Whatever it takes to improve safety on their street, the family of 8-year-old Matthew Dinh said on Sunday they would pay for it.
"If the city don't pay for the money, we'll pay for the money," said a heartsick Hieu Dinh, the boy's uncle. "I just hope this tragedy don't happen no more."
Last Friday night, Matthew rode his speedy, little "pocket bike" in early evening from the driveway of his apartment building and attempted to make a left turn onto Farm Drive. He was not wearing a helmet. According to San Jose police, Matthew's miniature, electric motorcycle collided with an oncoming pick-up truck in the crowded south San Jose neighborhood. The boy, a student at Canoas Elementary School was rushed to Valley Medical Center — where he was pronounced dead.
By Sunday morning, a spontaneous shrine for the boy had popped up under an oak tree shading the driveway of his apartment building on the 800 block of Farm Drive. In a cruel irony, the neighbors said, the tree blocked the light from a street lamp that might have illuminated the boy and given the driver a chance to stop in time.
Neighborhood kids signed a placard and left teddy bears, macho male figurines, San Francisco 49ers balloons, a soccer ball and other toys. Matthew's Vietnamese relatives burned incense and prayed while a Buddhist chant about the spirit resting in peace played on a small digital device. Mexican-American neighbors brought more than three dozen candle vases
"We don't mind," said said Dinh, a devout Buddhist.
Matthew's grandparents, Chinh and Trinh Dinh, had just started their second day of mourning and sat on lawn chairs on the sidewalk. Refugees from Saigon in 1989, they accepted condolences in three languages. That took some doing with much of it a translation from Spanish-to-English-to-Vietnamese. But they -- and everybody else -- seemed accustomed to this fact of communication in their multicultural neighborhood.
The boy's grieving parents, Man Dinh and Jenny Tran, and his 13-year-old sister were not home. The Dinhs operate two smog-check stations in San Jose.
"They are out buying stuff for the funeral," Hieu Dinh said. "We will have a vigil out here until they release his body."
Need speed bumps
Farm Drive is about as high-density as San Jose gets outside of downtown's high-rise, pricey condominiums. The neighborhood sits near the massive, Capitol Avenue Auto Mall, and is chock-full of old garden apartment buildings. Some look immaculate, others like slums. The street is divided by a broken, yellow line made with reflectors, and usually lined with parked cars the apartment buildings can't handle.
After paying their respects to the older Dinhs, the neighbors talked about the need for the city to pay attention of the neighborhood's need for improved safety measures, especially since they see it as plagued by "cut-through" traffic. Every time a car passed by, there was commentary about whether they were moving at a safe speed or too fast.
"I think speed bumps are a good idea," Jose Vargas said in Spanish to a small group of concerned neighbors. He had brought his children to the shrine in the morning. "There are a lot of kids on this street."
Switching to English, Vargas and Hieu Dinh started talking about other badly needed safety improvements -- more street lights and speed-limit signs, and how about painting no-parking, red zones on either side of blind driveways — like the one where the child was killed -- to improve driver visibility?
"I'll pay for it if I have to, my own money," Dinh said.
A neighbor from around the block joined the conversation. She had just bought her 7-year-old daughter a similar, electric motorcycle, and a safety helmet.
"But a helmet wasn't going to save that kid," she said about Matthew.
For a little while before noon, the consensus on the sidewalk was that nobody was at fault. It is illegal to ride so-called "pocket bikes" on sidewalks, streets and public parking lots.
"But he was just a kid," another neighbor said in Spanish. "He could have been chasing a ball or riding a skateboard. The streets here are too dangerous."
She wanted to invite the Dinhs to a neighborhood meeting of residents who are planning to talk to the city about improving safety, but not before the funeral.
"Maybe Wednesday," Hieu Dinh said.
Another neighbor asked him about the neon pink, paint that investigators used to mark the collision's start and end. Is the paint too sad a reminder for the family? Are the police going to wash it away? Who is supposed to do that, anyway?
"If the city don't, I will," Dinh said.
"I can help," the neighbors responded. "You let me know, OK?"
San Jose police are still investigating the death. After interviewing the driver of the pick-up truck, they determined alcohol was not in play and issued no citations. Neighbors at the sidewalk shrine weren't sure, but they believe the driver lives on the same street.
Contact Joe Rodriguez at 408-920-5767. Follow him at Twitter.com/JoeRodMercury.