Pixel Tracker

Saturday, December 15 , 2018, 10:49 pm | Fair 49º


Memorial Re-Dedication Will Honor Santa Barbara Student Struck by Car in 1970

Community fought for pedestrian-safety improvements after death of Monroe Elementary School student Curtis 'Chipper' Nelson

The original plaque at Monroe Elementary School in Santa Barbara. A new tree and plaque has been installed on the campus in memory of Curtis “Chipper” Nelson and a ceremony will be held Thursday. Click to view larger
The original plaque at Monroe Elementary School in Santa Barbara. A new tree and plaque has been installed on the campus in memory of Curtis “Chipper” Nelson and a ceremony will be held Thursday.  (Contributed photo)

On Jan. 21, 1970, Curtis “Chipper” Nelson was crossing the intersection of Cliff and Flora Vista drives on the Mesa in Santa Barbara when he was struck by a car and killed.

The Monroe Elementary School student was just one month shy of his 12th birthday. 

Following Nelson’s death, the students and faculty created a memorial to honor the 11-year-old by planting a tree and a marble plaque engraved with his name in an area overlooking the school playground.

Weather damage and time took their toll on both, causing the redwood tree to die and the plaque to become unreadable.

Nearly 47 years after that tragic day, the community will pay tribute and gather for a rededication in Nelson’s memory, with a new tree planted at the site. 

The free ceremony will take place at 10 a.m. Thursday at Monroe Elementary, 431 Flora Vista Dr.

If it is raining on Thursday, the event will be held inside the school library. 

The public is encouraged to attend, former Monroe Elementary student David Gonzales said.

Curtis “Chipper” Nelson Click to view larger
Curtis “Chipper” Nelson (Nelson family photo)

“His death greatly impacted the Mesa community and his classmates greatly,” Gonzales said. “When he died, we were all young. It was the first time many of us had experienced a death of someone we knew.”

Gonzales, a retired sergeant from the Santa Barbara Police Department and a direct descendant of the first comandante of the Santa Barbara Presidio, organized the event.

“Our goal is to maintain awareness of traffic safety, reminding the community of the tragedy years ago,” Gonzales said.

The accident occurred after school hours, in the late afternoon and after the crossing guard had left, he said.

Nelson's death sparked calls for pedestrian safety.

Students worked alongside their parents, school staff and locals to petition the state, as well as the city of Santa Barbara, to install traffic signals at that intersection.

“The successful campaign has undoubtedly made the area safer and protected pedestrians from the same fate as Chipper,” Gonzales said. "That area is safer because of the installation of traffic signals."

After the accident, stop signs were erected and traffic signals were installed where the crash took place, and on Mesa Lane, Gonzales said.

Gonzales described his classmate as a gentle soul and a child with a love of all things nature — especially sea life and shells.

Nelson’s death shocked the young children attending Monroe Elementary, and taught students a lesson about caring for everybody. 

“For such a young life, he touched a lot of people,” Gonzales said.

“People want to keep his memory alive because he taught us a lesson about respect and caring for others,” he said. 

Gonzales said has spoken with Nelson’s sister, who is living in Utah, and Nelson’s older brother, who might attend the ceremony.

Ben Hatcher with AllScape Design + Installation Inc., a local landscaping business, gifted the new tree and offered free installation. 

Additionally, funds were raised through a GoFundMe campaign

The extra money raised will be donated to Monroe Elementary in Nelson's name, Gonzales said. ​

Noozhawk staff writer Brooke Holland can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made using a credit card, Apple Pay or Google Pay, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments and a mailing address for checks.

Thank you for your vital support.

Become a Noozhawk Supporter

First name
Last name
Select your monthly membership
Or choose an annual membership

Payment Information

Membership Subscription

You are enrolling in . Thank you for joining the Hawks Club.

Payment Method

Pay by Credit Card:

Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover
One click only, please!

Pay with Apple Pay or Google Pay:

Noozhawk partners with Stripe to provide secure invoicing and payments processing.
You may cancel your membership at any time by sending an email to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click Here to Get Started >

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.

Daily Noozhawk

Subscribe to Noozhawk's A.M. Report, our free e-Bulletin sent out every day at 4:15 a.m. with Noozhawk's top stories, hand-picked by the editors.

Sign Up Now >