8-year-old boy’s death spreads sadness through Newport

When Pam Brennan heard a firetruck turn onto a nearby street and switch off its siren Wednesday afternoon, she suddenly had a bad feeling.

Deciding to check on the situation, Brennan walked out of her Newport Beach home and down a back alley to the street, where she found a scene that has left the neighborhood in mourning.

Police officers and paramedics were congregating around a trash truck at the intersection of 15th Street and a small cul-de-sac named Michael Place, about a block from Newport Harbor High School.

“The trash truck was stopped on the corner and a little heap was covered with a blanket,” Brennan said.

Under the blanket was the body of an 8-year-old boy. A small helmet lay on the street nearby.

“He was so tiny,” Brennan said.

Authorities believe the boy was bicycling or walking with the bicycle along 15th Street when the truck struck him. The bike was still pinned under the truck’s cab.

“No one at the scene, a few neighbors and a nanny, could speak,” Brennan said. “The police were being stoic, but no one was speaking at all.”

Authorities haven’t publicly identified the boy, but mourners at the scene said he was a third-grader at Newport Heights Elementary School.

He and his family reportedly attended St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church and lived not far from the intersection where he died.

Authorities believe the truck, operated by city contractor CR&R Environmental Services, hit the boy shortly before 1:30 p.m.

He was just a few blocks from his school, where third-graders had been let out of class about 15 minutes earlier.

Roadside memorial

A roadside memorial is set up at the corner of 15th Street and Michael Place in Newport Beach in honor of an 8-year-old Newport Heights Elementary School student who was struck and killed by a trash truck at the intersection Wednesday afternoon.

A roadside memorial is set up at the corner of 15th Street and Michael Place in Newport Beach in honor of an 8-year-old Newport Heights Elementary School student who was struck and killed by a trash truck at the intersection Wednesday afternoon.

(Jeremiah Dobruck / Daily Pilot)

By Thursday morning, mourners had covered the corner sidewalk with flowers, notes and chalk messages.

A small skateboard poked out of the pile near a row of candles.

At the memorial, parents of the boy’s classmates described him as a small but athletic kid who played soccer and football.

They said he was often quiet and unerringly polite at school.

Newport Heights Elementary School Principal Somer Harding distributed a voice message to parents’ phones Wednesday to tell them what happened.

“We are deeply saddened to learn about the death of a Newport Heights Elementary School student today,” Harding said in the message. “Our thoughts and sympathies are with the family and everyone affected by this tragedy.”

On Thursday morning, students were told that counseling services would be available on campus the rest of the week.

“It is OK to feel sad, confused, mad, worried and much more,” an announcement to students stated. “It can be helpful to talk with a parent, friend, teacher or counselor and share your feelings and memories.”

Newport Beach Mayor Diane Dixon said the city is heartbroken.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with his family, his friends, his teachers and his principal, his neighbors and with all of us as a larger community,” she said in a statement. “There is nothing in our human spirit that prepares us to deal with the death of a child.

“Those same prayers go out to the first responders from our fire and police departments, as many who responded to try to save him happened to be parents of young children too.”

Truck’s driver a ‘nice guy’

As California Highway Patrol investigators spoke with the truck’s driver Wednesday afternoon, the man sat on a curb, covering his face with one of his hands.

Carlos Lima, vice president of human resources at Stanton-based CR&R, said the driver and the company are cooperating with Newport Beach police and the CHP in the investigation of the crash.

The CHP is leading the investigation to avoid any possible conflict of interest because CR&R is a city contractor.

Newport Beach has outsourced its trash pickup to CR&R since 2014. The contract expires in 2021.

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“The entire company and everyone here is extremely saddened by this tragic accident,” Lima said. “Out hearts go out to the parents and family of this young boy who was killed.”

The driver, whom police have not identified, will not be driving while the investigation is underway, Lima said.

CR&R is providing grief counseling for the driver, who has worked for the company for decades, Lima said.

“We know he’s well-liked by the customers he serves,” Lima said. “We’ve heard comments from customers on his route in Newport Beach about what a nice guy he is.”

Witnesses scarce

Police said investigators have had trouble finding anyone who witnessed the crash.

Rogelio Castellanos, who was doing construction work on a nearby home Wednesday afternoon, said he heard the impact but didn’t see it.

Yelling from the street prompted him to look over at the truck, Castellanos said. It appeared to have stopped in the middle of making a right turn onto 15th Street.

He noticed that the mechanical arm used to grab trash cans was still extended.

Behind the truck, a small body was lying on the asphalt, Castellanos said. Even from a distance, it was clear the boy was dead, said Castellanos, who quickly called 911.

Police described the boy’s injuries as “massive.”

Near the intersection of East 15th Street and Irvine Avenue — a block from where the boy was struck — there were three crashes involving bicyclists and three involving pedestrians between 2010 and 2015, according to figures compiled by the UC Berkeley Transportation Injury Mapping System.

Details of those cases were unavailable. | Twitter: @jeremiahdobruck | Twitter: @AlexandraChan10 | Twitter: @HannahFryTCN


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