life that eventually comes. And of the slap of cold, hard reality once
A year ago today, at 5:15 p.m., a man drove his brown 1967 Cadillac
through a chain-link fence that separated Santa Ana Avenue from about 30
preschoolers at the Southcoast Early Childhood Learning Center. The car
careened into the playground, running over children before smashing into
Two children, 3-year-old Brandon Wiener and 4-year-old Sierra Soto, were
killed. Police said the driver, Santa Ana resident Steven Allen Abrams,
told them he did it on purpose, with the specific intent of "executing"
While Abrams makes his way through the legal system -- his case has yet
to go to trial and his attorneys are weighing a possible insanity plea --
five symbols remain of that sad afternoon last May.
It looked like any other tot lot. A sandbox. A dollhouse. A colorful
jungle gym resembling a castle. Though the yard was teeming with young
life, thousands of people drove by it every day, probably not giving it a
The children at the day-care center loved the playground. They escaped
their classrooms and played there at least twice a day, squealing with
delight as they chased each other and engaged in games such as tag and
Then, in a split second -- the time it takes a car to burst through a
fence -- everything changed. The children's gleeful sounds were replaced
by horrific screams. Their once-safe haven invaded by darkness.
As the community soaked in the tragedy and stepped up to help, the
playground, day by day, was transformed -- the fence torn down, the
sandbox moved, new donated equipment erected. It changed from a reminder
of the nightmarish scene to one that had regained some sense of normalcy.
A year later, it has the unique quality of being similar enough to be a
reminder of the tragedy, but different enough to make it bearable.
"I don't think I could have worked out on the yard if it was the same,"
said Carrie McCluskey, assistant director at the preschool. "Because it's
different, it's inviting."
It was one of the biggest heroes that day.