The Dyker Heights community came together Thursday night in memory of 6-year-old Tamy Quema Guachiac, sharing words of desperation to end the tragic slayings of people by reckless drivers on the street.
Young Guachiac was walking home from Leif Erickson Park with her family on Tuesday, Aug. 24 when police say she was killed by a 30-year-old driver who’d sped through a red light.
Just two nights later, dozens of people gathered at the scene of the crime, saying prayers and leaving flowers for the young girl. Her family was joined at the vigil by their pastor, Rev. Erick Salgado and a slate of local elected officials — including Democratic mayoral nominee and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, state Sen. Andrew Gounardes, Assemblymembers Peter Abbate and Mathylde Frontus and Councilmember Justin Brannan — who all pledged their support.
Abbate told the crowd that the corner where Guachiac was killed was the location of a traffic light that was long-fought for by the community for over a decade.
“It took ten years — ten years — to get this traffic light up we fought for, and we wanted to end accidents like this,” Abbate said. “I guess it’s not enough, I think the truth is really got to change the culture of driving.”
Gounardes and Frontus both shared that they’d experienced traffic deaths within their own families — Gounardes, 60 years ago when his aunt was killed at just 12 years old, and Frontus just two years ago when an elderly member of her family was struck down and killed.
“My family has suffered the loss of traffic violence two generations ago and still that memory is raw,” Gounardes said, adding that, as a relatively new father, the pain of Guachiac’s hit even harder.
“From the moment I saw the news there was a traffic crash her in Dyker Heights … that a 6-year-old lost her life, I started to cry,” he said. “And I started to get so angry because every single one of these traffic crashes — every single one — is completely preventable.”
This year is on track to have the most traffic fatalities of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s tenure, despite the mayor’s signature vision zero street safety initiative. Street safety advocates called on City Hall to take more drastic steps to cut down on road fatalities, as the number of motorists on New York City increases during the pandemic.
At Thursday’s vigil, one local advocate begged Adams in particular to put a stop to these types of deaths once and for all.
“Eric Adams has been with our community through these years, supporting us, but I am asking you in the name of my son,” said Fabiola Mendieta, a member of the group Families for Safe Streets who advocates on behalf of her late son, killed 15 years ago by a reckless driver. “In the name of Tami, in the name of our community, we need to change this. We need actions.”
Adams spoke of the regularity these kinds of tragedies are in the city, and said he hopes the high bails and multiple charges on the driver show these kinds of tragedies can no longer happen in New York City.
“This person is held on $50,000 bail, we have to send the right message that this is not how families should be devastated,” he said, also speaking to the journey Guachiac’s mother took from Guatemala in 2018 in search of a better life for her and her daughter that they did not get.
“Here is a family who came to America to live out the American dream, only to see it turn into a nightmare because of a reckless action,” he said.
Frontus said she was in support of harsher penalties for traffic deaths — anything to stop them from regularly happening.
“We have to penalize people who are being reckless and I am not this person who wants to throw everybody in prison, but this is getting really serious,” she said. “So, if it takes different penalties, if it takes harder rules to make sure that people are afraid to do this because they know it’s a high cost, then that’s what it is going to take.”
Brannan — who, himself, has pledged to do better after being caught speeding in school zones earlier this summer — stressed that it takes a community to ensure safety, and that people all have an effect on one another through their actions.
“I’ve realized when you are behind the wheel of a car, you are not the only person on the planet that matters, you have to remember we are a city of we and not a city of me,” Brannan said, “and until everyone understands that this is not going to stop until we understand that we are all connected, that lives were shattered on Tuesday night.”
As of Saturday morning, A GoFundMe for the young girl’s family has raised close to $10,000.