Residents in the Jackson Heights community along with safety advocates and elected officials gathered Saturday at IS 230 for a rally and vigil in remembrance of 9-year-old Giovanni Ampuero, who was hit and killed by a driver on 70th Street along Northern Boulevard April 28.
Upon entering the IS 230 schoolyard located at 34th Avenue and 73rd Street, dozens of residents were given a photo of Giovanni Ampuero to tape to their jackets. The community shared their suggestions about improving traffic road safety along Northern Boulevard and offered support to Giovanni’s father, Raul Ampuero, mother Karen Manrique, and brothers Giancarlo, 14, and Johnathon, 20. Afterwards, they walked in silence to a makeshift memorial site adorned with flowers, candles, teddy bears, and photos of Giovanni where they said prayers and offered condolences to the family.
Street safety organizations such as Make Queens Safer, Families for Safe Streets, and Transportation Alternatives Queens Volunteer Committee organized the vigil and rally.
Hours before the vigil, Raul Ampuero, 46, of Fresh Meadows, visited the park where he used to take his son Giovanni and buy ice cream afterwards.
He remembered Giovanni as a “tremendous, happy, loving kid with pure eyes” who enjoyed playing with other children at the park.
“Giovanni will always be in our hearts, and in my heart for the rest of my life,” said Ampuero. “I want to thank the community and every single person here for their support.”
Ampuero had contacted Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office to offer suggestions of how to make Northern Boulevard safe for children and to express the grief he is feeling after Giovanni’s death.
“I know his agenda is busy, but at least a phone call would be nice,” said Ampuero. “It hurts me as one father to another that he didn’t reach out to me. I don’t believe I have the support of the mayor and that’s what hurts me.”
Ampuero said he would like to become involved in community efforts to prevent wreckless driving along Northern Boulevard. His goal is to make sure another child does not suffer the same fate as his son, and a parent mourning the loss of their child.
“I would like to see speed cameras that would prevent or minimize a lot of pain,” said Ampuero. “I notice kids like to go to the park on the weekends and they want to go with mommy to Wendy’s and get ice cream. It would help if we had cross guards at certain point areas because that’s an extra life you’re going to save.”
According to Make Queens Safer, an organization formed by two Queens mothers fighting for safer street designs and stronger enforcement of traffic laws, Giovanni Ampuero is the fifth child killed in less than six years on Northern Boulevard from Broadway to Junction Boulevard.
“We are asking the New York City Council to adopt the Vision Zero design standard to prevent dangerous driving and prioritize safety, expansion of speed safety cameras, hit-and-run legislation to increase penalties, and a comprehensive school traffic safety plan,” said Christina Furlong, co-founder of Make Queens Safer,
Other parents voiced their concerns and suggestions for safe roads in the neighborhood.
“One child’s death is one too many,” said Shekar Krishnan, 33, who has a 2-year-old child learning to cross the street. “Let’s never forget this moment and take action together to stop this, because if we don’t, we are failing as a community, our hearts and conscience.”
Lucy Martinez, 41, a parent of two children, said the installment of speeding cameras and more policing around the neighborhood should be considered.
“I always have to remind my kids to look both ways before crossing the street,” said Martinez. “Maybe something can be done this time around if we all come together. We’ll have to try and see.”
Ampuero said there are no words that can give him comfort or that can relieve the pain he’s going through of losing his son. He would like to have a sign of Giovanni’s name placed on 70th Street where he died.
“I want everyone to know that Giovanni didn’t die for no reason,” Ampuero said. “I want this to be a good reason to improve the streets and to do something on behalf of Giovanni.”
Reach reporter Carlotta Mohamed by e-mail at cmoha