The Butterfly Memorial on Western Blvd. Overpass

 

While idling on the Western Avenue, Santa Monica Freeway overpass, you’ve probably noticed a pretty memorial on the fence.

A flutter with colorful butterflies, flowers, and balloons it stands in stark contrast to the noisy, gritty, gray transience of the 10 freeway below.  The site marks the death of 22 year-old Carmen Padilla, a native Angeleno who resided a few blocks away in West Adams.  Carmen was killed nearly one year ago while exiting the freeway at Western going east.  Returning home from work one night, she swerved to miss a stalled van without lights, hitting her accelerator rather than the brakes, and ramming into an electrical box to her death.  

What’s remarkable about this memorial is its persistence, maintained weekly by Carmen’s family
and friendsWhen asked what drives her to keep up this memorial for nearly a year, sister Heidi Padilla Hermosillo of Northridge replies, “There’s nothing left of her.  It’s all we have to hold onto.”  Padilla’s parents travel from Texas once a month to help. 

The memorial was first set into motion the day after Carmen’s accident, when her distraught dad tromped out onto the freeway to find two sticks to form a make-shift cross for the death site.

The family’s tireless efforts have attracted the participation of countless strangers.  “I’d say they really voice their love,” Heidi describes.  Scores of passersbys leave their own mementos, including another mother of an accident victim reaching out in a personal note to Carmen’s mom.  Even the homeless man who begs at the offramp, helps by sweeping up around the memorial and instructing city cleanup crews to keep their hands-off it. 

Despite the traffic cones left by the city to discourage drivers from pausing to gawk on the busy overpass, in February a passerby halted long enough to explain to Heidi that his brother had written a song commemorating Carmen’s death.  Rutledge Brewer, former Motown keyboardist for Barry White, Jennifer Hudson and others, has recorded special music as tribute to the devoted Padilla family.  Brewer is active in a non-profit organization “documenting how many beautiful people have died on the street.”  The memorial has also captured the attention of the National Association of Hispanic Advancement who have honored the Padilla’s.

A part-time student and medical professional who graduated from Culver City High, Carmen Padilla is remembered fondly on what has become known as “The Butterfly Bridge.”  Like butterflies, life is evanescent but love is immortal.

UPDATE: In 2018, 8 years later, the Butterfly Memorial lives on with ongoing care and tribute.  

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Established in August of 2008 by writerartist Dianne V. Lawrence, The Neighborhood News covers the events, people, history, politics and historic architecture of communities throughout the Mid-City and West Adams area in Los Angeles Council District 10.

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