BYRON -- Hundreds of people gathered Tuesday night to remember a "salesman and stealer of hearts," a 12-year-old boy killed Monday morning when he was struck by a car as he riding a bike to school.
Walls outside the amphitheater at Excelsior Middle School were covered in signs reading "Long Live Burgess" and "#JustKeepRiding," made by students grieving the loss of Burgess Hu, of Discovery Bay. Burgess, who had celebrated his 12th birthday on Sept. 11, was hit and killed while riding his bicycle in front of the school, located on Byron Highway.
Students wore red to school Tuesday to honor Burgess; many plan to wear ties on Friday in tribute to their classmate, who often wore suits and ties, they said.
"(Burgess) was type of kid that had an ear-to-ear smile," said Kim Shenck, whose daughter was a grade behind Burgess. She described him as an avid reader for whom "no book was ever big enough."
Thomas Olwell, a longtime friend of the Hu family, said the boy was "a salesman and a stealer of hearts," describing how he would come home on Halloween with more candy than the other children, or hustle to sign up residents for the Boy Scouts' Christmas tree pickup service.
"What a free and marvelous young man he became," Olwell said, breaking down in tears as he addressed the crowd. "Now he's free."
Investigators said Tuesday that the fatal collision "just appears to be an awful set of unfortunate circumstances," but the area in front of the school has been a safety concern for parents for some time.
Burgess was hit by an SUV driven by the mother of another student at the school at about 7:48 a.m., approximately 10 minutes before school started, California Highway Patrol Officer John Fransen said.
The driver of the black GMC Yukon told police she never saw Burgess, who was wearing a helmet. She was pulling right to go north out of a driveway from the school that serves as an exit, and Burgess was traveling south, against the flow of traffic, Fransen said. The driver was going no more than 10 mph when the collision occurred.
The rural road has a hard shoulder but no designated bike lane. No criminal charges were expected against the driver.
"The early indications are that (Burgess) was right on the fog line," Fransen said Tuesday. The fog line is a white line painted on the right side of the road and used by drivers to keep on the road in heavy fog. "It does not appear that the driver took a real wide turn. ... Preliminarily, it just appears to be an awful set of unfortunate circumstances."
That conclusion did not prevent some from expressing concern about the entrance and exit points of the school. Byron Highway is a two-lane road that is the town's primary artery, and traffic can be heavy at that time of day, Fransen said.
Several parents at the school Monday said Burgess was one of the few children at the school to ride his bike along the busy stretch of road.
County Supervisor Mary Piepho, a former Byron Union School District board member whose daughter attended Excelsior Middle School several years ago, said the school's entrance and exits have become safer but that those leaving the school are dealing with cars coming at a variety of speeds down the highway, even though traffic is heavy and the speed limit is 25 mph.
"The driver is dealing with a lot," she said. "You have traffic coming from both directions, and you have heavy traffic congestion. But as dangerous as it still remains now, it's a lot safer than it used to be."
Traffic safety at Excelsior, given its location on Byron Highway, has long been a district concern. The district moved the school's entrance from the highway to Byer Road in 2011, and the school now has two exit lanes onto Byron Highway.
Still, in more than one online discussion string, parents lamented the lack of a bike lane or pedestrian lane at the school.
A bike and pedestrian safety program for elementary and middle school students is available to all public schools in Central and East Contra Costa County but it had not been implemented yet at Excelsior, a supervisor for the project said Tuesday. The program, called Street Smarts Diablo, encourages kids to bike and walk to school, and its coordinator, Kerri Heusler, said students such as Burgess should receive more than the basics by the time they reach middle school.
"It starts in elementary school with the basic pedestrian safety -- stop, look and listen; how to wear a helmet; what side of the road to be on; hand signals -- and the things you need to do to be safe," Heusler said. "You learn a bit more in middle school, such as making sure your helmet isn't just on but that it's on properly. We teach them what the driver sees, teach them about blind spots. All of this is available, and we're going to be working closely with the school in the days ahead."