Carina Velazquez plaque rendering.
An artist's concept shows the proposed memorial plaque for Carina Velazquez, a Santa Ynez Valley Union High School student who died after being struck by a vehicle in front of the campus in 2015. (Supervisor Joan Hartmann's Office courtesy rendering)

A plaque will be installed near the intersection where a vehicle struck and killed Santa Ynez Valley Union High School freshman Carina Dee Velazquez in 2015 with the trail segment serving as a remembrance of the community’s loss.

The Santa Ynez Valley Union High School District’s board unanimously approved a request for the monument’s possible placement on district property adjacent to the multipurpose trail along Refugio Road. 

Velazquez died at the hospital hours after she was struck by a minivan while walking across Highway 246 near Refugio Road about 6:50 p.m. on March 26, 2015. She was walking home from an after-school activity.

Santa Barbara County Third District Supervisor Joan Hartmann requested permission to place the monument in memory of the girl who died one day short of her 16th birthday, according to aide Meighan Dietenhofer.

The plaque notes the designation of the “Carina Dee Velazquez Memorial Path.”

The girl was the oldest of three children and loved animals, Dietenhofer said. 

A member of the class of 2018, she was the third generation of her family to attend the high school.

“It’s been eight-plus years since we lost our daughter, and we’ve been missing a piece of our hearts every day,” the girl’s father, Jose, wrote in a letter read by Dietenhofer. “My hope is that the path will be a safe place for people to walk and ride bikes away from traffic and that no other families have to suffer the loss of a family member in this way.

“We would like to have Carina’s name on the path — this would be adjacent on a plaque — so that she is not forgotten. Hopefully putting her name on it will increase awareness of hazards walking on the road and will make more real as to what can happen in a flash  if you let your guard down.”

Community-led efforts helped restore the trail near the high school with a goal of extending the path along Refugio as funding becomes available. 

“We would like this first portion to be named after Carina,” Dietenhofer said.

The plaque designed by Carina’s father would be placed on a boulder provided by the Santa Barbara County Public Works Department

There’s room for the monument’s installation on the county right-of-way, if needed, but the district’s property offers a preferred location.

“It would just not be in the nice shaded tree area that seems like it would be an ideal place to stop and look at it,” she added. 

High school board members renewed pleas for safety improvements near the intersection. 

Board president Chris Johnson told Dietenhofer to express their appreciation to Hartmann for the remembrance. 

“That’s fantastic,” Johnson said.

Several audience members also spoke in favor of the proposal before the board’s vote. 

“She was a beautiful young woman whose life was taken way too soon on a very dangerous street — a tragedy,” Sue Turner-Cray said. 

The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors is expected to consider the item in early October, and officials hope to hold a trail dedication ceremony for the new monument in October.