SAN JOSE -- Elijah Arriaga stood at the edge of the $10 million pedestrian bridge named after his 2-year-old brother, Alexander, with a pair of giant red scissors in his hands and his family by his side.
With one quick cut of purple ribbon on Friday, Elijah officially opened "Xander's Crossing," a bridge in South San Jose named for his brother , who died while crossing the railroad tracks in 2005.
Moments after cutting the ribbon with the help of San Jose City Councilman Ash Kalra, 11-year-old Elijah and his family, including his mother, Nicole Wilson, took an emotional walk across the 315-foot, cherry-colored structure that sits above Monterey Road near Blossom Hill Road.
"I felt a strong presence. I feel him," Wilson said about her son, Alexander Arriaga, who was fatally struck by an Amtrak train while following a babysitter across the tracks. "It's like the same feeling I felt when he died. I didn't find out for a couple of hours. When they gave me the time of death, I had butterflies in my stomach. I felt him die, and I feel him here."
The bridge stands above the area where Alexander was struck and killed. After the family joined the first group of people to walk across the bridge, they became overcome with emotion and shared hugs and tears.
Wilson, who now lives in Fresno, said it was the first time Elijah had "broken down like that" in a long time. She said her son had not returned to the area since Alexander died and
But he was excited about cutting the ribbon leading up to the ceremony, his mother said. As Elijah prepared to cutit, his mother said "ready, you're opening your brother's bridge."
In November 2005, Wilson left Alexander and Elijah -- then 4 years old -- with their regular babysitter while she worked a shift at Toys R Us. The sitter left the boys with a woman their mother did not know.
The sitter's friend, Katrina Hatton, walked the two boys across the tracks near Monterey Highway and Blossom Hill Road, then went back across the tracks to get her own daughter, who was in a stroller. Alexander tried to follow her and was hit by an oncoming Amtrak superliner.
In 2006, Hatton pleaded "no contest" to felony child endangerment and was sentenced to four years' probation.
The drive to get the pedestrian bridge began soon after Alexander was killed.
"In the neighborhood here, it's been known as a dangerous place to cross," Kalra said. "At the same time, there weren't many other options to cross, at least not within a half mile. It's a natural crossing point."
Maria Rodriguez, who lives in the area and brought teddy bears to a makeshift memorial following Alexander's death in 2005, attended the ceremony with her infant granddaughter. Rodriguez said she always sees high school kids crossing the dangerous roadway and railroad tracks and wanted to be there for the opening.
"I am so thankful that they" built it, Rodriguez said.
An estimated 200 people attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony, including former councilman Forrest Williams, who was the driving force to making the bridge become a reality, Kalra said.
Kalra spoke to the gathering about the need for a safe place to cross Monterey Road. On one side of Monterey sits a busy and popular shopping center. Located on the other side is a Lowe's hardware store and burgeoning shopping center expected to be developed next year, Kalra said. There are neighborhoods on both sides of Monterey, as well as Oak Grove High School.
"It's great to have a day today where we can celebrate something that we know is going to add to the safety of our community," Kalra said.
Contact Mark Gomez at 408-920-5869. Follow him on Twitter @MarkMgomez
SOURCE: Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority.