The lightpole involved in the fatal Jan. 27 crash in front of West High School still stands. But not for long.
When Mike Ucci died and Bret Clifton, Marie Ucci and Justin Baker were injured in that accident on Lowell Avenue, friends, schoolmates, even strangers made the pole the center of their healing process. Instead of becoming an inanimate villain, it became a confidante.
Just days after the crash, its base was covered with permanent pen messages expressing sadness, hope and camaraderie. It was, as the victims’ family members have said, a rallying point for the community.
Soon, though, the pole will be relegated to the city’s Tracy Boulevard public works yard, where it will wait until it is put to another use. Possibly even as scrap.
If that seems like a less-than-appropriate fate, it’s because it is.
The pole might be too weak to remain at the entrance to West High, but it hasn’t lost its power in the community. That’s why Ken Ucci, Mike’s father, and others are working to keep the West High pole from becoming another forgotten relic.
“It’s a very big source of hope for me in terms of how people came together and recognized that this is a tragedy that happened,” Ken Ucci told me. “But it also represents the hope that the kids realized that life is fragile ….”
He wants to see the bottom 8 feet of the pole encased in glass and become a part of the Get Real Behind the Wheel driver’s safety program he and others helped start at West High.
One look at that pole, and it’s easy to see why. I wandered out to West High the other day and read the messages scrawled on its side. Just few of the many that struck me:
“I love you Mike, always and 4ever.” “We are so sorry.” “Mike, I didn’t know you, but you are in my thoughts and have touched my heart.”
It’s impossible to stand at that pole and not be touched.
It only takes a quick glance to realize how many people are affected by something as simple as a car accident. That’s a message often left out of events that preach driving safety to kids, and one of many reasons why the pole should be saved.
The City Council gave instructions Tuesday that the pole is to be removed with as much care as possible, a sign that it probably has a future beyond the scrap heap. But the city’s decision regarding that will have to wait for a future meeting.
When that meeting does happen — and it should happen soon — the City Council should make a donation of the pole to the Get Real Behind the Wheel program so it can educate future drivers and serve as a reminder of how the community came together in the wake of a terrible accident.
How the lightpole is ultimately displayed and where it finds a home is a decision best left to the community. But one thing is certain: “It would be such a waste to have all that spiritual energy that I feel, and still do, that was generated by so many people … By having it sit in some dark corner in a yard, we lose a part of us.”
Couldn’t have said it better myself, Ken.
A burning patriotism
This year’s flag retirement ceremony during the Fourth of July Day in the Park wasn’t nationally televised or beamed around the world, like last year’s. But that didn’t keep fully uniformed Boy Scouts from Troop 515 from carefully tending fires and presenting crisp salutes on a day when the line for shaved ice was 40 people long by 10:15 a.m.
I was already partially drenched in sweat by the time I made it to the rose garden at Lincoln Park on Wednesday. And I’d only been in the sun for 45 minutes. The Scouts were there all day.
When they weren’t standing at attention around the fires, they were picking up trash in the park or selling nonexplosive fireworks.
Why work in the unrelenting sun when most kids are romping through the park or at home playing with SuperSoakers?
First, the Boy Scouts are the only group that can honorably retire flags, besides the military. Second, it’s a way to honor the country and serve the local community, according to Assistant Scout Master Alan Habberstad.
“We started this last year as an honor to the troops who are serving overseas right now, and we had such an outpouring of response last year that we decided to continue it,” he told me, adding that they’ve retired flags that have sailed over Afghanistan and flown above homes of parents with sons and daughters serving in Iraq.
The Scouts hope to make the retirement an annual Fourth of July tradition in honor of the troops and the country and community they serve.
I hope they do, too.
To contact Tracy Press copy editor Jon Mendelson about his weekly column, call 830-4231 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.