BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) – One year ago, on New Years Eve, three young men were killed in a tragic accident in northwest Bakersfield. Now, a year later, on the anniversary of their fatal shipwreck, the pain of their loss has deepened.
The accident was tragic enough. Four friends, heading to a neighbor’s friend at 10 minutes until midnight to watch the ball drop in Times Square and see the transition from 2020 to 2021. They barely went a quarter of a mile before the driver lost control and crash into a tree, ejecting his three unattached friends.
Grieving families raised money for a memorial bench and bronze plaque at Riverwalk Park, right at the spot near the amphitheater where they met literally almost every night.
And then that – on the anniversary of the deaths of Devin Lee Atha, Timothy “TJ” Michael Wilson and Andrew “AJ” Nicholas Ortiz, all three at just 20 years old, the Riverwalk memorial bench was desecrated – the plaque of bronze has been removed. By whom and when is everyone can guess, but the vandalism was discovered a year to the day after the fatal crash on Brimhall Road, in the grassy median between Old Farm Road and Jewetta.
Atha’s mother, Alice Hutchings, can’t believe it.
âSoâ¦ just disrespectful,â she said. âI know it’s not their burial place, but on the other hand, it shows their memory. And I just think it’s so wrong.
Wilson’s mother Angela Wilson discovered the stolen plaque when a friend called at 1:30 a.m. on New Years morning.
“I called her immediately,” she said, nodding at Hutchings. âWe got in the car and got out here in the middle of the night because she thought maybe it was just a hoax. We got out of here and of course there wasn’t any more.
The Bakersfield Parks and Recreation Department set up special accommodation to allow him to do so in the first place. City parks worker Race Slayton says Riverwalk Park is vandalized every night with almost no fault. But they will do what they can.
âWell, we’ll do our best to fix it,â he said. âMaybe get a bigger plate to cover it up and maybe anchor it a little better. It was actually embedded in the cement. I don’t know how much better we can do.
Christian Gunn went to high school with Atha and Wilson. He often stops on the bench to remember his friends and, in fact, he just happened to pass when he saw his friends’ mothers. The theft of the plaque also hit him hard.
âIt’s nice to come here knowing that we used to hang out here, that there is a bench here,â he said. “Well, there was a plate, but …”
Another tragic element of the accident: The driver of the car, Adam Teasdale, was a close and longtime friend of Atha and Wilson. He has a scheduled preliminary hearing in Kern County Superior Court on February 8 and faces three counts of manslaughter while driving a impaired vehicle and one count of impaired driving causing bodily injury.
But today the question is, who damaged the memorial?
Was he a lost friend? Was it random? Families would like to know. And they would like to get their plate back.