PALMDALE – Well over 200 mourners gathered Tuesday night to remember Michael Valenzuela, the 18-year-old killed in a school bus crash Monday afternoon.
The candlelight vigil was held on the corner of 55th Street East and Avenue R in Palmdale, the spot where Valenzuela was struck as he rode his bicycle to soccer practice shortly before 4 p.m. Monday.
Valenzuela was riding a bicycle southbound on 55th Street East when he was hit by a school bus filled with students that was traveling westbound on Avenue R, according to California Highway Patrol Officer Gil Hernandez said. (Read more on the fatal collision here.)
Tuesday night, several family members prayed the Rosary, as friends and loved ones embraced, shed tears, and signed a banner held above dozens of candles in a makeshift memorial to Valenzuela.
Among those paying respects to the Valenzuela family was Palmdale City Manager Dave Childs.
Valenzuela was known for his warm smile, his willingness to help others and his skills on the soccer field, which earned him the nickname “Speedy,” several friends and teammates said.
“We’re all going to remember him by the amazing smile that he always carried. He was by far one of the best people I’ve ever met,” said Melvin Perez.
“When I received a concussion [playing soccer], he was there to pick me up, he was there to tell me ‘never give up on your dreams,’” said Mayra Moreno.
“His heart was just amazing, unbelievable, words can’t describe how big it was,” said Eduardo Perez.
“Michael would always help out the little kids’ team that I coached, the AV Revolution,” said Johnny Alba. “My players called him their only competition because he was so fast, he would do whatever it took to get that ball.”
Valenzuela played on Team Chelsea in the Palmdale Youth Soccer League.
At the vigil, teammates announced that Team Chelsea had been renamed Team Speedy in honor of Valenzuela.
This weekend’s soccer games at Domenic Massari Park will be all about remembering “Speedy”, with various tributes planned in his honor.
“AV Revolution is dedicating their Sunday game to him, we’re all getting Speedy on the side of our shirts,” Alba said.
Another team planned to wear black memorial armbands and hold a moment of silence before their game.
The Palmdale Youth Soccer League also planned to circulate a petition at Domenic Massari Park on Saturday. The petition would be aimed at convincing the city of Palmdale to put traffic signals at 55th Street East and Ave R – the intersection of the fatal collision, Jackie Perez said.
The city of Palmdale is already on board. Childs said city officials had been working to address the issue well before the fatal collision.
“Last summer we applied for a grant to put a signal in, last week we got the grant,” Childs said, adding that the grant was about $638,000. “We’ve started the design process, and as fast as that can go, we’ll move that through and we’ll actually do it.”
Family members are hosting a series of fundraisers, starting with a car wash this weekend, to cover funeral costs for Valenzuela. Details on upcoming fundraisers and how residents can donate will be available later this week.
To learn more about how you can become involved, contact Dr. Miguel Coronado at Agents of Change at 661-466-6810.