HomeCommunity NewsTragedy Still Resonates on Independence Day

Tragedy Still Resonates on Independence Day

Bad news travels fast and, apparently, a long distance. Such was the case three years ago this coming Monday, when a guy out on a July Fourth jog and his trusty dog were struck and killed by a teenage boy who was street racing against a friend.

We soon learned the name of the victim — Gabriel Crispo — and that of his dog — Nino — as the two became forever linked in tragedy on what began as a festive Independence Day morning in a community that treasures such traditions.

Officer Nia Hernandez, Sgt. Kenrick Wu and Chief John Incontro survey the accident scene at Huntington Drive and Kenilworth Road.

Two San Marino families who were on an African safari sent text messages to see if the tragedy was indeed real, their Wi-Fi reception so spotty that transmissions were interrupted mid-communication.

“Did you hear what happened this morning on Huntington?” became the unofficial greeting of the day as this typically sleepy town came to grips with a local tragedy that unfolded on a national scale.

Crispo, a native of Argentina and former Spanish teacher at Daniel Murphy and St. Francis high schools who was also a member of the faculty at Pasadena City College, died at 10:34 a.m. on Thursday, July 4, 2019, during that street racing incident. Crispo and Nino were in the median at Kenilworth, where they were crossing Huntington Drive when two 17-year-olds decided to hit the gas somewhere near San Marino High School.

Since that particular July Fourth fell on a Thursday, the Tribune was about to go to press and the staff was pleased it could include the results of the annual J.P. Blecksmith Memorial 5K that had taken place that morning. My cellphone rang, pulling my attention from the article I was composing about the event.

“Mitch, get over to Huntington Drive,” said the caller, a friend of mine with an uncanny knack for unraveling conspiracies. “There’s been a fatality. Bring your camera.”

That signaled the end to what is usually a genial, festive holiday in San Marino that typically lasts well into a fireworks-splashed night. Smoke and dust remained in the still air when I arrived at the crash site, where a couple dozen people, some on official business and others just curious, meandered about. The scene where Crispo had just died was extremely grim and disturbing, in stark contrast to the Blecksmith race where I had earlier interacted with almost 900 mostly joyous runners.

A year after the tragedy, hundreds of friends revisited the death site to honor the memory of Gabriel Crispo.

I also saw the boys who had driven the vehicles that were involved in the crash and remember one of them doing his best to hide from my camera, although I had been asked by San Marino Police Chief John Incontro not to include them in any photographs. It plainly, painfully seemed they had the proverbial weight of the world on their young shoulders, and for that I remember summoning a great deal of empathy. Soon I would be in Lacy Park for one of San Marino’s most festive days of the year, but I wondered when fireworks would ever again fly through the sky in their young lives, however symbolically.

My phone rang all day and when it didn’t, I was approached in Lacy Park by some of the hundreds and soon thousands who had heard the news. Many at the park commented on how relatively fortunate it was that the accident hadn’t taken place near the finish line of the race and staging area for the parade that was about to take place later that afternoon.

Incontro began that day with July Fourth at the forefront of his mind but he also recalled this week that an earthquake had added another possible diversion to his plate. Incontro was about to head to the police station when he received a call regarding the fatal incident.

“I made sure our people were responding and then headed to Huntington Drive,” he recalled on Monday afternoon. A longtime veteran of the Los Angeles Police Department, Incontro said he was initially shocked by the accident scene after his recent relocation to San Marino. He also said that there is still too much speeding on San Marino’s streets which he attributed to the throughways of San Marino as well as a new mindset.

“We have great streets for speeding,” Incontro said. “Unfortunately, that is the way they were designed and unfortunately people will drive fast. But it’s more than that. It’s almost like we don’t care, that it is more important that we get where we are going and we get there fast. It’s a basic lack of respect for other people who are on the road. Twenty years ago, you would see people stop while cars pulled out of parallel parking spots and you just don’t see that anymore.”

The two then-17-year-olds each pleaded guilty on Dec. 20, 2019, to felony vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence. They served in an alternative work services program, the juvenile equivalent to community labor. One served 60 days in this program, the other 30 days. Additionally, each completed a separate hospital and morgue volunteer program.

Later, a complaint for damages was filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court against the two drivers and their parents by Mark Heipler, the attorney representing Rosa Crispo — Gabriel Crispo’s mother — and Marta Franco, Gabriel Crispo’s girlfriend and the owner of Nino. Franco was jogging behind her boyfriend when the accident occurred. All legal actions were resolved before the case went to trial, according to Hiepler, who called Gabriel Crispo “a very beloved community member and family member.”

Gabriel Crispo and his beloved Labrador retriever, Nino.

“What was most amazing about this entire case is that Gabriel’s mother and Marta were able to completely forgive the young people who were responsible for this tragedy,” Heipler said. “That is really saying something.”

The terms of the settlement are confidential, but Heipler also told the Tribune that Rosa Crispo recently passed away.

My lasting memory, however, is that of a San Marino resident who called me late one evening while I happened to still be in the office.

“Is there something I can do?” said my soft-spoken friend.

The next day, a check for $3,000 appeared in an envelope on my desk with a handwritten request that it be used to help fund the funeral expenses for a man she had never met. And though I would much rather forget the remainder of the ordeal, that is one element I will certainly always remember.

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