Memorial Day 2008 is a memory that will last forever among the friends and family members of the five deceased victims of a freak automobile accident that occurred late Monday afternoon in South Los Angeles.
It will also live with those who were seriously injured, escaped with minor burns and bruises or remarkably, escaped without any injuries whatsoever.
At about 6 p.m., at the busy intersection of Crenshaw Boulevard and Florence Avenue, just north of Inglewood, a van filled with young people and a driver who according to a second-hand witness account, had been driving recklessly, apparently ran the red light and was struck by an eastbound van in the intersection.
According to what the fire and police officials were able to determine from witness accounts and from the pile of four burned vehicles that appeared to have melted together in the rubble, the first van became airborne upon impact and immediately burst into flames.
“I heard a screeching noise and a loud series of pops that sounded like a major collision,” said a neighborhood resident that was exiting a nearby McDonald’s Restaurant at the time of the accident.
“When I looked in the direction of the accident all I saw was a ball of fire in a pile of wrecked automobiles. I tried to approach the burning vehicles to see if I could help but the fire kept me from getting too close,” the witness added.
According to Los Angeles Assistant Fire Chief Scott Mottran, when the first wave of help arrived, “we found three vehicles fully engulfed in a very intense fire that, also burned the traffic light.”
Mottran added that nearby business signs were also destroyed.
Initially, he said there were only three deaths associated with the accident but warned that more than 20 had been treated by emergency response teams, several were in area hospitals in critical condition and several were treated for only minor injuries.
Later, police and fire department representatives confirmed the now-reported total of five dead as a result of burns and smoke inhalation and that a number of unidentified victims remained hospitalized.
L.A.P.D. Public Affairs officer Karen Smith later confirmed that three died at the scene, including two children - ages 7 and 12 - while the remaining two died after being taken to a local hospital.
Los Angeles City Councilmember and 2nd District Supervisor candidate Bernard Parks was the first elected official on the scene to survey the damage and as he was being escorted inside the crime-scene tape by fire and police officials, he briefly spoke to witnesses and survivors.
As he left the scene, Parks declined any formal comment, except to offer his condolences for the victims and their families.
More than 100 firefighters responded to the scene of the accident as the police closed off any access near the intersection of Crenshaw and Florence, which was closed off for most of the Memorial Day evening.
By Tuesday morning, traffic was proceeding as normal at the intersection but for the families of the deceased and injured, it belied the fact that life would never be completely normal again.
Related: Death in the afternoon: A photo blog of this event