parked in front of him.
The nature of the evening immediately shifted from revelry to chaos, witnesses said.
“I was about three feet away,” said East L.A. resident Fernando Ramirez, who was attending Art Walk with a couple of friends. “The father was in shock, grabbed the baby and then police officers came over and started to do CPR.”
Ramirez, 35, said Marcello’s family began to panic and spectators who were milling around yelled at the driver and his girlfriend, who was in the passenger seat of the Cadillac.
“The mother just kept yelling, ‘Why, why?’ ” Ramirez said. “Some people were in such shock they just dropped to the ground and were frozen and others were crying and hysterical.”
Marcello was taken to County-USC Medical Center and put on life support. Born May 20, he was 57 days old when he was pronounced dead Friday about 2:30 a.m. Marcello’s parents were not injured, according to a family member.
A bystander who was struck by the severed parking meter suffered minor injuries, as did a police officer responding to the scene who was struck by the Cadillac as the driver attempted to back away from the curb, Siggers said.
The motorist, whose name was not released, is a 22-year-old Ladera Heights resident, authorities said. He did not have a license.
He and his girlfriend were not arrested and there was no indication they were under the influence of drugs or alcohol. The LAPD’s Central Traffic Division was investigating the incident, but authorities are calling it a tragic accident.
According to Jimmy Vasquez’s sister, the parents are angry that the person responsible for Marcello’s death has not been held accountable.
“They are devastated and extremely hurt,” said Marlo Ortega, 35, who planned to attend a downtown candlelight vigil Friday in honor of her nephew.
Ortega said funeral arrangements are pending because the family doesn’t have the money for a burial. A Wells Fargo account for donations was set up under Marcello’s name.
Art Walk, which takes place on the second Thursday of each month, has been criticized in the past for flooding the sidewalks with more people than the area can handle while the streets remain open to traffic.
The organization’s executive director, Joe Moller, extended his sympathies but said it was premature to make any direct associations with the incident and Art Walk.
“It’s congested, but I don’t feel like it’s unsafe,” said Koreatown resident Shirley Vasquez, 29, who is no relation to the victim’s family. “I feel bad that this happened, but I hope it doesn’t change the event.”